Chemical engineering grad honored with Presidential Early Career Award

Morgan B. Abney

Dr. Morgan B. Abney, a space systems engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., is among six NASA researchers named today by President Barack Obama as recipients of the 2012 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, or PECASE.

A native of Berea, Ky., Abney graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. She received her doctorate in chemical engineering in 2007 from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and spent a year as a development engineer for Lexmark International of Lexington, Ky.

Abney was recognized for her innovative technical leadership in advancing technologies for recovering oxygen from carbon dioxide for self-sustaining human space exploration. As part of the Space Systems Development, Integration & Test Division team within Marshall’s Engineering Directorate, she seeks to develop advanced atmosphere-revitalization technologies for future crewed flight missions.

The PECASE award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers. The award recognizes recipients’ exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge, and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, education or community outreach.

“Discoveries in science and technology not only strengthen our economy, they inspire us as a people,” President Obama said. “The impressive accomplishments of today’s awardees so early in their careers promise even greater advances in the years ahead.”

Ninety-six researchers, representing 11 federal agencies, were honored this year. All will receive their awards at a ceremony later this month in Washington.

“Dr. Abney brings a highly analytical mind and strong interpersonal skills to the challenges of long-duration human exploration missions,” said Chris Singer, director of Marshall’s Engineering Directorate. “Her zeal for her work, and her ability to communicate complex technical issues to all our diverse stakeholders, exemplify the best that NASA offers. She is a credit to the agency and to the nation we serve.”

“Helping sustain human life in space is the most rewarding job I can imagine,” Abney said. “I’m proud to participate in the development of revolutionary life-support systems for the next era in space exploration.”

She joined the Marshall Center in 2008 as the lead design engineer for the development of new loop-closure technologies — seeking ways to increase the amount of oxygen recycled during long-duration space missions, reducing the amount of stored air needed to be carried from Earth.

Today, she is the technical lead for NASA’s Life Support System Oxygen Recovery Technology Development effort, identifying new hardware and reclamation solutions to support human spaceflight.

Abney is the author or co-author of nearly a dozen published research papers. In 2010, she received the Marshall Center’s Technology Transfer Award for her role in the advancement of a developmental trace contaminant control technology. She also is a 2011 recipient of a Silver Telly Award as a technical advisor for the Marshall-produced DVD, “What it Takes to Live Away From the Earth.” The Telly Awards annually recognize the visual arts industry’s finest film and video productions and best local, regional and cable TV and Web programming.