student and faculty


Graduate Fellowships

Fellowships from the McDonnell Center provide a generous stipend to incoming graduate students in the departments of Physics or Earth and Planetary Sciences. These three-year fellowships are offered to outstanding students expressing a special interest in space science research.* In addition, many graduate students receive stipends from federal research funds that provide for research fellowships or assistantships.

McDonnell Center Graduate Fellowships

These fellowships may be offered to any highly qualified student from around the world.

McDonnell Astronaut Fellowships

Three special awards, established in memory of the astronauts who lost their lives in preparation for our first lunar landing, are offered to exceptional students who are also U.S. citizens:

  • The Roger B. Chafee Fellowship
  • The Virgil I. Grissom Fellowship
  • The Edward H. White II Fellowship

Graduate students interested in the space sciences should apply to one of the following departments:

*Washington University encourages and gives full consideration to applicants for admission and financial aid without respect to sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, handicap, color, veteran status or age.

Postdoctoral Fellowships

Two Postdoctoral Fellowships are currently offered for research with faculty members of the McDonnell Center. The Robert M. Walker Postdoctoral Fellowship in Experimental Space Sciences is a distinguished position honoring the founding director of the McDonnell Center. The second position is The Postdoctoral Fellowship at the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences. To apply for one of these fellowships, please contact us.

Student Highlights

Sarah Thibadeau 

Sarah in front of a Cherenkov Telescope
3rd year High-Energy Astrophysics graduate student Sarah Thibadeau in front of one of four Imaging Atmospheric Cherenkov Telescopes, part of the VERITAS ground-based gamma-ray telescope observatory in southern Arizona, during the summer of 2008.

The VERITAS collaboration is made up of members from 22 institutions. The Washington University group played a leading role in building the experiment, and is very actively involved in the VERITAS data analysis and interpretation. VERITAS detects gamma rays from galactic and extragalactic sources, including supernova remnants and black holes. As a member of the collaboration, Sarah spent two weeks participating in nightly observations in Arizona; the participation included helping control and maintain the telescopes and taking data. She will return to Arizona for two weeks at the end of August 2009.

Sarah is currently working with her advisor H. Krawczynski on two projects. One involves participation in the VERITAS collaboration, which gives her the opportunity to work at the telescope array site in southern Arizona and to meet a wide variety of people from universities across the country (and a few in the UK and Ireland). She is currently using VERITAS gamma ray data to probe supernova remnants. Her second project, funded by NASA, uses data from the Fermi gamma ray satellite (NASA). The project involves the analysis and modeling of Fermi observations of 26 supermassive black holes, with the purpose of looking for general trends and characteristics, and for temporal evolution.

Why Sarah Chose Washington University

Sarah Thibadeau 

I chose WashU for a variety of reasons; these included top-tier research, the presence of an entire center, the McDonnell Center, devoted to my research interests that would provide numerous opportunities and endless support, access to a multi-institution telescope collaboration where I could get real hands-on experience as an observational astrophysicist, extremely passionate, enthusiastic advisors, and a very high quality of life for graduate students. During my prospective weekend, I was particularly impressed by a rare combination of high quality research and facilities and graduate students who not only seemed genuinely happy, but who also all appeared to be friends. When I arrived here as a student, I quickly learned that this was indeed the reality. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky and privileged to be here at WashU and to be a Virgil I. Grissom fellow.


Kelsey Prissel

Kelsey Prissel (née Williams), is a 5th year graduate student in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.  Kelsey performs laboratory experiments to investigate the geochemistry of planetary interiors. Kelsey writes:

In my first year at WashU, I worked with my advisor, Professor Mike Krawczynski, to build our experimental geochemistry laboratory. We have apparatuses in our lab that can reach temperatures as high as 2500ºF and pressures over 35,000 times the pressure of the Earth’s atmosphere. One of the most exciting things about being an experimentalist is having the ability to control the conditions (temperature, pressure, oxygen fugacity) of the samples we synthesize, allowing us to study the geochemistry and petrology of rocks from any planetary body.  

Kelsey running a piston cylinder experiment at 760ºC and 1.5 GPa pressure in the WashU experimental geochemistry lab.

While at WashU, I have experimentally investigated high-temperature iron isotopic fractionation between minerals and the melts from which they crystallize. With this project, we hope to improve the present understanding of basalt petrogenesis on the Moon. I have also conducted experiments to determine the diffusivity of cations in the iron-titanium oxide mineral ilmenite. This project will ultimately help us quantify the timescales of volcanic processes.

The resources in the McDonnell Center for Space Sciences, including the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, have made an essential contribution to my graduate experience. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with Professors Bruce Fegley and Katharina Lodders on an Astrophysical Journal publication about the chemistry of steam atmospheres on rocky exoplanets. I also have been fortunate to study an Apollo lunar sample (!) with Professor Brad Jolliff. In my third and fourth years as a graduate student, I have enjoyed increasing my involvement at WashU, both in our department and with the Teaching Center, as well as within the scientific community and in public outreach. This year, I have been working to publish my research projects and have begun new projects that we can address with experimental data. I am extremely grateful for the  support from the McDonnell Center for Space Sciences, which has allowed me to pursue all of my passions as a graduate student at WashU.