2020 Sloan Science Seminar: RACING TO THE MOON, MARS, AND BEYOND: Deep Space Exploration Challenges and Rewards

October 11, 2019, 4:00 P.M. - 5:30 P.M.

The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108, George Lucas Building, USC School of Cinematic Arts Complex, 900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Annual Science Seminar Presents

Deep Space Exploration Challenges and Rewards


4:00 P.M. – 5:30 P.M. on Friday, October 11th, 2019

The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108
George Lucas Building, USC School of Cinematic Arts Complex
900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007


Dessert reception to follow in the Lucas Building Lobby.
  • Dr. Anita Sengupta, USC Research Associate Professor of Astronautics and Space Technology
  • Dr. Jack Stuster, President and Principal Scientist, Anacapa Sciences, Inc.
  • Jordan Noone, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder, Relativity Space, Inc. 
  • Madhu Thangavelu, Part-Time Lecturer, Department of Astronautic Engineering, USC Viterbi School of Engineering;
    Lecturer, USC School of Architecture
  • Moderated by Ted Braun, USC Professor of Cinematic Arts in the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television; Joseph Campbell Endowed Chair in Cinematic Ethics

Attendance is mandatory for SCA majors planning to apply for one of the Sloan Foundation grants in Production, Screenwriting, Animation, and Games.

For more information about the scholarships, please visit:  http://cinema.usc.edu/Sloan

Affiliated Event: Film Screening - The Martian @ 1:00 P.M. on Friday, October 11th, 2019 in The Ray Stark Family Theatre. No RSVP Required.

About the Panelists

DR. ANITA SENGUPTA, USC Research Associate Professor of Astronautics and Space Technology

Dr. Anita Sengupta is a rocket scientist and aerospace engineer who for over 20 years has been developing technologies that have enabled the exploration of Mars, Asteroids, and Deep Space. She started her career working on the launch vehicles and communications satellites at Boeing Space and Communications. Next her journey took her to the forefront onf the US space program. At NASA her doctoral research focused the developing the ion engines that powered the Dawn spacecraft to reach Vesta and Ceres in the main asteroid belt launched in 2006. She was then responsible for the supersonic parachute system that was integral to the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars in 2012. From 2012 to 2017 she managed and led the development of the Cold Atom Laboratory, a laser-cooling quantum physics facility for the International Space Station.

Her next engineering role  took her to the private sector as a senior executive leading the development of an in-vacuum, magnetically levitating, electrically propelled high-speed transportation system known as the hyperloop. She led the product planning, systems architecture, regulatory compliance, and human safety certification as Senior Vice President of Engineering Systems at Virgin Hyperloop.

Her current venture is leading the development of a hybrid-electric, Vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) urban aerial mobility system as Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer (CPO) of Airspace Experience Technologies (ASX). With the development of an emission-free VTOL aircraft, Anita and the team at ASX hope to revolutionize urban transit and bring about a key technology for the smart cities of the future. She believes that high-tech solutions to transportation, can reduce our carbon foot print and combat climate change.

Dr. Sengupta is also a Research Associate Professor at the University of Southern California. She teaches the only Entry Descent and Landing class on the West Coast for Graduate students in the Astronautics and Space Technology Department.

She is also a professional public speaker and STEM outreach advocate. She keynotes events around the world sharing with audiences her personal and professional experiences of Engineering the Red Planet and the Future of Green Transportation.

In her spare time she is an avid private pilot, motorcyclist, runner, snow boarder, bicyclist, and science fiction enthusiast.

DR. JACK STUSTER, President and Principal Scientist, Anacapa Sciences, Inc.

