Two researchers from the Politecnico winners of the prestigious Amelia Earhart Fellowship

The PhD scholarship is awarded annually by Zonta International to 30 young women doing research in aerospace or astrophysics around the world

Since 1961, the year of the first orbital flight, about 600 people have gone into space. According to data from March 2022,75 of them were women (source

See the list of female astronauts in history

You needn't travel so far though: even on Earth aerospace professions are mostly dominated by men. Worldwide, women in this industry account for about 25% of the workforce.. Academia, companies, institutions and foundations around the world are increasingly addressing this subject, providing fertile ground for players to work together towards the goal of greater gender balance, including through scholarships and doctorate degrees dedicated to women pursuing this path (we also talk about this here and here).

This is the case of female researchers Eleonora Andreis and Mariachiara Gallia, PhD students from the Department of Aerospace Science and Technology at the Politecnico di Milano, who in 2022 won two prestigious Amelia Earhart Fellowships, awarded annually by Zonta International a 30 giovani donne che perseguono un dottorato di ricerca in campo aerospaziale o astrofisico in tutto il mondo. Abbiamo parlato con le due ricercatrici politecniche premiate quest’anno e ci siamo fatti raccontare su cosa stanno lavorando.

eleonora andreis
Eleonora Andreis

Eleonora Andreis, 25 years old, Bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering and Master's degree in Space Engineering, with an Erasmus placement at the University of Liège in Belgium.

"My PhD research topic concerns the development of algorithms for the autonomous navigation of miniaturised satellites in deep space, within the context of the EXTREMA project (winner of an ERC- Consolidator Grant in 2019). I work within the DART GROUP supervised by Professor Francesco Topputo.”

Andreis's project consists of developing algorithms that enable a miniaturised satellite to autonomously locate itself in interplanetary space; the satellite observes the external environment using onboard cameras and is able to derive its position by triangulating the information it extracts, in a process which Andreis explains is “similar to what sailors did in ancient times by observing stars in the sky”.

Her project focuses on small, low-cost satellites, which promise to be major players in space research in the coming years. Since navigating a miniaturised satellite from Earth incurs a similar cost to flying a standard satellite, Andreis is mainly working on making the satellite autonomous in its navigation operations. At the same time, she is developing small, inexpensive navigation technologies and methodologies, testing them on hardware that mirror the onboard set-up.

"Another innovative aspect of my project lies within the context in which the navigation algorithms are applied, namely deep space. Nowadays, research in the field of autonomous optical navigation is more focused on other case studies, in particular those in which the satellite is in low or medium orbit around the body it is observing, which may be a celestial body or another satellite, for example, while few research groups are actively working on its interplanetary application.”

“Actually, I hadn't planned on doing a PhD whilst at university”, concludes Andreis. "It was a decision made during my final year, whilst I was working on my master's thesis. The topics I was working on in my thesis really intrigued me and around the same time PhD positions had opened up on very similar research topics within the context of a highly important project (EXTREMA), so I took the plunge. After finishing my PhD, my plan is to stay in research."

Mariachiara Gallia, 26 years old, Bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering and Master's degree in Aeronautical Engineering. During her Master's degree, she completed an Erasmus placement at the University of Southampton.

“Ever since I was a child I have always had a passion for maths and physics. I have always been a very curious person and particularly fascinated by aircraft and how they work. However, after graduating at the liceo scientifico (high school), I had chosen to enrol in the Faculty of Mathematics, driven by the passion I had cultivated during the liceo. After a few months, I realised that the maths I had studied in high school had actually nothing to do with what I was doing. So I decided to transfer to a faculty that was more practical and could be applied to real-life. I enrolled into Aerospace Engineering and immediately realised that this was the field that I wanted to work in; in particular, I was very passionate about aeronautics and aircraft aerodynamics."

Gallia is working on the numerical simulation of ice accretion and ice protection systems on fixed and rotary wing aircraft, by developing the PoliMIce simulation framework. "I work with Prof. Guardone's research group with Dr. Barbara Re, Dr. Giulio Gori, Dr. Camilla Conti and my PhD colleagues: Tommaso Bellosta, Andrea Rausa, Alessandro Donizetti, Luca Abergo, Francesco Caccia and Yang Peng. The main objective of my research project is to develop a framework that can help in the design and optimisation of anti-icing systems.

Part of my project consists of studying the physics of the problem, i.e. the aerodynamics of the aircraft, the trajectory of the cloud particles impacting the aircraft, and in particular the energy and mass exchanges regulating ice formation and melting (when the anti-icing system is activated). The second part consists of the application of optimisation methods to the design of an anti-icing system. In particular, the innovative factor concerns the optimisation that is carried out in a robust manner, i.e. considering uncertainties in the design parameters in order to obtain a more reliable and safe system even outside deterministic design conditions."

Like Andreis, Gallia was also convinced at first that she wanted to enter the world of work after university. "I became passionate about research thanks to the calming, yet stimulating environment I found whilst writing my thesis with Prof. Guardone and his research group. So, after my thesis, I decided to go down this path, which for now, despite the expected ups and downs, is bringing me a lot of satisfaction. The Politecnico is recognised overseas as a centre of excellence, offering many opportunities to carry out research, as well as possibilities for collaborating with European and non-European institutions, allowing students to work in an international environment and constantly feel connected to the wider world. Finally, thanks to our relationships with companies in the industry, it is possible to see the results of the research we carry out applied “in the real world”. After my PhD, I would definitely like to continue working in research, maybe even in academia, in Italy or abroad, depending on the upcoming opportunities that arise.”

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