Published: July 11, 2022

CU Boulder students Alexandra “Sasha” Gladkova and Maya Palmer have each been awarded a $15,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF).

The merit-based ASF scholarship is the largest known monetary award of its kind given in the United States to science and engineering undergraduate students. This year, CU was selected by ASF to have two Astronaut Scholars each year for the next seven years. Funded through a $1 million grant from Blue Origin’s Club for the Future, the additional scholarship is part of ASF’s new Founders for the Future program.

Gladkova is a junior aerospace engineering major, with minors in computer science and applied math, while Palmer is a senior neuroscience and psychology major.

All incoming Astronaut Scholars also are invited to attend the ASF Innovators Week & Gala Aug. 24–28 in Orlando, where they’ll be recognized for their achievements and receive their award. An astronaut will present each scholar with their award on stage during the gala.

The Mercury 7 astronauts, including Boulder native Scott Carpenter, who died in 2013, created the foundation in 1984. The purpose was to aid the United States in retaining its world leadership in science and technology by providing scholarships to the brightest college students pursuing these degrees. The Mercury 7 astronauts have since been joined by more than 100 astronauts from the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and space shuttle programs who use their joint credibility to encourage students to pursue scientific endeavors to keep the U.S. a leader in technology. This year the ASF awarded 68 scholarships to students from 45 different schools across the nation.

CU Boulder sophomores and juniors engaged in research and majoring in math, science or engineering and seeking nomination for an ASF scholarship should email Deborah Viles at The campus selection will take place in the early spring semester.

Maya Palmer Meet CU Boulder Astronaut Scholar Maya Palmer

Major and hometown

I am a neuroscience and psychology major from Denver.

Campus research

I worked in the Saddoris Lab for three years of my college experience. In that amount of time, I gained a close relationship with behavioral neuroscience that I am extremely grateful for. I was particularly interested in compulsive drug-seeking behavior in the brain. My experiment’s first goal was to find an accurate representation of compulsive behavior in rats that could translate to human experience.

Secondly, my experiment tested important brain regions involved in decision-making, such as the prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens, and their relationship to compulsive behavior. 

Lastly, I used these experiments to gain a better understanding of substance use disorder in the brain, in hopes of providing elucidating information for human treatment. 

How did you get interested in your research area?

My first interest in research was piqued when I watched a Ted Talk by Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu. In this Ted Talk they discussed an experiment they conducted using a neuroscience technique called optogenetics. Simply put, optogenetics is a technique that neuroscientists use to switch brain cells on and off, by doing so we can isolate specific brain areas to test their function.

When I watched this Ted Talk in high school I had become so fascinated by the process I wrote my high school thesis on it. When I began college and learned I could assist in experiments like the one Ramirez and Liu had completed, I was so excited. Two years later I was conducting optogenetics myself. 

What’s next?

Once I complete my degrees at CU I plan to apply to medical school with a priority of clinical research. In the clinical research I am participating in now, I have observed that practitioners who conduct research have an inspiring level of compassion for solving and discovering better ways to treat the patients they see every day. I hope to emulate that in my experiences as a doctor. 

Article from CU Boulder Today