Jack Stuster is President and Principal Scientist of Anacapa Sciences, Inc., a human factors and applied behavioral sciences research firm located in Santa Barbara, California. He received a bachelor’s degree in experimental psychology and masters and PhD degrees in anthropology from the University of Califor¬nia, Santa Barbara. Dr. Stuster is a Certified Professional Ergonomist specializing in the measurement and enhancement of human performance in extreme environments; the results of his research are used to design training, equipment, and procedures to facilitate task performance under conditions that are characterized by unusual environmental and psychological stress. Dr. Stuster’s work for NASA began in 1982 with an analysis of space shuttle refurbishing procedures and has been followed by studies of conditions on Earth that are analogous to space missions. He developed design and procedural recommendations to facilitate sustained human performance on the International Space Station (ISS) and future space craft, and at planetary facilities. Dr. Stuster’s research concerning Antarctic winter-over experiences, expeditions, and voyages of discovery, is documented in his book, Bold Endeavors: Lessons from Polar and Space Exploration, which was selected as an Outstanding Academic Book of the Year by the American Library Association and is among the volumes in the ISS onboard library. In addition, Dr. Stuster contributed to the development of a training program for the Expedition Corps, astronauts selected for long duration space missions, and he conducted content analyses of confidential journals that were maintained for this purpose by astronauts during their expeditions to the ISS, which is the longest-running experiment on the ISS and documented 11 person-years of living and working in space. Dr. Stuster recently completed a study that identified and analyzed 1,125 tasks that will likely be performed during the first human expeditions to Mars; the research also addressed optimum crew size, composition, and personnel-selection issues; cross-training strategies to minimize crew size; skills and abilities needed among the crew; and, implications of study results to the design of equipment, habitats, and policies for exploration-class space missions.

JORDAN NOONE, Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder, Relativity Space, Inc.

Jordan cofounded Relativity Space in 2016 with the goal of bringing rapid 3D metal printing advances to the field of space exploration. He serves as the company’s Chief Technology Officer and chief engineer, leading launch vehicle and additive-manufacturing technology development while guiding the company’s technical strategy and vision. He also leads test and launch site acquisition and contributes to fundraising and customer acquisition.

Before founding Relativity, Jordan worked as a development engineer for SpaceX, where he developed propulsion system components used in test flights, and at the USC Rocket Propulsion Lab, where he led two space shot attempts and was the world’s first student to obtain an FAA launch license to fly a rocket to space. He’s been honored on “30 Under 30” lists at Business Insider, Forbes, and Inc. Magazine, and holds a patent for his developments in real-time adaptive control of 3D manufacturing.

Jordan holds a BS in aerospace engineering from USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering, and completed significant work toward a second undergraduate degree in biophysics. Jordan is also active in promoting STEM education worldwide with the US Department of State.

MADHU THANGAVELU, Part-Time Lecturer, Department of Astronautic Engineering, USC Viterbi School of Engineering; Lecturer, USC School of Architecture

Madhu Thangavelu conducts the ASTE 527 graduate Space Exploration Architectures Concept Synthesis Studio in the Department of Astronautical Engineering within the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California. He also teaches the Arch599 Extreme Environment Habitation Design Seminar in the School of Architecture, where he is a graduate thesis adviser. Mr. Thangavelu’s educational background is in Architecture (Masters in Building Science, USC School of Architecture 1989) and in Engineering (Bachelors in Science and Engineering, National Institute of Technology, Calicut, India, 1980). He is also a graduate of the inaugural summer session of the International Space University held at MIT in 1988. Versions of Madhu's masters thesis (conceived during ISU '88 at MIT) entitled "MALEO: Modular Assembly in Low Earth Orbit. An Alternate Strategy for Lunar Base Establishment" were published in several journals worldwide. At USC, he was mentored by and worked as a research assistant and research associate under Dr. Eberhardt Rechtin, professor of Electrical, Systems and Aerospace Engineering, (while he was creating the Systems Architecting Engineering program at USC), considered the chief architect of NASA’s Deep Space Network and President Emeritus of Aerospace Corp. Since 1992, he is a creative consultant to the aerospace industry in this newly evolving field of space architectures complex concept synthesis. Mr.Thangavelu’s concepts have been reviewed and appreciated by NASA, the National Research Council, the National Space Council (Bush Sr.Administration), and his work has been presented before the National Academy of Sciences. He continues to present and publish original concepts in Space System Architectures and chairs related sessions at conferences. He is a co-author of the book "The Moon: Resources, Future Development and Colonization", John Wiley & Sons 1999, and the second Springer/Praxis edition was published in 2007. He is a former Vice Chairman for Education, Los Angeles Section of the American Institute Of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). He has directed Space Exploration Projects at the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture. Mr. Thangavelu is also the invited author of the chapter “Living On the Moon” in the Encyclopedia of Aerospace Engineering, a major reference work published by John Wiley and Sons in October 2010, updated in 2012. He was on the team that won the coveted NASA NIAC Phase 1 and 2 awards consecutively for developing robotic building technologies on the Moon and Mars with PI Prof. Behrokh Khoshnevis. Mr. Thangavelu’s concept creation work was greatly appreciated for proposing ideas that pointed to the “leading-edge sensor concept” for return to flight of the space shuttle fleet. Mr. Thangavelu is on the faculty of the International Space University, an international organization that offers advanced interdisciplinary, intercultural and international training for promising leaders and space professionals. He is a Director of the National Space Society.

