DOVER, Del. (WBOC)- The optics are good here for Delaware State University. Its optics program is getting a lot of money from NASA.
The space agency is giving a $5 million grant to the school in Dover. It is money DSU says will make a mark on Earth and on Mars.
Standing in a lab Monday morning Noureddine Melikchi, founder of the optics program, is explaining one of the four major projects developing space science tech NASA's money will fund.
One will use optics to help NASA's next Mars rover figure out if there's life on the Red Planet. He says the current rover looked to see if elements for life are there.
"Now the second question after that is - is there life? Now we have to develop the techniques that will allow us to hopefully have an answer," he said. "We're trying to answer them but looking - at least initially in this lab - at live cells, dead cells, looking the difference, the signatures. The atomic signatures, the molecular signatures they might give are very different."
US Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., says it would be easy to question the importance of projects like these for people on Darth. But he says they have value.
"We invest a very, very small amount of federal money in NASA's overall work project relative to the entire federal budget. We have seen life-saving and life-changing technological breakthroughs come from the American space program," said Coons.
The NASA grant is the first major award for the optics program since the new building opened last month. Melikchi hopes it's the first of many.
"Now we have to not only do the work, we have to sustain the funding level and keep going after new funding opportunities."
DSU also announced Monday it's getting a $1 million grant from the Gates Foundation to improve retention and graduation rates at the school.