Students in the School of Engineering are set to play an integral role in an Air Force project that seeks to create next-generation material and technology to improve space satellites.

COSMIAC, a research center at the School of Engineering, received a $7 million 5-year contract with the Air Force to research, design and test semiconductor materials for electronics that can survive the harsh conditions of space.

“This is a major project — one of the largest research contracts that the School of Engineering has ever received — and it is another great example of the strength of UNM as a top-tier research institution,” said School of Engineering Dean Joseph Cecchi.

The project will be led by Christos Christodoulou, Ganesh Balakrishnan and Payman Zarkesh-Ha, all distinguished engineering professors at UNM.

Christodoulou said the project will allow students to work on a futuristic and serious problem that will impact space satellites, from enhancing satellite communication to remote sensing, which is the capability to scan the earth for information.

“There are not many universities in the United States that will give a chance to one of their students to work on future space electronics,” he said. “We will be one of the few, elite programs in the country.”

UNM competed against universities across the nation for the contract, with the Air Force choosing UNM for its nanoscale design and fabrication capabilities at its Center for High Technology Materials.

Specifically, UNM boasts special capabilities with hits molecular beam epitaxy machine, which can construct materials by using individual atoms.

Cecchi said UNM is committed to “staying on the cutting edge of high-technology,” attributing the achievement to UNM having the necessary equipment to achieve the project’s goal.

The accomplishment is proof that UNM can attract and retain “the best and the brightest,” he said.

Christodoulou said he is excited for what the project will bring.

Not only will it assist the United States Air Force, it will benefit New Mexico’s economy, as the $7 million program entails new jobs and economic development.

“We are talking about hiring a lot of people,” Christodoulou said, including graduate students and professors, as well as computer, electrical and chemical engineers.

Christodoulou also predicted that the project will attract companies that want to be a part of creating next-generation materials and technology.

Cecchi emphasized the program’s potential impact on the economy.

“The discoveries made through such work often form the genesis of a business idea, many of which can eventually grow into successful, high-tech companies that employ significant numbers of New Mexicans,” he said. “And can, in turn, help to grow the high-tech economic base of the state attracting other businesses.”

Jacob Liberman, an engineering student at UNM, was ecstatic to hear about the contract. He said it would provide an immense amount of opportunities to students in the School of Engineering.

Liberman thinks the project will help many students by providing new equipment and technologically advanced machinery.

Christodoulou, who is set to become the dean of the School of Engineering in July, said the ultimate goal is to establish new programs in aerospace engineering.

“If you bring more students that are highly qualified then more companies will start moving in,” Christodoulou said. “I believe in economic development. We need to help our state of New Mexico become a hub for all aerospace activities and companies in the nation.”

Andres Del Aguila is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at or on Twitter @Andres_DA95.