TED BRAUN (Moderator), Professor of Cinematic Arts in the John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television, and Joseph Campbell Endowed Chair in Cinematic Ethics

Writer-director Ted Braun’s critically acclaimed first feature film, Darfur Now won the NAACP Image Award for best documentary of 2007 and was named one of 2007’s top five documentaries by the National Board of Review and the Broadcast Critics Association. The film was produced by the Academy Award™ winning producer of Crash, Cathy Schulman, Academy Award™ nominee Don Cheadle, and three-time Academy Award™ winning documentarian Mark Jonathan Harris. Warner Brothers distributed Darfur Now worldwide and financed along with Participant Media, which spearheaded a global social action campaign.

For his work writing and directing the film, the International Documentary Association awarded Braun their 2007 Emerging Filmmaker of the Year.  In addition, the Winter 2008 issue of Movie Maker Magazine named him, along with Errol Morris, Oliver Stone, and Robert Redford one of 25 filmmakers whose work has changed the world.

Since then he’s continued to work in non-fiction across documentary and scripted forms with a focus on global conflict. His most recent feature documentary Betting On Zero, explores the high stakes battle between hedge fund CEO Bill Ackman and Herbalife and was produced by Glen Zipper, producer of the Academy Award™ winning feature documentary, Undefeated. Betting On Zero premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival in the World Doc Competition where it received a special jury mention for investigative work. The film was the number four documentary on iTunes for 2017,  is 100% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and was nominated for a WGA award for best feature documentary screenplay of 2017.

Prior to Darfur Now, Braun wrote and directed award winning short form fictional films and documentaries for HBO, PBS, A&E and The Discovery Channel on topics ranging from test pilots of aviation’s golden age to the battle for the rights of the developmentally disabled.

Braun taught screenwriting at Amherst College (the first to do so) before joining the faculty at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts where he teaches screenwriting and is the Joseph Campbell Endowed Chair in Cinematic Ethics. He’s a recipient of the University’s Phi Kappa Phi faculty recognition award. He regularly lectures, conducts seminars, and serves as a consultant internationally and in the US. His students have won or been nominated for some of the most prestigious cinema and television prizes: Academy Awards, the Palme d’Or, Emmys, Sundance Festival Awards, and European Media Prizes. In their April 2018 Report on the Best Film Schools, Variety Magazine named him one of world’s ten Top Teachers in Film and TV.

About the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

The goal of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation film school program is to influence the next generation of filmmakers to create more realistic and dramatic stories about science and technology and to challenge existing stereotypes about scientists and engineers through the visual media.

The goal is not to propagandize on behalf of science or to create exclusively positive images of scientists and engineers. Rather, the Sloan program aims to help aspiring and professional screenwriters and filmmakers integrate science and technology themes and characters into their work.

This innovative program awards grants at six leading film schools: American Film Institute; UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television; Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama; Columbia University Film Department; NYU Tisch School of the Arts; and USC School of Cinematic Arts.

The Sloan Grant Program at SCA

Sloan Criteria

The one condition of all submissions is that they portray science and/or scientists in realistic, non-stereotypical ways. They do not necessarily have to include sympathetic characters, and the story does not have to be strictly about science. Sloan is interested in reading about scientists as human beings whether they're fallible or heroic. The stories can be totally fiction or based on an actual event or person.

