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PC Student’s NASA Research Could Help Our Understanding of Mars



By: Presbyterian College Media

PC student Marigordon Varner, from Laurens, will spend the upcoming fall and spring semesters conducting NASA research that could help us further our understanding of Mars. 

She and physics professor Dr. Eli Owens are researching granular materials like sand, grains and soil.

“Granular materials are unique because they can act like any of the three states of matter,” Varner said.

“For example, sand can act like a solid when we walk on the beach, a liquid when it flows within an hourglass, and a gas as it is blown during a sandstorm.”

Specifically, Varner and Owens are studying the jamming transition using sound to measure the impedance of granular material and characterize how far the granular material is from the jamming transition.

“This work will have a wide range of applications, not just on earth,” Varner said. “It will also further our understanding of exotic places like the surface of Mars which is covered in granular materials.”

A Tradition of NASA Research Award recipients

Varner is the seventh of Owens’ students to receive the NASA Research Award over the past five years. Combined, the students have received $49,500 in award money.

This summer Varner is working on another research project with Owens. After her freshman year last year, she received a National Institutes of Health-affiliated award to work on a project to create a high-functioning, low-cost, 3D-printed prosthetic hand.

“I have always dreamed of working to create, improve, and discover new technology and techniques,” Varner said.

“After last summer I realized that I really enjoyed the research and that I learn a lot from this experience. I decided to continue to do as much research as possible during my time here at PC.”

Practical Research

Varner says research prepares her for her future, whether she’s researching granular materials that could help scientists further our understanding of Mars or helping to create a prosthetic hand with a 3D printer.

“I have always seen myself working in a position that works to create and improve technology and techniques, and research allows me to do all of these things,” Varner said. “My research here at PC will allow me to prepare for graduate school, upon graduation.”

Varner is one of two PC students conducting NASA research this year. Grace Wanliss is conducting research on magnetic storms with her father, physics professor Dr. James Wanliss.

Learn More

Visit Student Research for more about research opportunities at PC.

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