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Research Experience for Undergraduates - Division of Physical Sciences

The AMNH Division of Physical Sciences, in collaboration with the City University of New York (CUNY), is pleased to offer summer research opportunities in Astrophysics and Earth and Planetary Sciences. The program is open to all students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, in any four year undergraduate degree program, who will not have completed a bachelor's degree before September 1, 2014.

How to Apply

The application deadline for summer 2014 is 11:59 PM, SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2014.  All application materials must be received by that date and time.  The online application form will be ready shortly - please click here to find out more. Thank you!

About the Program

The program will run from May 27, 2014 to August 1, 2014.

Successful applicants will receive a stipend of approximately $5,100. In addition, dormitory housing on a nearby university campus, or an equivalent housing stipend, will be provided together with a subsistence allowance. Based on need, travel costs to and from New York City are also covered.


For more information about the program, please contact Dr. Charles Liu about Astrophysics projects and Dr. Jim Webster about Earth and Planetary Sciences projects.


Projects for Summer 2014


Investigating the Origin of Sapphire of the Mogok Belt of Myanmar
Advisors: George Harlow and Jim Webster 

Sapphire, a gem variety of corundum—Al2O3, is one of the important gem resources of the famed Mogok metamorphic belt of northern Myanmar. Descriptions associate this gem with syenites and their contacts with metasediments in the belt. Nonetheless, the processes involved in the genesis of the sapphires are poorly constrained by modern research. On our recent field expedition to the Mogok area, hydrothermal alteration and vein systems were conspicuous among virtually all the exposed lithologies, from granites to marbles.  We were able to collect samples of sapphire-bearing rocks as well as their apparent non-sapphire bearing equivalents. We invite applications from students who are interested in investigating the petrologic and geochemical characteristics of the sapphires and their host rocks, and the role of hydrothermal fluids and magmas played in the genesis of the gemstone.



Scylla: Multi-Code Hydrodynamical Simulations of Galaxy Gas Halos

Advisor: Ariyeh Maller


One of the primary methods of studying galaxy formation is through the use of cosmological hydrodynamical simulations.  Such simulations have many promising results creating realistic galaxies. However, we lack an understanding of to what degree different codes give the same results. For example, the figure shows the same galaxy simulated with 3 different codes: AREPO, ENZO, and RAMSES.  The middle and rightmost image are both created with yt allowing for easy comparison.  The leftmost image is not which makes comparison harder.The object of this project is to study the same galaxy simulated with six different commonly used codes to identify what degree of agreement there is between codes.  The student will learn to visualize and analyze simulations using the program "yt" and contribute to the development of "yt" which does not yet support all six codes.

Petrology of the Lunar Highlands: Lithic Clasts in Lunar Meteorites
Advisor: Juliane Gross 

The Moon, especially its highland crust, provides a unique record of the planetary formation and early evolutionary processes and contains a wealth of information about the origin and evolution of the Earth-Moon system that existed during the first billion years of the solar system’s history. A strong framework for lunar history and evolution has been developed through extensive petrologic, geochemical, and isotopic studies of returned lunar samples. In recent years, our knowledge of the lunar highland crust has advanced enormously through results from lunar meteorites. Lunar meteorites are rock fragments that were ejected from the Moon by impact events. They come from random sites on the Moon; some formed at sites far distant from the regions samples by Apollo and Luna and thus are crucial for understanding and extending our knowledge of early lunar petrogenesis.

The student who will work with me will analyze a lunar meteorite, classify its lithologies through geochemistry, and gain experience in element mapping. The student will learn to use the electron microprobe to analyze the major and minor elements (and do element mapping) of the different lithologies in the meteorite. By the end of the project we know what rock types are present in unsampled parts of the Moon and place our microscopic data in a general macroscopic framework of lunar evolution.


