Undergraduate researchers Biscoveanu, Cordell awarded Astronaut Scholarships

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Andrea Sylvia Biscoveanu and Jacob Cordell have been awarded the Astronaut Scholarship for the 2016-17 academic year, bringing the total number of Penn State recipients to 26 in the history of this prestigious honor.  

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) recognizes undergraduate students who excel in STEM disciplines, according to the organization’s website. Scholarship recipients must plan to conduct research or contribute meaningfully to their fields following graduation.

Biscoveanu, a rising senior from Yardley, is double majoring in physics and Spanish. Cordell, a rising senior from State College, is pursuing degrees in material sciences and engineering, along with German language.

“Jacob and Sylvia are both highly accomplished learners, and have undertaken high-level research throughout their Penn State careers,” said Tanya Furman, interim director of the University Fellowships Office and associate vice president and associate dean for Undergraduate Education. “We are fortunate to have them both here as scholars and are tremendously proud of their accomplishments.”

Biscoveanu began immersing herself in research as a first-year student, working alongside Miguel Mostafá, associate professor of physics and astronomy and astrophysics in Penn State’s Eberly College of Science, to study ultra-high-energy cosmic waves through the Pierre Auger Collaboration. Last summer, she was part of a research team working with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

“Just this past spring, LIGO announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves, which is the most significant validation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity,” Biscoveanu said. “It opens this new portal into gravitational wave astronomy that allows us to go beyond the visible light spectrum to learn about our universe. It’s a really exciting discovery to be a part of and contribute to.”

Biscoveanu, a Schreyer Honors College Scholar who was also awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for the 2016-17 academic year, said she was responsible for identifying noise sources that could interfere with signals received by the equipment. Biscoveanu will continue researching with the LIGO Collaboration this summer, investigating alternative theories of gravity.

For Cordell, also a Schreyer Scholar, sustainability and solar energy have proven to be lifelong interests. While in high school, Cordell said he realized he wanted to tackle these topics from a scientific approach after attending a presentation given by Jeffrey Brownson, associate professor in Penn State’s Earth and Mineral Science Energy Institute.

“It seemed natural that Dr. Brownson would be the one to approach when I started to look for a research group to join once I arrived on campus,” Cordell said. “One of Dr. Brownson's research areas, the one in which I work, is devoted to investigating tin sulfide for photovoltaic applications, the incentive being the safety and low cost of producing the material relative to other thin film solar cell constituents.”

Cordell said he plans to earn a doctorate and dedicate his career to the “constant pursuit of lowering the cost of and increasing our capacity to get our energy from the sun.”

As Biscoveanu and Cordell complete their final year at Penn State, both said they are eager to take advantage of the unique opportunities afforded to them as Astronaut Scholars.

Biscoveanu said she is looking forward to being paired with a mentor from her field, as well as networking with scientists and astronauts in the ASF’s alumni base. Meanwhile, Cordell said the scholarship will allow him to stay connected with the ASF and leading STEM professionals.

To learn more about the Astronaut Scholarship, or about other fellowship and grant opportunities, visit the University Fellowships Office website.

The University Fellowships Office is part of Penn State 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.

Last Updated July 26, 2016