Science fiction, purely medical stories and documentaries are not accepted. All proposals must be approved for scientific accuracy by a reputable scientist, who is either a current or former full-time or part-time USC faculty member or a professional scientific expert from outside USC.

All undergraduate and graduate SCA majors from the seven academic divisions are eligible and encouraged to apply for any of the listed Sloan grants.

Types of Grants Offered

Two Production Grants are offered for $25,000 (full grant) and $12,250 (half grant)

Production proposals will include a completed script for a short film, 8-15 minutes in length, a story synopsis, shooting schedule and a budget. Previously completed films will not be accepted.

Two Screenwriting Grants are offered for $17,500 each

Screenwriting proposals must include either a completed original feature film narrative script, a television movie script, or a television pilot script that meets the Sloan criteria. This comedy or drama must be a narrative story.

One Animation Grant is offered for $17,500

Animation submission materials are the same as the production proposal with the exception of the proposed film length. Animation entries can be between 5-12 minutes.

One Games Grant is offered for $12,500 (half grant)

Proposals should include a playable prototype, game design document, concept art, production schedule, and budget.

2020 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grants Update

For undergraduate and graduate SCA majors planning to apply for grants in screenwriting, production or animation, we strongly recommend you begin developing your projects now or over the winter break.

For complete information and application requirements, go to the SCA Community site at: https://scacommunity.usc.edu/secure/scholarships/details/sloan.cfm

In October, we will present the annual Sloan Science seminar whose attendance is mandatory for those applying for a grant. Past topics have included OCD/Phobias, Evolution, Bio-terrorism, Cloning, Memory, Earthquakes, Autism, Virtual Reality, The Oceans, and space exploration, among others. Panelists have included leading scientists and other authorities in their respective fields. The scheduled date for the seminar is Friday, October 11, 2019 from 4:00pm – 5:30pm.

For those planning to apply for a production grant, previous winning Sloan films from the six participating film programs are available online at the Museum of the Moving Image - http://scienceandfilm.org/projects


  1. For students who apply for and receive production, animation, or games grants, you are expected to involve your science advisor throughout the entire production process. Be clear with the advisor about the time commitment. For screenwriters, we strongly recommend that you meet with your science advisor prior to beginning your script and have him/her review it for scientific accuracy throughout the writing process.
  2. SCA Production Professor, Dr. Thomas Miller, is the designated Sloan production liaison and will work closely with those students producing Sloan films. He will be an important resource as an advisor who will also monitor the project through all stages to ensure pre-determined deadlines are being met.

For questions regarding deadlines, required submission materials, or contacting a potential science advisor, contact Student Services. For specific content issues, contact associate dean Alan Baker. Most questions are already addressed on the SCA Community site.


The Sloan Grant is available to undergraduate and graduate students in any of the seven SCA divisions. You must:

  • Be a current student
  • Be an SCA major (applies to undergrads)
  • Have a minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Submit a Science Adviser's Report, approved by a legitimate scientist, either a USC faculty member or a scientific expert from outside USC.
  • Further submission guidelines are listed on the SCA Scholarship Web page.
Selection Process
  • Applications are reviewed by an SCA faculty panel.
  • Final selections are reviewed and decided on by the Sloan Foundation.
  • Recipients are generally announced between May and August of the particular award year.
How To Apply

Applications are submitted once a year, during the spring.

Deadlines Timetables For Completion:
  • During the fall semester students interested in applying for the Sloan grant are encouraged to attend the annual Sloan Seminar. At the seminar, information related to the grant is presented and students have an opportunity to learn more about a specific science related topic.
  • In January, the spring deadlines for the SCA Scholarship Program are announced, including the deadlines for the Sloan submissions. For more information, students should refer to the SCA Scholarship Web page.
  • Applications are assessed by SCA faculty and forwarded to the Sloan Foundation during the spring semester.
  • Between May and August, recipients are announced. Students who receive a production or animation award will have one year to begin production and one additional year to complete their film. Students receiving the script award will receive the funds as a scholarship award toward that academic year. For students with federal financial aid, the funds will be applied against outstanding debt tuition.
Contact Information

Name: Student Services
Email: studentservices@cinema.usc.edu