Exploring The Gamma-Ray Sky
Advisor: Tim Paglione

The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has allowed us to study in unprecedented detail the highest energy radiation from the universe.  The Milky Way is aglow in gamma-rays, a signature of interactions between gas clouds and cosmic rays, extremely energetic particles moving at nearly the speed of light.  Presumably accelerated by supernova explosions, cosmic rays diffuse through the Galaxy, interacting with its magnetic fields, stellar radiation, and gas.  But our knowledge of their acceleration, diffusion, and interactions is still in its early stages.  We aim to explore the lives of Galactic cosmic rays by studying the gamma-ray emission from clouds from the MALT90 survey.  The nearly 2,000 MALT90 clouds have known masses and distances, so their gamma-ray brightness reveals how the density of cosmic rays they are bathed in varies within the Galaxy.  They are also catalogued by cloud type, so this study may expose new and unknown sites of cosmic ray acceleration.

Determining the volume of objects in chondritic meteorites using computed tomography
Advisors: Ellen Crapster-Pregont and Denton Ebel
Carbonaceous Chondrite

We live in a 3D world, but geoscientists often rely on 2D analyses. The difficulty lies in drawing 3D implications from 2D results. This project will focus on data acquisition and analysis of computed tomography (CT) scans to obtain real size information for objects in meteorites. Chondrites, a type of stony meteorite, are composed of different types of objects (chondrules, Ca- and Al-rich inclusions [CAI], Fe-Ni metal) held together by a very fine-grained matrix. Each type of object records different chemical, thermal, and dynamical processes regarding the solar system before planet formation. Due to the relative scarcity and friability of chondritic material, disaggregation studies of all object types are limited. High-resolution CT scanners are able to image small pieces of chondrites in 3D without requiring sample destruction. In combination with sectioning, both 3D and 2D size information can be obtained with minimal material loss. The student will receive a crash course in planetary science in addition to training on CT operations.


Spectroscopic Studies of Brown Dwarfs
Advisors: Emily Rice and Kelle Cruz

Brown dwarfs and very low-mass stars share many physical properties with massive extrasolar planets.   However, we can study brown dwarfs and very-low mass stars in much greater detail than is currently possible for most planets.  Several projects are available which focus on using brown dwarf spectra to determine the underlying physical properties, such as mass and age, of these complex objects.  The results of these endeavors are critical to testing and challenging our current understanding of the nature of extrasolar planets.


Meteorite Studies with Electron Backscatter Diffraction
Advisors: Denton Ebel and Ellen Crapster-Pregont

Extraterrestrial samples, mainly meteorites, are precious and rare.  Better, minimally destructive sample preparation and analysis techniques that yield chemical and textural information are continually employed and sought after.  Electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) has the capabilities to add a microstructural component to the already existing understanding of chondrites.  Chondrites, a type of stony meteorite, are composed of different types of objects (chondrules, Ca- and Al-rich inclusions [CAI], Fe-Ni metal) held together by a very fine-grained matrix.  Each type of object records chemical, thermal, and dynamical processes that occurred in the solar system before planet formation. EBSD techniques will be implemented to distinguish between accretion and crystallization in layered, olivine-rich chondrules, like the one shown above, by analyzing the orientation of olivine in the outermost regions and rim-like structures associated with the chondrules. Results of this work will elucidate the growth history of individual chondrules and contribute towards the overall knowledgebase relevant to the enigma of chondrule formation.  The student will receive a crash course in planetary science in addition to training on EBSD and other electron beam instruments.


Studying Galaxies with COSMOS
Advisor: Charles Liu
COSMOS Galaxies

COSMOS is a Hubble Treasury survey centered on the largest contiguous patch of sky ever imaged with the Hubble Space Telescope. Together with a massive international multiwavelength followup that will continue for years to come, this remarkable window on the distant universe is being applied to answer a wide variety of astronomical questions. Among the many studies being conducted is a detailed examination of strongly star-forming galaxies in the survey -- measuring their luminosities, morphologies, environments, spatial distributions, and much more. The eventual goal of such a study would be to interpret and understand the changes that have occurred in the field galaxy population as a function of cosmic time.

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