Stern Students Are Helping NASA Develop A Cost-Cutting Space Travel Technique


Near the end of Yeshiva University’s recent spring semester, a half-dozen students sat in a small classroom of the institution’s Stern College for Women one evening listening to a lecture about travel in outer space.

At the front of the room was Marian Gidea, chair of Stern College’s mathematics department, standing before a whiteboard on which an array of intricate formulae were written. In one of the seats, taking notes, was Yael Eisenberg, then-senior at the school who was majoring in mathematics.

Gidea and Eisenberg are part of a new partnership between Stern College and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Gidea, who has served at Stern College since 2013, received a $100,000 grant from NASA last year to help YU faculty and students develop a revolutionary, cost-cutting space travel technique that will enable spacecraft to save time and energy. Eisenberg, under his tutelage, is conducting research that may play a role in a future NASA launch.

At a school under Orthodox aegis, which is best known for its emphasis on such subjects as Torah and Talmud, the work conducted by Gidea reflects YU’s concurrent support for its curriculum of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses.

Gidea received the grant, in conjunction with the Georgia Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), as part of the agency’s Strategic University Research Partnership program in which a dozen more universities across the country are participating. He and about 20 students are investigating a mathematical concept that will allow spacecraft to save fuel during long flights.

Two other YU faculty members — Ed Belbruno, clinical professor of mathematics, a pioneer in celestial mathematics; and Pablo Roldan, assistant professor of mathematics at Stern College, a software engineer who specializes in scientific computing — are taking part in similar research.

Eisenberg, who is spending this summer doing scientific research at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and at the University of California, Berkeley, is among a few YU students supervised by Ginea in advanced NASA-related research projects.

“This is very important and difficult work,” said Gidea, who previously held an appointment at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study. “Some parts of the research are related to an upcoming space mission — Lucy, the first mission to Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids — scheduled for 2021. Some others are in the realm of theoretical research, which contributes to the general body of knowledge of space dynamics.”

Eisenberg, who plans to study for a Ph.D. in mathematics, said interest in that subject and in other scientific fields “is becoming more and more popular” among her Stern College students.

The school’s science and math courses reflect its commitment to widening students’ knowledge about subjects outside of a narrow definition of Torah, said Karen Bacon, dean of undergraduate arts and sciences at Stern College. “YU’s mission is to educate about the known and to examine the unknown. Technology gives us access to an almost limitless amount of information, which is great. But it is in the deep relationship between researcher and student, such as Professor Gidea cultivates with his students, that inspiration is ignited.”

As part of this mission, YU eight years ago established a joint Summer Science Research Internship Program with Bar-Ilan University (that’s where Eisenberg is this summer), and YU students and President Ari Berman this year took part in teaching science classes at a local public school under the auspices of YU’s START (Students, Teachers, and Researchers Teach), an initiative that began seven years ago.

Eisenberg said her mathematics studies at Stern College have fostered an interest that began in third grade.

“YU has a long-standing tradition in the sciences,” and a national reputation in that field, Gidea said. “We live in a time when mathematics and computer science pervade almost every domain of science and technology. Students, and especially women with a solid training in mathematics and computer science, are now having unprecedented opportunities to a wide range of career choices.”