Chair of SCW Math Department, Dr. Marian Gidea, Awarded $100,000 NASA Grant

By: Shira Krinsky  |  December 13, 2017

Dr. Marian Gidea, chair of the Math Department at Stern College for Women, was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). The grant was awarded by NASA to a team of researchers from JPL, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Yeshiva University. Gidea explained to The Observer that “the purpose of the grant is to support both research and education. On the research side, we study mathematical models for the dynamics of spacecraft operating in the solar system, and explore new methods on how to design spacecraft trajectories that are more fuel efficient and  reasonably fast. On the educational side, we are trying to attract students to study the pertaining mathematical fields, and to prepare them for potential careers at NASA.”

Gidea has been collaborating on research with a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology for many years. This professor invited Gidea to join him in the grant, as the Georgia Institute of Technology and JPL have a strategic partnership program.

Gidea explained that this project was never his primary focus in research before, although he was exploring a similar topic. “My own research is on certain mathematical aspect behind space mission design, and it involves tools from differential equations, classical mechanics, geometry and topology.  It also involves numerical experiments on a computer. I have been doing this type of work for quite a few years now, but it is only recently that I have been looking at some concrete examples that NASA is interested in, such as the dynamics near Jupiter’s Trojans, two large clusters of asteroids that pretty much lie on the same orbit as Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun,” he told The Observer.

Two students in the Doctoral Program in Mathematics at Yeshiva University, Wai-Ting Lam and Maxwell Musser, who are also both professors in the undergraduate Math Department at Stern College, are assisting Gidea with this project. Professor Pablo Roldan, also a member of the Mathematics Department at Stern College, is working with him as well.  “Professor Roldan is supervising an undergraduate student from SCW, Goldi Weiser, whose honor’s thesis is devoted to a mathematical problem closely related to this research,” Gidea said, “We hope to attract other students to participate in this exciting research!”

Dr. Wenxiong Chen, who is the chair of the Math Department at Yeshiva College, explained that Gidea is more than deserving of the grant he was awarded. “He is very active in applied math research, a well-known mathematician in this area. He [even] organizes NYC area weekly seminars on Dynamical Systems,” Chen told The Observer.

Gidea joined Yeshiva University in 2013 and has been a great boon to the department according to many students. Golda Aharon, a senior at SCW and math major who has taken classes with Gidea, told The Observer that she is very proud of her professor. “Dr. Gidea has been a tremendous source of guidance and support to many of us in the Math Department. He is a devoted teacher and mentor, dedicating hours out of his schedule to meet with students one-on-one, helping them choose the right academic and career paths for them, tailor-made to their interests. Dr. Gidea first introduced me to mathematical biology, a field of study in which I am now conducting my Senior Project. He is a one-of-kind professor and leader. Without Dr. Gidea, our Math Department would simply not be the same.”

Senior at SCW Yael Eisenberg, another math major, echoed similar sentiments. “Dr. Gidea is a fantastic teacher and researcher, and I was very happy to hear that he received a NASA grant to do cutting-edge research in space travel. He uses different mathematical techniques to do research in many important areas, inspiring students to pursue mathematics as a means to have an impact. It is a privilege to have Dr Gidea as a teacher and I hope this research project and all others will be successful!” she said.

Overall, Gidea hopes that news of his grant will spark some more interest in Math from students at Stern. He believes that through receiving this grant, “one of the messages to the students is that mathematics does cool things! On the practical side, there are lots of career opportunities out there for students who major in mathematics and related areas, such as in space science, finance, actuarial, data analytics, bio-technology, etc.”

Gidea hopes Stern students will see that “We live 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, and to become the leaders of tomorrow.”