NE's Halpern receives prestigious Astronaut Scholarship

Jacob Halpern, a nuclear engineering student and John Martinson Honors College, was one of three Purdue University students to be awarded an Astronaut Scholarship.

The outstanding work of three Purdue University students — Ethan Brady from the College of Science and John Martinson Honors College; Jacob Halpern from the College of Engineering and John Martinson Honors College; and Arianna McNamara from the College of Science — exceeds the classroom and begins a life-long pursuit of excellence. The Astronaut Scholarship recognizes students for their remarkable efforts and achievements through hours of research and coursework while in undergraduate studies. As Astronaut Scholars, they will build relationships with scholarship alumni, astronauts, and pioneers and leaders in their fields of study. In addition, they recently had a unique opportunity to network with scholars across the country at the annual Innovator’s Gala held in August in Florida.

The Astronaut Scholarship is awarded by The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF), an organization created in 1984 by the six surviving Mercury 7 astronauts. The prestigious scholarship is known nationwide for being among the highest merit-based monetary scholarships awarded to undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering and math. The scholarships are awarded to students in their junior and senior year of college. The ASF has awarded an Astronaut Scholarship to a Purdue student since 1987.

Ethan Brady

From Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Brady is a senior in the College of Science and the John Martinson Honors College, pursuing a major in mathematics-computer science and mathematics honors. Brady is the recipient of the Astronaut Scholarship sponsored by Marc and Sharon Hagle.

Ethan Brady
Ethan Brady

Among his extraordinary competency in mathematics and computer science, Brady also excels in organization and leadership. He has a proven history of mentorship in undergraduate research and continues to build on his accomplished foundation.

“Ethan was the driving force organizing tasks and keeping track of deadlines. His organizational skills in this respect were immensely helpful,” said Mohammad Farazmand, assistant professor at North Carolina State University.

Brady nurtured his mathematics abilities in high school and brought them to a higher level during his undergraduate work. His desire to explore challenges and find new insights is complemented by his inclination to be a mentor to other students.

“I grew up in the scientific town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Research scientists ran my high school computer science club and guest lectured in my senior year research class," Brady said. "Given the benefits I have received from mentors, I hope to one day mentor others. Currently, this intention means small actions, advice and encouragement to peers where possible."

Brady’s desire to mentor other students is modeled by his own faculty mentor, Uli Walther, professor of mathematics at Purdue, who has served a significant role in Brady’s development.

Mentoring other young researchers is just the start for Brady, whose resume continues to build on a solid foundation.

“Ethan has the curiosity needed to conduct independent research. He showed initiative in reading about new topics, going beyond mathematics,” said Henriette I. Jager, senior scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In addition to his scholarship, Brady’s interest in helping others reaches across campus and into the community. He has been involved with the Winterization service project since his freshman year which included helping to organize 1,600 volunteers last year to rake leaves at 320 local homes.

Brady hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. He aspires to investigate unsolved theoretical problems and contribute to open scientific problems.

Brady is as a 2022 Goldwater Scholar, a 2021 Purdue Outstanding Sophomore in the Department of Mathematics and earned the 2019 Purdue Trustees scholarship. He was a 2019 National Merit Scholar and named a National Hispanic Scholar.

Jacob Halpern

Halpern is a senior in the College of Engineering and the John Martinson Honors College from Lansdale, Pennsylvania, majoring in nuclear engineering with a minor in physics. Halpern’s plans include pursuing a Ph.D. in plasma physics in the field of electric propulsion. He is the recipient of the Astronaut Scholarship sponsored by Kathy and Dick Covey and the CoveyLove Legacy Fund.

Jacob Halpern head shot
Jacob Halpern

An ambitious scientist, Halpern thrives in lab settings, exploring and contributing to advanced research settings. While interning at the Naval Research Laboratory, Halpern was fascinated and challenged by the research in which he was involved.

