Nasa research engineer Mahmooda Sultana has been named as the 2017 “IRAD Innovator of the Year” for her groundbreaking work advancing nanomaterials and processes to create small, potentially revolutionary detectors and devices for use in space.
The annual award is given for achieving significant results creating technologies under the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Internal Research and Development, or IRAD, programme, Nasa said
“She embodies the very essence of innovation,” Goddard Chief Technologist Peter Hughes said, adding they were fortunate that she had come to Nasa.
He described Mahmooda as a “tenacious, creative thinker” who impressed everyone with her technical acumen and drive.
She has successfully competed for 10 awards under IRAD programme, compiling an impressive list of accomplishments, including the creation of advanced sensors for which a patent is pending, Huges said.
She has also emerged as one of Nasa’s experts in nanotechnology.
Mahmooda immigrated to California with her family as a teen and earned a PhD in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010.
She became the lead in development of graphene-based censors – efforts that led to the filing of a still pending patent application – within a few months of joining Nasa.
Graphene is 200 times stronger than structural steel and highly sensitive and stable at extreme temperatures.
Mahmooda said: “When I came to Nasa Goddard in 2010, no one at the center was doing substantial work on graphene … I wanted to explore what graphene had to offer for space applications.”
Currently, Mahmooda and her team are collaborating with MIT to develop a prototype imaging spectrometer.
In another collaboration, she and her team are experimenting with Boston’s Northeastern University-created Nanoscale Offset Printing System to manufacture a multifunctional sensor platform.
Mahmooda now represents Nasa on national and regional nanotech councils and is the recipient of many Nasa awards and honors.
Her colleague Goddard technologist Mary Li was full of praise for Mahmooda, saying she would go far in the Nasa environment.
She has been recently named the associate branch head of Goddard’s Instrument/Payload Systems Engineering Branch.
Her position will allow her to apply her detector expertise to create next-generation instruments and missions, including CubeSats, according to Nasa.
Ted Swanson, senior technologist for strategic integration for Goddard’s Office of the Chief Technologist, said she was “a real go-getter.”
“She leverages the expertise of her colleagues, constantly looks for ways to advance the readiness of our technologies, and isn’t afraid to seek vehicles for financial support — the hallmark of a successful innovator.”