daniel cha photoDaniel Cha, an aerospace engineering senior in the Cockrell School of Engineering, is the recipient of the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship which supports students pursuing graduate degrees in a STEM field at a U.S. university. Fellows receive a $34,000 annual stipend over a three-year period, along with a $12,000 education allowance to attend any U.S. institution of their choice, as well as opportunities for international research and professional development.

Cha plans to pursue both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering at Stanford University, focusing on plasmas and propulsion technologies.

Cha discovered his passion for plasmas and propulsion systems during his undergraduate studies and research work in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics under the advisement of Professor Noel Clemens. As an undergraduate, he conducted NASA-funded research to study heat ablation processes and rarified gas flow interactions for thermal protection materials using an inductively coupled plasma torch facility. He also helped to develop the new torch facility while conducting laser diagnostic experiences and completing his undergraduate honors thesis.

In addition, Cha was involved with the Texas Spacecraft Laboratories and served as the UT Austin AIAA Student Chapter president. He presented his undergraduate research at the AIAA Region IV Student Conference where he placed second in the Undergraduate Technical category, which he says definitely prepared him for graduate school. He also says that being involved with these student teams and organizations gave him the opportunity to collaborate on engineering teams in a technical environment and to develop interpersonal skills with industry professionals.

The rigorous academic program at UT coupled with these co-curricular activities pushed Cha to seek opportunities where he could seek initiative. These opportunities allowed him to take charge of his future and prepared him for graduate school by allowing him to take ownership of his undergraduate research while also exploring his research and career interests.

As for what he plans to do after completing his graduate studies, Cha says his longtime passion has been to “develop infrastructure that will take advantage of in-situ resource utilization in space.”

“After graduate school, I hope to pursue a career in industry or research labs where I can improve space propulsion technologies that will contribute to providing a pipeline between us and the resources in space,” said Cha. “I would eventually want to direct such missions or start my own company that will spearhead this effort.”