News Release

Two University of Minnesota students named 2021 Astronaut Scholars

Sauviz Alaei and Nathan Pharis
University students Sauviz Alaei and Nathan Pharis.

Two students in the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus are among 60 students nationally who have been awarded scholarships for the 2021-22 academic year by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.

The prestigious Astronaut Scholarship, initiated by the Mercury-7 astronauts, is awarded annually to outstanding sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research-oriented careers in mathematics, engineering, and the natural and applied sciences. The scholarship awards up to $15,000 for a year of undergraduate study. In addition, recipients will receive mentoring and professional development support, attend the Astronaut Foundation’s Innovators Gala in Orlando, Fla., and have the opportunity to participate in other Astronaut Foundation events.

Sauviz Alaei, a Math and Physics major from Eagan, has been working for two years in the condensed matter physics lab of Professor Dan Dahlberg. In his first project there, Alaei created an apparatus to measure the frequency response of a new magnetostrictive material developed in the lab. The resulting data revealed some surprising qualities of the new material, which behaved in unexpected ways at low frequencies. Alaei presented his findings at the American Physical Society’s 2021 meeting and will publish it in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Applied Physics. He has now begun a new project testing the predictions of the Wolfarth model for magnetic remanence in a ferrofluid containing magnetite nanoparticles. In the future, he would like to apply his research experience to creating and assessing materials for quantum computing.

He is the vice president of the U of M Society of Physics Students, where he has helped to implement a new mentoring program and other pandemic-related initiatives that have helped to triple the membership. As a member of the University Honors Program he has served as tutor for Honors Physics courses. 

Nathan Pharis, an Aerospace Engineering major from Chanhassan, has been active in several projects in aerospace research, primarily working with Professors Graham Candler and James Flaten on employing high-altitude balloons to measure particulates in the stratosphere. As project lead creating a payload for NASA’s High Altitude Student Platform, he assessed innovative techniques for collecting samples from the low-density air in the upper atmosphere, and he has been the primary developer of the control systems to maneuver balloons and execute data gathering.  Pharis is also the leader of the Space Systems Design Competition team and a member of the Small Satellite Attitude Determination and Control Systems group. In both groups, he designs software to solve complex control challenges in extreme environments.

On-campus, Pharis is vice president of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics group, a member of the University Rocket Team, and does community science outreach with Energy and U.  He plans to complete a PhD in Aerospace Control Systems and would like to help develop interplanetary navigation systems.


The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation was founded in 1985 by the Mercury 7 astronauts, one of whom, Donald “Deke” Slayton, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering in 1949. Prevented from piloting the second U.S. manned orbital space flight by an irregular heart rhythm, Slayton served as NASA’s Director of Flight Crew Operations and later was cleared to pilot the docking module in the Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975. The Astronaut Scholarships are awarded to students at 44 universities with historic ties to the U.S. space program who demonstrate leadership, imagination, and academic excellence in the study of mathematics, science or engineering.  37 students from the University of Minnesota have been recognized as Astronaut Scholars.  

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities students who are interested in applying for the scholarship in the future may consult with the Office of National and International Scholarships by contacting Timothy Jones at [email protected].

For more information on the Astronaut Scholarship, visit

Media Contacts

Timothy Jones

Honors Program, Twin Cities

Rhonda Zurn

College of Science and Engineering, Twin Cities