AIAA Announces Winners of Prestigious Zarem Graduate Student Awards in Aeronautics and Astronautics Written 18 September 2020

CONTACT: Brian Talbot

Recent Graduates, Student from Georgia Tech and Purdue University

September 18, 2020 – Reston, Va. – AIAA is pleased to announce the winners of the Zarem Graduate Student Awards for Distinguished Achievement.

Nathan Crane, who graduated in 2020 with his M.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, won the aeronautics award for “Preliminary Active Subspace Investigation of a Commercial Supersonic Design Space.”

Aaron Afriat and Sandeep Baskar jointly won the astronautics award for “Atmospheric Breathing Solid-Fuel Ramjet for Martian Descent Missions.” Afriat is a graduate research assistant at the Purdue Energetics Research Center and Master’s student in Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. Baskar graduated from Purdue with two bachelor’s degrees, in Aerospace Engineering and Applied Physics, in spring 2020. Afriat and Baskar will be presenting their paper at the virtual International Astronautical Congress (IAC 2020), 12-14 October.

AIAA Honorary Fellow Dr. Abe Zarem, founder and managing director of Frontier Associates, established the Abe M. Zarem Graduate Awards for Distinguished Achievement to annually recognize graduate students in aeronautics and astronautics who have demonstrated outstanding scholarship in their field.

Nathan Crane, 2020 AIAA Foundation Abe M. Zarem Graduate Award Winner for Distinguished Achievement in Aeronautics
Aaron Afriat, 2020 AIAA Foundation Abe M. Zarem Graduate Award Winner for Distinguished Achievement in Astronautics
Sandeep Baskar, 2020 AIAA Foundation Abe M. Zarem Graduate Award Winner for Distinguished Achievement in Astronautics

Crane is currently an Aerospace Technologist at NASA Langley Research Center. He graduated with his B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach in 2018, and his M.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2020. While at Georgia Tech, he was a part of the Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory, where his research concentrated on commercial supersonic conceptual design and aerodynamics. He completed a thesis focusing on incorporating high fidelity analysis into the supersonic conceptual design process while concurrently reducing computational time.

“Although I grew up not knowing any engineers, I decided early in my childhood that I wanted to pursue aerospace engineering and design aircraft,” he said. “After many years working to earn the opportunity to study and research aircraft design, it is an incredible honor to be awarded for my work in aeronautics. It is a great feeling to know that I have contributed to the field and encourages me to continue my passion into the future.”

Crane’s faculty advisor, Dimitri Mavris, is the Director of the Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the Boeing Chaired Professor of Advanced Aerospace Systems Analysis in Georgia Tech’s School of Aerospace Engineering, Regents Professor, and an S.P. Langley NIA Distinguished Professor. He also serves as the Executive Director of Georgia Tech’s Professional Master’s Applied Systems Engineering program. He is an AIAA Fellow and a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Afriat’s research focuses on additive manufacturing and characterizing high-performance, environmentally friendly propellants. His interests lie in designing the next generation of spacecraft engines, and eventually pioneering the exploration of Mars. He received his B.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering with concentrations in Propulsion and Systems Design from Purdue University in May 2019.

“My remote background as a Caribbean Islander filled me with childhood dreams of space exploration that I can now proudly say I have partaken in,” he said. “Organizations like AIAA, through recognitions and worldwide spread of technical information, enabled me and others alike to strive for our dream; something I am incredibly thankful for. I believe that this wealth of information, while bringing us closer together as a scientific community, also brings humanity ever closer to spreading beyond Earth’s horizon.”

After receiving his B.S. degrees in the spring, Baskar is now a Flight Dynamics Analyst at Dynetics. His undergraduate work and internship experience involved trajectory analysis, vehicle design, and mission design. His work at Dynetics focuses on trajectory optimization and mission design for the Artemis Human Lander System project. Unsurprisingly, his interests are in the realm of human spaceflight and astrodynamics to assist in human exploration of deep space.

Afriat’s and Baskar’s faculty advisor is Stephen Heister, Raisbeck Distinguished Professor in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. Heister has published extensively and has advised over 100 Purdue graduate students. He is an AIAA Fellow, a Purdue University Faculty Scholar, and a five-time winner of the E. F. Bruhn Teaching Award for the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

For more information on the Abe M. Zarem Graduate Awards for Distinguished Achievement, please contact Michael Lagana at or 703.264.7503.

About AIAA 
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