Fund for the Advancement of Space Science Education


In the spirit of dedication to the growth of young scientists and engineers embodied by Gerald Soffen throughout his life, the Dr. Gerald A. Soffen Memorial Fund for the Advancement of Space Science Education offers Student Travel Grants. The Travel Grants are awarded to students pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees in aerospace-related sciences or engineering fields (astrobiology, astronomy, earth and space science, engineering, etc.) to attend a meeting at which they will present their research.

The deadline for the next application opportunity is October 15, 2012. You will soon be able to access the online application at our new, dedicated Soffen Fund website,

The online application is not yet activated, but we are working to activate the online application as soon as possible. In the meantime, interested applicants can prepare their application package in anticipation of the application going live. Application materials include:

Curriculum vitae
Meeting abstract (or brief research summary if the meeting is far enough in the future that abstract submission has yet to occur)
Essay (1000 words or less) describing the applicant's interest in space science and engineering and the benefit of conference attendance to the applicant
Letter of support from the applicant's advisor

Students of all nationalities are welcome to apply; however, applicants must be enrolled full time in an accredited undergraduate or graduate institution of higher learning in the United States.

Two awards in the amount of $500 will be presented at the deadline, contingent upon acceptance of the recipients’ conference abstracts. Recipients must be able to attend their conference using the Travel Grant and, if necessary, support from other sources; supplemental funds above the $500 award cannot be requested from the Soffen Fund. Upon receipt of the Travel Grant, recipients will be asked to:
     + Acknowledge the grant in their presentations at the conference
     + Submit their presentation materials to the Soffen Memorial Fund for posting on the Fund’s Travel Grant web page.

Notification of the award will be made approximately one month after the application deadline. Therefore, the Travel Grant can only support travel to meetings with dates falling after November 15, 2012. We anticipate having another selection cycle in Spring 2013 (~April 1 application date) so applications to attend meetings falling after approximately May 1, 2013 should be submitted to the April 2013 application opportunity. If your meeting date falls near the May 2013 cutoff date, application submission to the October 15, 2012 deadline is recommended.

You may contact the Gerald A. Soffen Memorial Fund for the Advancement of Space Science Education regarding Travel Grants at


Previous awardees and a description of their research appear below:

