Stephanie Sears might not be on the next rocket ship to Mars, but the handwork that earned her a recent national research award could very well be.

Sears, a first-year West Virginia University graduate student in physics from Dearborn, Mich., was one of 29 students across the country to win the 2005-06 Undergraduate Research Award from the national Sigma Pi Sigma honorary.

The research she conducted as an undergraduate at Eastern Michigan University could someday lead to the development of new, more efficient rocket engines for deep-space missions.

Investigating Experimental Parameters in a New Plasma Sourcewas the title of her project.Plasma,in this case, refers not to the blood byproduct but rather a molten form of gas that can be safely shot back into rocket engines to produce more thrust for hefty jaunts across galaxies.

Plasma, in fact, is the fourth state of matter. As substances are heated from a low temperature, they go through a succession of states: solid, liquid, gas and, finally, plasma.

Sears is a May 2006 Eastern Michigan graduate who majored in physics research and minored in chemistry and mathematics. As an undergraduate she also studied at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of California at Los Angeles.

This past summer at WVU , she was part of Dr. Mark Koepkes research group in the Department of Physics at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. She hopes to eventually earn a doctorate in experimental plasma physics.

We are proud to have Stephanie as a student,Eberly Dean Mary Ellen Mazey said.This award is a testament to the strength of the programs in the Eberly College as they continue to attract such high quality students.

Sigma Pi Sigma is academias National Physics Honor Society and is associated with the Society of Physics Students, which encourages student research that will contribute to the scientific world.

For more information, contact Sears at ssears@mix.wvu.edu .