About us

Founded Number of Challenges Total number of participants Number of papers Number of impacted NASA programs
2011 3 96 7 [citations] 1
The Chairs                  
Ilana Gat Ilana Gat [LinkedIn]
Ilana is a Ph.D. Candidate in Aeronautics at Caltech working on sub-grid scale modeling of non-uniform density and pressure flows under Professor Paul Dimotakis. She received her B.S. with honors in Physics from New York University in 2013.  While at NYU, Ilana spent two summers working at NASA Ames Research Center in the Airborne Sensor Facility. She then went on to spend her final two summers before graduate school at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory working with the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder doing atmospheric retrieval algorithm development. Ilana is currently an NSF Graduate Student Fellow. She received her M.S. from Caltech in Space Engineering in 2014, and is looking forward to getting her Ph.D! When Ilana is not studying science, you may find her hiking, ballet dancing, or generally enjoying the outdoors!
Thibaud Talon Thibaud Talon [LinkedIn]
Thibaud is a Ph.D. student in Space Engineering at Caltech working on the Space Solar Power Initiative and the “Autonomous Assembly of a Reconfigurable Space Telescope” project under Professor Sergio Pellegrino. He received his Diplôme d’Ingenieur (engineering diploma) from the Ecole Polytechnique in France followed by a dual Master’s degree in Space Engineering from Caltech and Solid Mechanics from Polytechnique in 2014. He previously worked at Snecma, studying the friction between turbofan blades and is a former research visiting student at Caltech working with Prof. Ravichandran on the high strain rate behavior of AZ31 and PZT 52/48. When Thibaud is not studying science, he enjoys playing soccer and basketball as well as drawing and simply enjoying California weather.
The advisors                
Caltech campus
Paul Dimotakis Dr. Paul Dimotakis
Paul Dimotakis is the John K. Northrop Professor of Aeronautics and Professor of Applied Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research primarily focuses on turbulent-flow phenomena, and turbulent transport and mixing in liquid- and gas-phase, chemically reacting and non-reacting flows and combustion. Other research includes work on active control of separated flows, cavitation, hydrodynamic stability and gas-dynamic simulations, image-correlation techniques for velocity-field (optical-flow) measurement, aerooptics and adaptive optics, as well computational fluid dynamics. He has participated in the development of pilotless drones, high-power chemical lasers, and the stealth fighter; contributed to Space Shuttle aerodynamics; helped with the fluid mechanics design of the “Leap-Frog fountain” at Disney's Epcot Center in Florida; participated in experiments in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) Nova laser facility. Also a sailor, he was a member of the America3 team and contributed to sail design in their successful defense of the Americas Cup in 1992.He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2016, received the AIAA Fluid Dynamics Prize in 2014, served as JPL’s Chief Technologist (2006-2011), and as Associate Editor for the J. Fluid Mechanics. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Caltech / JPL
Jakob van Zyl Dr. Jakob van Zyl
Dr. Jakob van Zyl is the Director for Solar System Exploration at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Previously, he was the Associate Director of Project Formulation and Strategy. Formerly, he was the Director for JPL's Astronomy and Physics Directorate. Van Zyl received an honors bachelor's degree cum laude in electronics engineering from the University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, South Africa. He received both his master's and his doctorate in electrical engineering from Caltech. Van Zyl joined JPL in 1986 and held positions of increasing responsibility in the synthetic aperture radar program. In addition, he managed the Radar Science and Engineering Section, the Earth Science Flight Missions and Experiments Office, and the Focused Physical Oceanography and Solid Earth Program Office. He was appointed Deputy Director for the Astronomy and Physics Directorate in 2002. He has been an adjunct faculty member in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, University of Southern California, where he taught "Remote Sensing Systems from Space" from 1997 to 2001. Since 2002, he has been teaching "Physics and Techniques of Remote Sensing" at Caltech.
Anthony Freeman Dr. Anthony Freeman
Dr. Anthony Freeman is the manager of the Innovation Foundry – JPL’s incubator for new ideas - at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Formerly, he was the program manager of the Earth System Science Formulation office, which resulted in several new projects at JPL. Dr. Freeman received the B.Sc. (Hons.) degree in Mathematics and a Ph. D. in Astrophysics, both from the University of Manchester (formerly UMIST).Dr. Freeman joined JPL in 1987 as a member of technical staff in the Radar Science and Engineering section and was responsible for the end-to-end calibration of the SIR-C imaging radar mission, and formulation of the LightSAR instrument. He subsequently managed the Mission and Systems Architecture section at JPL. His technical interests include the architecture of innovative space missions, especially novel radar observing systems and techniques. He taught the class on ‘Remote Sensing Systems from Space’ at USC from 2003 to 2012 and now teaches Aerospace Engineering (with a focus on nanosats), Systems Engineering and Program Management at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
Student experts
Erika Figueroa Schibber
Francesca Baldini
Francesca Baldini
Haolu (Jane) Zhang
Maria Sakovsky
Maria Sakovsky
Yuchen Wei
Yuchen Wei
Ground support
Corporate Partnership @ Caltech
John Kastanas
Karina L. Edmonds
Keck Institute for Space Studies
Michele Judd
Tom Prince
Graduate Aerospace Laboratories @ Caltech
Beverley J. McKeon 
Dimity Nelson
Jamie Meighen-Sei 
Morteza Gharib
Peggy Blue
Office of Strategic Communications @ Caltech
Andrew Allan
Farnaz Khadem
Kathy Svitil
Robert Perkins
Previous Space Challenge leads
Hayden Burgoyne
Jason Rabinovich
Jay Qi
Jonathan Mihaly
Niccolo Cymbalist
Nick Parziale
Prakhar Mehrotra
Division of Engineering and Applied Science @ Caltech
Trity Pourbahrami
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