An April 2012 awardee, Jay Kroll, is an undergraduate student in Chemistry at Emory University. Jay presented a talk [PDF of Jay's slides (3.2 Mb)] on his work related to laboratory spectroscopic characterization of complex organic molecules that may be present in the interstellar medium at the Ohio State University International Symposium on Molecular Spectroscopy in June 2012. Jay has been involved with research his entire undergraduate career and has participated in all aspects of research, from proposal writing to instrumentation construction to data analysis. The conference represented his first, first-author professional presentation.
An April 2012 awardee, Caitlin Nolby, is a graduate student in Space Sciences at the University of North Dakota. Caitlin presented her poster [PDF of Caitlin's poster (1.2 Mb)] on the development, teaching and refinement of an introductory observational astronomy class for high school students at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's "Communicating Science" Conference in August 2012. Caitlin has a long-lived interest in space, and wrote a wonderful essay that captured her desire to turn her own interests into inspiration and educational opportunities for other students. The conference represented her first professional presentation.
An October 2011 awardee, Jessica Blagen, is a graduate student in Space Sciences at the University of North Dakota. Jessica presented her poster [PDF of Jessica's poster (0.8 Mb)] on potential linkages between the Gefion family of asteroids and the L-chondrite family of meteorites in a poster at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March 2012. Jessica recently focused her diverse talents (degrees in geology and film studies, a dedicated volunteer at the Mauna Kea Observatories Visitor Information Station) on planetary science, fulfilling a life-long interest in the field.
An October 2011 awardee, Rebecca Jensen-Clem, is an undergraduate student in Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Rebecca presented a talk [PDF of Rebecca's slides (7.9 Mb)] on her work on the development of a new adaptive optics sensor, which involved both numerical simulations and hands-on laboratory work, at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in March, 2012. Rebecca has been consistently involved in space-related activities throughout college and was supported by a stellar letter from her Space Grant advisor at JPL.
An April 2011 awardee, Thomas Catanach, is an undergraduate student in Physics at the University of Notre Dame. Thomas is the recipient of the American Pioneer Ventures Travel Grant. Thomas presented a poster [PDF of Thomas's poster (0.9 Mb)] entitled "Atmospheric Effects on Muon Flux at Project GRAND" and a talk [PDF of Thomas's slides (5.0 Mb)] entitled "Periodic Variations in Muon Flux at Project GRAND" at the International Cosmic Ray Conference in August 2011 detailing his research using a Notre Dame-based cosmic ray detector. Thomas has been involved in astrophysics research since high school and anticipates that the conference will help him determine which field of astrophysics he will focus on in graduate school.
An April 2011 awardee, Lourdes Medina, is graduate student in Industrial Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. Lourdes presented her talk [PDF of Lourdes's talk (1.6 Mb)] entitled "A Review of Design for X Methods for Medical Devices: The Introduction of a Design for FDA Approach" at the ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conference in August 2011. Lourdes, who has a spotless academic record, chose to focus on medical device design for her Ph.D. because it fed her desire to conduct research that contributes to the betterment of society.
An October 2010 awardee, Erin Kara, is an undergraduate student in Physics at the Barnard College. Erin is the recipient of the American Pioneer Ventures Travel Grant, the first sponsored Soffen Fund Travel Grant. Erin presented her poster [PDF of Erin's talk (1.4 Mb)] entitled "Blazar Counterparts for Low-Latitude Unidentified Sources: 1FGL J2015.7+3708 and 1FGL 2027.6+3335" at the Fermi Symposium in May 2011. Blazars are a specific type of active galactic nuclei which are uniquely visible with the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Erin has been consistently involved in astrophysics research throughout her undergraduate career and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in astrophysics.
An October 2010 awardee, Jarret Lafleur, is a Ph.D. student in Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech. Jarret presented his talk [PDF of Jarret's talk (2.5 Mb)] entitled "Probabilistic AHP and TOPSIS for Multi-Attribute Decision-Making under Uncertainty" at the IEEE Aerospace Conference in March 2011. His work uses probabilistic methods to improve and facilitate the decision-making process early in complex projects, when uncertainty is high. Jarret penned a philosophical application essay, has an outstanding academic record and a long-standing record of participation in space-related research.
An April 2010 awardee, Valerie Klavans, is an undergraduate student in Astronomy at the University of Maryland. Valerie presented her talk [PDF of Valerie's talk (2.0 Mb)] entitled "Analysis of High Resolution Laboratory Propane Spectra (v21, 922 cm-1) and the Interpretation of Titan's Infrared Spectra" at the International Symposium on Molecular Spectroscopy in June 2010. Valerie has been continuously involved in promoting astronomy and space science at her school through campus organizations and various conferences. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in Planetary Astronomy with NASA.
An April 2010 awardee, Geoffrey Wawrzyniak, is a Ph.D. candidate in Astrodynamics and Space Applications at Purdue University. Geoff presented his talk [PDF of Geoff's talk (0.9 Mb)] entitled "Creating Solar Sail Trajectories Using Boundary Value Problem Solvers" at the Second International Symposium on Solar Sailing in July 2010. Geoff's background in astrodynamics has led him to pursue doctoral research work on the generation and control of solar sail orbits in the Earth-Moon system. He hopes to "continue the human adventure into space" by means of solar sailing.
An October 2009 awardee, Courtney King, is an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona. Courtney presented her poster [JPEG of Courtney's poster (3.2 Mb)] entitled "Determining the Metal/Silicate Partition Coefficient of Germanium: Implications for Core and Mantle Differentiation" at the Lunar and Planetary Science meeting in March 2010.
An October 2009 awardee, Jeff Bowman, is a graduate student at the University of Washington. Jeff presented a poster [PDF of Jeff's poster (3.6 Mb)] on his research entitled "Elevated bacterial abundance in laboratory-grown and naturally occurring frost flowers under late winter conditions" at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in December 2009.
The April 2009 awardee, Sarah Miller, is an undergraduate in materials science and engineering at Washington State University. Sarah presented her talk [PDF of Sarah's talk (2.7 Mb PDF)] entitled "Effect of substrate composition on whisker formation in Sn films" at the Materials Science and Technology 2009 conference in October. Motivated by her long-standing interest in space, Sarah has conducted research since her freshman year of college and is a leader of the WSU branch of Material Advantage, a national materials science student group.
