Science on Tap talk to give overview of research that will launch next-generation space missions

April 20, 2015  

D. Marshall Porterfield

D. Marshall Porterfield 
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Agriculture and biological engineering professor D. Marshall Porterfield will headline the next Science on Tap with a talk focusing on the technology and engineering needed to launch the space missions that will retrieve asteroids and explore Mars.

The talk, titled "The Art and Science of Human Space Exploration," is at 6 p.m. April 30 in the upstairs of Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette.

"Since the inception of NASA, human exploration has been a critical area of investment and has produced human missions to the moon, a vibrant and robust shuttle era, and now a long-term presence in low-Earth orbit on the International Space Station," said Porterfield, who also serves as the Space Life and Physical Sciences division director at NASA.

"As we prepare to project human exploration out again for extended operations beyond low-Earth orbit, what are the key challenges that we face in terms of the science and engineering needed to develop these missions?"

Porterfield will provide an overview of research programs designed to address the challenges in developing next-generation space missions. One such program developed by SLPS is the GeneLab Strategic Plan, which combines advanced genetic research in space with open access to big datasets. GeneLab experiments will help in identifying effects of the microgravity environment on biological systems with experiments conducted entirely on the International Space Station.

The recent launch of the Russian Soyuz rocket that took U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly to the International Space Station - where he will be for more than a year - is an example of NASA efforts to identify the effects on the human body of long-duration space flights. Porterfield said GeneLab experiments are designed to accelerate the development of countermeasures for these effects­­­­.

"The resulting ability for comparative analyses will help scientists around the world take a major leap forward in understanding the effect of microgravity, radiation and other aspects of the space environment on model organisms," he said. "The International Space Station is now a fully operational laboratory for science and technology development focused on delivering countermeasures and space craft designed to meet the challenges ahead."

Porterfield, who received his doctorate from Louisiana State University, won the Halstead Young Investigator Award for his work in gravitational and space biology in 2007 and the Purdue University Faculty Scholar Award. He also serves as president of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Biology and president of the Institute for Biological Engineering.

His work in the field of biological engineering was recognized by election to the College of Fellows for the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, an honor reserved for the top 2 percent of medical and biological engineers in the United States. Porterfield has published more than 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts, papers, technical papers, patents and book chapters.

Science on Tap, led by graduate students David Welkie, Anju Karki and Nelda Vazquez, provides Purdue faculty and collaborating researchers the opportunity to share research activities in an informal setting with presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience. Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program's first four years. 

Writers: Anna Schultz, 219-363-2599,

Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, 

Sources: D. Marshall Porterfield, 765-494-1190,

David Welkie, 765-494-0455,

Nelda Vazquez, 765-496-1487,

Anju Karki, 765-494-0455,

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