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Two Ogden Honors Students Named 2021 Astronaut Scholars

LSU students Rohin Gilman and Benjamin Thomas were recently selected as 2021 Astronaut Scholars by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, becoming LSU’s eleventh and twelfth recipients. 

The scholarship 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. 

“We are very proud of Rohin and Ben for their hard work and innovative and creative approaches to STEM-related issues,” said Jonathan Earle, dean of the Ogden Honors College. “When we say Ogden students will change the world we mean that very literally. The sky's the limit for what these two can accomplish.” 

Gilman, also a 2021 Goldwater Scholar, is a rising Ogden Honors College senior studying mathematics in the LSU College of Science with a dual degree in computer science in the LSU College of Engineering. His coursework in these areas has given him a strong foundation to deepen his understanding of mathematics and its various branches, including topics in both applied and pure mathematics. “Numerical methods are a bridge uniting these two major pillars of mathematics, using the tools of pure mathematics to produce results that are applicable in a wide range of problems in the real world,” says Gilman. 

Gilman’s research includes using Koopman’s global linearization approach to demonstrate how the Chernoff Product Formula can be used to approximate solutions of initial value problems for fully nonlinear differential equations. He also used the Lie-Trotter Product formula to approximate solutions of second-order differential equations such as the Van der Pol equation.

“I have been able to sample many different areas of mathematics and get a feel for what kinds of problems I find the most interesting,” says Gilman. “I like to solve problems that have some basis in the real world such as the Van der Pol equation or bond percolation, but that also have broader implications in mathematics. These are the problems that I  want to work on as I pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics to eventually teach at the university level and do research in numerical analysis and applied mathematics.” 

Thomas is a rising Ogden Honors College senior studying computational mathematics in the LSU College of Science with a dual degree in biological engineering in the LSU College of Engineering.

Thomas came to LSU with aspirations of becoming a doctor. “I believed that being a doctor was the best career to pursue if I wanted to help change people’s lives. I had already shadowed a general surgeon and volunteered at local hospitals for over 100 hours,” Thomas recalls. Through his courses and independent research, he became captivated by and discovered a passion for higher-level mathematics and saw its applications in his biological engineering classes, which he realized would allow him to help people in other ways. “Now, my goal is to use this knowledge of mathematics to create or optimize algorithms that can have major impacts in healthcare such as automatically detecting the presence of tumors in X-rays identifying different microbes on a slide, or AI-assisted surgeries,” Thomas said.  

Most of Thomas’s undergraduate research is focused on artificial intelligence (AI). He is currently investigating whether or not there is an ordered configuration to how viral DNA is packed inside the capsid. At the outset of this AI research, he had no coding experience or knowledge of higher-level mathematics. Through this experience, Thomas has taught himself optimization, numerical linear algebra, probability, and many other topics that play a part in machine learning. He has learned how to code in Python and three other languages coding different clustering algorithms such as neural networks, self-organizing maps, and generative topographic maps.

For his senior design project in engineering, advised by Dr. Chandra Theegala, Thomas’s team designed a prototype arm to aid in crawfish harvesting, a major industry in Louisiana. As the project leader, he was responsible for developing the code that would make the arm work. Thomas said it forced him to learn more advanced coding and learn how different systems communicate with each other to be able to connect a controller to a Raspberry Pi to tell the arm how to move. “I believe we exceeded Dr. Theegala’s expectations. He offered me a job to work on the product version over the next year while I finish my last year of school which is an amazing opportunity closely related to my career goals,” said Thomas.