Michal Talmor describes herself as “a huge nerd,” interested in science and science fiction alike. But it is the first year graduate student’s passion for possibility and the power of scientific ideas that emerges from even a brief conversation with her.
“I want to be part of the ‘aerospace era,’” she says, describing the near future, when space will almost certainly become an attractive venue for both private companies and private citizens. “I think it’s marvelous. I want to make sure humanity has a permanent hold in our solar system.”
Last month, Penton’s Aviation Week recognized Talmor’s own bright star when they named her one of its Twenty20s.
Greg Hamilton, president of Aviation Week, notes on the PRNewswire website, “With the Twenty20s awards, Aviation Week seeks to identify students who are already making a difference, through their academic performance, the projects and research they undertake, and their engagement with the world beyond their classrooms.”
“It’s a great award,” says Talmor of the recognition, which was sponsored in partnership with Raytheon.
Born and raised in Tel Aviv, she served for two and a half years in the Israeli Defense Forces as a software engineer and then worked for an additional two and half years before she came to the United States in 2009 to attend college.
“I knew I wanted to pursue an engineering degree in aerospace in the United States,” she says. “I looked up schools online where I could make connections in the aerospace industry.” WPI gave her a good scholarship, and she liked the culture here when she visited after her acceptance.
Graduating last May with a dual degree in aerospace and robotics engineering, with a minor in astrophysics, she is pursuing a PhD in mechanical engineering, specializing in electrohydrodynamics. (There is currently no PhD offered in aerospace engineering.)
She describes electrohydrodynamics, an interdisciplinary field, as “half electrical engineering and physics and half fluid dynamics, part of aerospace.”
Currently working in the lab of her advisor, ME Department Head Jamal Yagoobi, she notes that they are “working with NASA and the Air Force on all kinds of projects applicable to space.” It’s an exciting opportunity to collaborate with actual NASA engineers and to be “involved in the design process.”
Looking ahead, she is particularly fascinated by the trajectory between science and business as it applies to the use of space.
“NASA is all about finding out what’s going on in space in terms of ‘sciencey stuff,’ she says. “That’s not attractive to business. Now it’s time to try to make space attractive to the business community.”
Her personal and professional interests are not dissimilar, and she “instantly” became a member of the Science Fiction Society when she came to WPI as a first year student, serving as the club’s president as a senior.
She shares her love of computer games and science fiction conventions with her husband Alexander Tilley, a game design major who graduated from WPI in 2013 and now works in Waltham. (Their wedding this past summer had a steampunk/Victorian science fiction theme.)
As for the future? One day, she hopes, space travel could be as simple “as taking a day trip to Mars with my grandchildren.”
By Laura Porter