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Reach for the Stars: Two LSU Honors Students Awarded Prestigious Astronaut Scholarship

The Astronaut Scholarship recognizes the best and brightest minds in STEM who show initiative, creativity, and excellence in their chosen field.

LSU students Brianna Robertson and Henry Kantrow have been awarded the 2020 Astronaut Scholarship, which recognizes the best and brightest minds in STEM who show initiative, creativity, and excellence in their chosen field. Presented by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF), the scholarship provides up to $15,000 to promising scholars while commemorating the legacy of America’s Mercury 7 astronauts — each of whom sponsored and fundraised to establish the current scholarship program. 

Robertson, a senior physics and computer engineering major from Slidell, LA, has been conducting research with Dr. Jin-Woo Choi to develop an end-to-end automated system using neural networks for the physical layer of telecommunications in software-defined radios, which will lead to better in-space communication. 

As a student representative of the National Science Foundation's International Research Experience for Students (NSF IRES) program, Robertson discovered her passion for “Deep Learning”  best known as artificial intelligence (AI)  while working in a cancer research laboratory in Seoul, South Korea. Her experience in South Korea would follow her on her research journey.

“At NASA’s Glenn Research Center, I actively optimized solutions for space communications using Deep Learning. There are new heights to ascend, more elusive sights for humanity to behold, and they exist outside of our classic sky limit. This is why I work on the communication bridge between our astronauts and Earth,” she notes. “I am an active amateur radio operator, and I spend my weekends contesting in an attempt to communicate with people across North America. Those same radio waves, with a little more energy, are how we are reaching into deep space, conveying images back to Earth of places we have yet to physically explore.”

Robertson was also recently named a Goldwater Scholar. After graduation, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and perform industry-level research and development in space-related fields. 

Kantrow, a senior chemical engineering major from Baton Rouge, LA, has been conducting research on the design and installation of an ultra-high vacuum motor and, more recently, the fabrication of ultra-smooth 2D Ag films for plasmonic applications under Dr. Kevin McPeak.

“With the growing challenges of our changing climate, Chemical Engineering offers solutions in countless capacities: improving water sustainability, harvesting solar energy, creating new fuel sources, and much more. My existing research experience has already proven this versatility to me,” he says. 

Apart from his research at LSU, Kantrow also spent this past summer at the Northwestern University International Institute for Nanotechnology REU. During that time, he worked in the Kimberly Gray Lab within the Environmental Engineering Department, with significant overlap in Materials Science. Kantrow worked on a project that investigated improvements in water filtration membranes. 

Kantrow plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and a career in academia to create solutions to global problems with humanitarian and environmental applications.

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) awarded 56 scholarships to students from 41 different universities across the nation. Astronaut Scholarships are awarded to students in their junior and senior year of college studying science, technology, engineering, or mathematics with the intent to pursue research or advance their field upon completion of their final degree.