“Under Dr. McDonald, I was the only undergraduate among eight graduate interns. By being held to the same standards as those with several additional years of experience, I grew significantly as a scientist in a short time, acquiring my own projects and contributing equally to group meetings," Halpern said. "Most importantly, I gained confidence in my abilities as an aspiring scientist.”

Michael McDonald of the Spacecraft Engineering Division at the Naval Research Laboratory was impressed by Halpern’s research work.

“He actively tries to create an intellectual framework based on literature in the field to interpret the results in vocabulary other researchers use and understand. It is a maturity I do not expect in undergraduate students, but it is a great sign for his future research potential,” McDonald said.

Halpern’s research enthusiasm goes far beyond what one might expect of an undergraduate. His passion for knowledge and discovery have not gone unnoticed by his supervisors and peers.

“Jake’s initial work served as the impetus for my other student’s derivation that Jake will use in future work to assess relativistic SCLC. Thus, in addition to doing novel work on his own, Jake has been able to communicate with my Ph.D. students to motivate additional, high-impact work,” said Allen Garner, associate professor and undergraduate program chair for the School of Nuclear Engineering at Purdue.

Among Halpern’s many accolades, he was named to the 2022 Barbara Cook Chapter of Mortar Board National Senior Honor Society, a 2022 Purdue Engineering Dean’s Leadership Scholar, received the 2021 Purdue Nuclear Engineering Undergraduate Research Scholarship, the 2021 American Nuclear Society Undergraduate Scholarship, the 2021 Purdue Engineering Outstanding Sophomore Award and the Dr. Kenneth R. Shultz Fusion Division Scholarship in 2020.

In addition to his work in the lab, Halpern is the director of member development for the Purdue Student Engineering Foundation, a member of the Purdue Foundation Student Board and a member of Purdue concert bands where he played tuba for concert band, symphonic band and symphonic orchestra.

Arianna Meenakshi McNamara

McNamara is a junior in the College of Science, majoring in physics honors and mathematics honors with minors in political science and computer science. From New Salisbury, Indiana, McNamara plans to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematical physics and hopes to conduct research in quantum gravity. McNamara is the recipient of the Astronaut Scholarship sponsored by Jim Hays in memory of astronaut Gene Cernan.

Arianna McNamara
Arianna Meenakshi McNamara

McNamara’s passion for research and problem-solving has become apparent in her work as an undergraduate researcher within the department of physics and astronomy. Of her work, Ephraim Fischbach said, “Meenakshi approached me in the Fall of 2020 after coming upon a story about my work in an issue of National Geographic. Based on the questions she asked, and the depth of her responses to my replies, it was immediately clear that Meenakshi was extraordinary, and we have been working closely together since.”

McNamara joined a research group as a freshman, but her interests in research started in high school where she gained immeasurable experience.

“My journey toward a career in physics began in high school when I conducted my first research, which I presented at an international conference and for which I currently have a patent pending.” McNamara said. “I took ownership over my learning from a young age, which has greatly aided me in college.”

Though working independently is a skill she has had from the beginning, she is also embracing and thriving in group work.

“Although new to me, I am enjoying the collaborative nature of college through both coursework and research," she said.

Her excellence in research work is confirmed by Andreas Jung, associate professor of physics at Purdue.

“She has already acquired an excellent skill set based on her existing undergraduate research experience at Purdue University, and I am convinced that she will succeed in her future academic career and research plans, which are deeply related to cutting-edge machine learning and artificial intelligence. Both are concepts not yet fully exploited in particle physics,” Jung said.

McNamara was a 2022 Goldwater Scholar, a 2021 Outstanding Freshman in Physics awardee and a 2020 National Merit Scholar. She was awarded Purdue merit scholarships from the physics and astronomy department as well as the mathematics department. 

The National and International Scholarships Office (NISO), which is housed in the John Martinson Honors College, supports all Purdue students in applying for prestigious scholarships. Students interested in such awards are encouraged to reach out to the NISO office by email at, or to visit the NISO website at