Jaden Dougal’s Research is Out of This World

Posted on: April 2, 2024   |   Categories: Announcements, News & Updates
Jade Dougal For Web

Pictured: Jaden Dougal, a junior mechanical engineering major at South Dakota Mines, presents at the American Physical Society’s conference in March. Article by Gray Hughes from South Dakota Mines.

Getting to work on cutting-edge research is a privilege typically reserved for graduate students, but South Dakota Mines is not your typical university, and Jaden Dougal, a junior mechanical engineering major from Rockwall, Texas, is not your typical student.

Dougal has been helping conduct research on laser ablation for efficient space debris removal. She describes it as using space-based lasers to target debris in low earth orbit: shooting them with a nanosecond or femtosecond laser to change the debris’ trajectory — either slow it down enough to fall into the Earth’s atmosphere to burn up or speed it up enough to be sent to a graveyard orbit.

Dougal can participate in this research thanks to Prasoon Diwakar, PhD, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and research supported from the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium.

“Dr. Diwakar reached out to me at the end of my sophomore year and asked if I would like to conduct research with him. I said yes, but I wanted to be involved with an aerospace project, so we started researching how to remove and mitigate space debris using lasers,” Dougal said.

She got involved because she wanted to be active in her department and perform academic work, such as research, in the aerospace field. She plans on pursuing a career in that industry upon graduating from Mines, either continuing her research or designing materials for heat transfer on spacecraft.

She adds that Diwakar has been an “incredible” research advisor throughout the process.

“He has guided me through grant applications, conference applications, poster design and how to be successful in the field,” she said. “I have learned so much from him, and I am truly grateful for this opportunity to work with him.”

Recently, Dougal’s research took her to the American Physical Society’s (APS) March meeting in Minneapolis, Minn. Dougal heard about the opportunity through Diwakar and applied online for an undergraduate poster presentation.

Dougal’s presentation session lasted for three hours and included several meetings with judges. Dougal said she had no more than five minutes of downtime between visitors to her poster. After the presentation, she was named one of the top presenters of the session.

But that wasn’t the only big thing that happened to Dougal in March. She was accepted into graduate school at Mines and will continue her research on laser ablation for her master’s thesis.

She picked Mines because she had wanted to be an engineer since visiting the Johnson Space Center for a Girl Scout trip when she was nine years old and falling in love with both aerospace and engineering. Wanting to move to a different part of the country, she found home at Mines after meeting with Pierre Larochelle, PhD, professor and department head of mechanical engineering at Mines.

“I think that if you truly want to be an engineer, there is no better education than South Dakota Mines,” she said.