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Penn State senior earns Astronaut Scholarship supporting STEM research careers

22 June 2021
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Owen Chase outside
Owen Chase is a Penn State senior majoring in astronomy and astrophysics and statistics. Image provided.

Penn State senior Owen Chase has received a 2021 Astronaut Scholarship, which supports students pursuing careers in STEM research.

Chase, of Wexford, Pennsylvania, is majoring in astronomy and astrophysics and statistics. He first began in undergraduate research in his second year at Penn State.

“It makes me feel really empowered to be able to contribute to the larger project that is academia,” Chase said of undergraduate research. “It has molded my ideas of what I want to study in the future.”

His undergraduate research centers around a problem in observational cosmology called the Hubble tension. There are currently various methods of measuring the expansion rate of the universe (known as Hubble’s constant, or H0, pronounced "H-not").

“Our work seeks to use a new measurement technique to independently measure H0,” Chase said.

His research mentor, Robin Ciardullo, said Chase was among the best undergraduate researchers he has mentored in his 30-year career. Ciardullo is a professor the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics in the Penn State Eberly College of Science.

“Owen Chase ranks with the very best in terms of being a quick, independent learner and an efficient and extremely careful analyzer of data,” Ciardullo said. “But what sets him apart is that many of his research contributions have been done in the COVID-19 era, where I have only been able to give him sporadic guidance. He’s had to learn many of the subtleties of the subject on his own, and he hasn’t had much of a chance to learn from discussions with other members of my research group. It’s succeeding in the COVID-19 era that sets Owen apart.”

The scholarship provides up to $15,000 in funding toward education costs, a paid trip to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation’s Innovators Weekend and lifelong engagement with astronauts, Astronaut Scholar alumni and the foundation.

“I'm super excited to take advantage of all the opportunities this scholarship offers from the big gala in August to the long-term mentoring and career guidance,” Chase said. “Of course, the financial award is great for alleviating financial pressure in my last year here at Penn State. I'll be applying to graduate schools in the fall so this makes me really excited about my chances of getting into the places I want to go.”

More about the Astronaut Scholarship and how to apply

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) was established in 1984 by the six surviving members of the original Mercury 7 astronauts; Betty Grissom, widow of the late Virgil “Gus” Grissom; William Douglas, Project Mercury flight surgeon; and Henri Landwirth, businessman and friend of the Mercury 7. The Mercury 7 are America’s first astronauts, picked from the ranks of U.S. military test pilots in the late 1950s. The foundation continued to grow its support over the years from astronauts from the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs, according to the ASF website.

The University can nominate up to two applicants for the award, so students must first pass through an internal Penn State selection process facilitated by Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring. Students must be U.S. citizens, full-time second- or third-year Penn State students with one to two years of study remaining and be majoring in an approved STEM field with the intention of pursuing a career in research. The University nominates its applicants based on proof of creativity and innovation, initiative and exceptional performance in their respective fields. The University deadline to apply for the next round of Astronaut Scholarships is Jan. 30, 2022.

Students interested in applying to the scholarship can contact Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring at urfm@psu.edu to learn more about the scholarship program and verify that they meet the eligibility criteria. More information on the Astronaut Scholarship process at Penn State also can be found at urfm.psu.edu.

Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring is part of the Penn State Office of Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at undergrad.psu.edu.