AEM student receives prestigious Astronaut Scholarship

Competitive scholarship awards up to $15,000 to those pursuing STEM research careers

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (6/25/21) – Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics (AEM) student, Nathan Pharis, at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has been awarded a scholarship for the 2021-22 academic year by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF). The prestigious, competitive scholarship, initiated by the Mercury-7 astronauts, is awarded annually to outstanding sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research-oriented careers in mathematics, engineering, and the natural and applied sciences. 

The scholarship awards up to $15,000 for a year of undergraduate study. In addition, recipients receive mentoring and professional development support with a life-long relationship with astronauts, alumni, and great leaders who span academia, technical research, and corporate leadership.

Pharis is a fourth year aerospace engineering and mechanics undergraduate who has been studying micron-sized particles with AEM Professors James Flaten, Associate Director of the MN Space Grant Consortium, and Graham Candler, McKnight Presidential Chair. His current plans are to complete graduate degrees while researching aerospace control systems for spacecraft, pursue research as a career, and pass the knowledge down as a professor.

“This kind of research is important to me because it not only pushes forward on how we navigate through space, but it will also have impacts on important technologies at home that improve the way we live. ...Aside from this, I plan to apply to be an astronaut with the hope that one day I might be able to pursue some research that's out of this world!”
- Nathan Pharis. 

Despite the limitations imposed by COVID-19, the undergraduate has been researching a method to count very small (micron-sized) particles in the stratosphere by modifying low cost particle counters. This would then aid Professor Candler in simulations for hypersonics modeling. Pharis also stays busy by completing research work for ASTER Labs. 

In his research, the undergraduate works closely with Professor Flaten who nominated him for the scholarship. He reached out to the professor for collaboration back in his freshman year and certainly does not regret his decision. He said, “[Professor Flaten] has served as a role model for me, and has ensured that I have had ample opportunities to learn, to lead, to meaningfully contribute to research, and to grow from both success and from failure. I am very thankful for what he has done to heighten my excitement about research!"

Pharis plans to use the award to help complete his undergraduate degree and is thrilled to be involved with the mentorship program through ASF, a step he considers invaluable to his career in research. Overall, he has been grateful for all his experiences to grow and learn and is thrilled for what the future will hold.

“Pursuing this opportunity would not have been possible without my friends and family. It is with their unconditional support that I won this award, and I couldn’t thank them enough!”