An October 2008 awardee, Nishant Agarwal, is a PhD candidate in Astronomy and Space Sciences at Cornell University. Nishant presented [PDF of Nishant's presentation (530 Kb)] his research, entitled "Cosmological Constraints on General, Single-Field Inflation," at the American Physical Society meeting in April 2009. This research seeks to aid the development of a physical model of the expansion of the universe which agrees with theory, while being based on observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background and the large-scale structure of the universe. In addition to being one of the top graduate students in his department, according to his advisor Rachel Bean, "…he is already working, in terms of competence and independence, at the level of a senior graduate student despite only being half way through his graduate career." Not only is Nishant an outstanding researcher and student, but he is also active in engaging undergraduates and teenagers in astronomy education, and has already given talks at a number of conferences and seminars.
An October 2008 awardee, Paul Richardson, is an undergraduate at the University of Washington in Earth and Space Sciences with a minor in Applied Mathematics. Paul was a participant in the USRP at Goddard Space Flight Center conducting research under Dr. Jacob Bleacher. He presented [PDF of Paul's presentation (17.7 Mb)] his research entitled "Small Volcanic Features on Olympus Mons in the Tharsis Region, Mars" at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in March 2009. This research uses hi-res images from Mars Odyssey's THEMIS and Mars Express's HRSC to catalog small volcanic vents and improve the understanding of the geological history of the Tharsis region. Paul has been an undergraduate research assistant on a number of projects at UW, a teaching assistant in two courses, and is a member of many professional clubs and societies in his field. His PI at Goddard described him as an outstanding intern based on both his progress so far and his ability to see the implications of this research on the global scale.
An April 2008 awardee, Emily Tenenbaum, is a graduate student in physical chemistry at the University of Arizona. Emily, who studies the chemistry of stars using observational radio astronomy, presented [PDF version of Emily's presentation (1.2 Mb PDF)] her discovery of two P-bearing molecules around two different types of stars at the International Symposium on Molecular Spectroscopy in June of 2008. The discovery of P-bearing molecules in circumstellar space is important for understanding the development of life, as P is a crucial element in the building blocks of life.
An April 2008 awardee, Erin Beck, is a senior in physics at Washington University in St. Louis. Erin, the project manager and mission planning lead of a team of 60 students designing and building a flight-ready satellite for the Air Force Research Laboratory's University Nanosatellite competition, attended the Small Satellite Systems and Services "4S" Symposium in May 2008. She not only presented [PDF version of Erin's poster (2.8 Mb PDF)] her team's progress but also carried out her responsibilities for the overall meeting as a member of the meeting's technical committee.
A 2006 awardee, Madeline Leong, is a first--year M.D./Ph.D. student at Duke University. Madeline enthusiastically wrote about how her experience leading her Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunity Program team redefined her perspectives on medicine and sparked a fascination with space research. She presented [PDF version of Madeline's poster (1.9 Mb PDF)] the results of her team's study on the influence of gravitational stress on immunity at the National MD-PhD Student Conference in July of 2007.
A 2006 awardee, John Janeski, is a senior at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. John participated in the Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunity Program where his team demonstrated electrostatic orbits between two charged spheres. John presented [PDF version of John's presentation (7.4 Mb PDF)] the results of their experiment at the American Association of Physics Teachers meeting in January 2007 in hopes of providing physics teachers with a unique and exciting way to teach basic principles of physics in their classrooms.
A 2005 awardee, Matthew Gadja, is a second year graduate student in engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Matthew presented a talk on the design of "A Lunar Volatiles Miner" [PDF version of Matthew's presentation (1.1 Mb PDF)] at the International Conference on Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Challenging Environments in Houston, Texas in March of 2006. Matt has a longstanding interest in space and was a high-performing engineering physics major as an undergrad while lettering as a member of the University of Wisconsin football team.
A 2005 awardee, Nicole Jordan, is a second year graduate student in the Aeronautics and Astronautics/Technology and Policy program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Nicole presented a talk on the "Development and Validation of a Multidisciplinary Spacesuit Model" [PDF version of Nicole's presentation (8.4 Mb PDF)] at the 44th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting in Reno in January of 2006. Nicole has extensive experience in spacesuit research and an impressive academic record.
A 2004 awardee, David Harmon, was a senior double major in computer science and mathematics at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. David attended the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics: Computation Science and Engineering conference in February of 2005. He presented the work he did as a summer intern at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Maestro, a software package used to control the Mars Exploration Rovers during surface operations [PDF version of David's poster (3 Mb)]. David's application was noteworthy for its outstanding letter of support from his computer science department chair, who also had served as his professor in numerous courses. Awarding a Travel Grant to David marks the second year in a row the Soffen Fund was able to provide support to a student at a small college outside the mainstream of NASA university activities.
A 2004 awardee, Amber Straughn, was a second year graduate student in physics and astronomy at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. Amber attended the American Astronomical Society's meeting in January of 2005 to present her research on characterization of "Tadpole Galaxies in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field" Dataset [PDF version of Amber's poster (4.2 Mb PDF)]. Amber's application stood out not only for its glowing letter of support from her advisor, but by her enthusiastic essay.
The 2003 awardee, Philip A. Ashley, was a sophomore studying Physical Science at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Philip presented his work on "Measurement of Diatomic Oxygen in the Exhaust Plume of a Mini-Hybrid Rocket" [PDF version of Philip's poster (463 Kb PDF)] at the American Chemical Society's 227th National Meeting in Anaheim, California.
The 2002 awardee, Kristen Bethke, was a senior studying Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. Kristen presented her work on "Revolutionary Concepts for Human Outer Planet Exploration (HOPE)" [PDF version of Kristen's presentation (3.2 Mb PDF)] at the Space Technology and Applications International Forum in Albuquerque, New Mexico on February 3rd, 2003. Kristen presented slides 14-26 of the presentation.