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The College of Engineering’s Jonathan Klamkin is one of seven university researchers nationwide to receive the 2014 NASA Early Career Faculty Award, which honors early career faculty focused on space technology that addresses critical needs in the US space program.

Klamkin, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and of materials science and engineering, caught NASA’s attention with a proposal to develop integrated laser transmitter technology for deep space communications. The space agency had recently completed a mission, the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, which demonstrated high-rate laser communication between Earth and the Moon. As NASA prepares future missions to Mars, the award provides Klamkin with a grant of up to $600,000 over three years to further develop the technology to allow for deep space communication.

High-rate space communication is made possible laser communication transmitters, which send data to Earth through space similar to how ground-based lasers send data over fiber-optic cables for the Internet.

With funding from the NASA grant and partnerships with MIT Lincoln Laboratory and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Klamkin aims to apply photonic integrated circuit technology to reduce the size, weight, and power of space laser transmitters. Photonic integration brings together several photonic functions on a chip in a manner analogous to incorporating transistors on an electronic integrated circuit. Klamkin hopes that his research will inspire new design methodologies for space laser transmitter hardware.

NASA’s Early Career Faculty Award is administered by the agency’s Space Technology Research Grants Program, which seeks to accelerate the development of emerging technologies from academia that serve the needs of NASA, other government agencies and space-related industries.