The grant comes from the space agency's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. MSU is one of only a dozen universities around the country to receive one of the grants.
Electrical engineers Kevin Repasky, Joseph Shaw and their colleagues will use the money - along with the matching sum that MSU must provide - to build a high-spectral resolution lidar system to study clouds and particles suspended in the atmosphere.
Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, involves sending bolts of laser light into the sky and measuring the light that returns to earth's surface. The amount of light that returns, how much it is scattered and how quickly it returns can tell scientists about the composition of the atmosphere.
That system will be combined with other instruments built by MSU to conduct experiments that Repasky and Shaw hope will one day lead scientists to create more accurate models of earth's climate.
The proposed lidar will help further laser research at MSU, where scientists have been working for years on laser- and optics-based sensors. In May, a pair of Repasky's graduate students won prestigious fellowships to study lidar and remote-sensing systems at NASA's Langley Research Center.