Physical Science Research Experience for Undergraduates Program

 About our Program

The Research Experience for Undergraduates Program in Physical Sciences (Earth and Planetary Sciences and Astrophysics) is funded by the National Science Foundation. The AMNH Division of Physical Sciences, in collaboration with the City University of New York (CUNY), is pleased to offer summer undergraduate research opportunities in Astrophysics and Earth and Planetary Sciences. Our program brings approximately eight students to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City each summer for a ten-week experience working with our curators, faculty, and post-doctoral fellows. Students receive a $5000 traineeship stipend, as well as per diem costs for housing and meals, relocation expenses, and transportation subsidies. Housing is made available at nearby Columbia University. In addition to conducting original research projects throughout the summer, students participate in a series of weekly meetings at which they discuss their research, present informal progress reports, and engage in discussions and seminars regarding scientific research, graduate school, and research career opportunities. At the conclusion, they deliver oral presentations of their work and prepare publication quality research papers. The program is open to all students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, in any two or four year undergraduate degree program, who will not have completed a bachelor's degree before September 1, 2016. 

Who Should Apply

All students in the program must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals or permanent residents of the U.S.  Students must be entering or continuing in an Associates or Baccalaureate degree program following their summer internship.  As part of the National Science Foundation's commitment to broadening participation in STEM fields, we especially encourage students who come from community colleges, undergraduate-only institutions, and minority-serving institutions to apply (Application Portal will open in December).  Apply here.

2016 Project Titles


Courtesy of Mr. Jeff Glover

Courtesy of Mr. Jeff Glover

Investigating Zinc-Rich and Other Micas of the Sterling Hill Deposit, New Jersey

Mentors: Dr. Jim Webster (Curator, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Division of Physical Sciences) and Mr. Earl R. Verbeek, Resident Geologist of the Sterling Hill Mine and Museum

The Sterling Hill zinc-iron-manganese deposit in Ogdensburg, New Jersey, is not only the unofficial capitol of the world for collecting fluorescent minerals, but it also contains a wide variety of unusual and rare minerals including many non-sulfide minerals that are enriched in zinc (the primary ore commodity of this deposit).  In addition to phlogopitic micas, the metamorphic rocks of this deposit contain other interesting micas with more rare chemical compositions, such as hendricksite (a zinc-rich mica); at least two members of the brittle mica group occur there as well. 

The student who participates in this project will collect rock and mineral samples at the Sterling Hill mine and study and analyze the various micas with optical microscopy, X-ray diffraction, electron microprobe, and the scanning electron microscope.  The primary goal of this research project is to identify and characterize the micas and to apply the resulting mineralogical and geochemical data to interpret the metamorphic and mineralizing processes that altered the Sterling Hill rocks.



Major and Trace Element Abundances In Ordinary Chondrites

 Mentor: Dr. Denton Ebel (Curator, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Division of Physical Sciences)

Chondritic meteorites are central to our understanding of the formation and accretion of the earliest solids formed in the solar system, the precursors to planets. Igneous silicate and metal inclusions -- chondrules, metal grains -- free-floating in space combined to form the various chondrites. We seek to understand the distribution of trace elements such as rare earths among these inclusions in the ordinary chondrites. Element distributions provide clues to how these inclusions formed and accreted with fine-grained mineral dust to make bigger rocks. The student will receive a crash course in solar system origins and meteorite petrology. Working with Dr. Denton Ebel and colleagues, the student will describe inclusions, and then measure their trace element abundances using Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry. Results will be compared with ongoing work on the very different carbonaceous chondrites described by Crapster-Pregont et al. (2014) Meteorite X-ray composite map (Mg red, Ca green, Al blue) of the Semarkona LL 3.0 chondrite.The right side shows (in yellow) outlines of individual chondrules and metal nodules.


Unraveling the History of Complex-Zoned Garnets.

Mentor: Dr. Céline Martin (Postdoctoral Fellow, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Division of Physical Sciences)

Garnet is a very common mineral in metamorphic paragenesis, and it is often used for Sm-Nd and Lu-Hf dating. However, garnet usually displays a significant chemical zoning, testifying to multiple phases of metamorphism. Unfortunately, this zoning may be too complex (showing patchiness, resorption, or overgrowths) to yield accurate dating by traditional techniques. A study conducted on garnet from eclogite and amphibolite samples from the North Motagua Mélange (Guatemala) has highlighted up to five different events recorded in the garnet grains. The proposed project consists of a detailed petrographic study of garnets, with the goal being able to date the zones with the Lu-Hf system.

The student intern will prepare garnet samples for computed tomographic (CT) 3-d mapping, 2-d elemental X-ray mapping and electron microprobe analysis (EMPA) to obtain highly detailed textural and compositional information.  Finally, he/she will use the laser ablation device coupled with an ICP-MS mass spectrometer to determine the trace element (particularly Lu and Hf) content of the different zones of the garnet grains.


Tracing volatiles in Magmas and Understanding Volcanic Degassing

Mentor: Dr. Adrian Fiege (Earth and Planetary Sciences, Division of Physical Sciences).  Volatiles like H2O and CO2 are main drivers of magmatic process and often make the difference if a volcanic eruption is (hazardous) explosive or effusive. Melt inclusions (MI) entrapped in mineral phases at depth (e.g. quartz, amphibole) and brought to the surface during an eruption can provide insights into the degassing and eruption history of a volcano. However, MIs are often partially degassed (see Figure). It has been shown recently that homogenization of MIs is a key step in order to obtain accurate values for pre-eruptive volatile concentrations (especially for CO2).  In this study we will focus on natural samples from some of the most active and dangerous volcanoes on Earth (e.g., Raubal, Papua New Guinea; Merapi, Indonesia; Pinatubo, Philippines). We will use a rapid-heating-cooling stage to determine the ideal temperature-time path for the homogenization. Subsequently, batches of mineral grains will be loaded into gold capsules and heated following this T-t path in an internally heated pressure vessel. We will use electron probe micro analyses to determine the major and trace element concentrations in the MIs and the surrounding matrix glasses. Fourier transformed infrared spectroscopy will be applied to measure CO2 and H2O contents in the glasses.



Starburst and Post-Starburst Galaxies at Multiple Wavelengths

Mentor: Dr. Charles Liu (Astrophysics, Division of Physical Sciences)

Description -Several projects are available to students who will work with images and spectra of nearby starburst and post-starburst galaxies, at wavelengths ranging from ultraviolet and visible to infrared and radio.  Each part of the electromagnetic spectrum reveals a different facet of the evolution of these galaxies, from the birth of new stars to the feeding of supermassive black holes to the quenching of star formation; with these studies, we will seek to assemble an integrated view of the stellar populations and star formation histories of these galaxies as they transform over billions of years. 

Project 1640

Project 1640

Mentor: Dr. Rebecca Oppenheimer (Curator, Astrophysics, Division of Physical Sciences)

Description - Project 1640 is one of the world's most advanced exoplanet imaging systems in operation today using a suite of new instruments and currently completing a survey of nearby stars to find new very faint objects orbiting those stars.  We seek a student to help with observations and data analysis.  As a summer student with our group (see, you could find the next exoplanet in our solar neighborhood and help to characterize its atmosphere.

Global clusters

Stellar Systems in Globular Clusters

Mentor: Dave Zurek (Astrophysics, Division of Physical Sciences)

The cores of globular star clusters are among the densest stellar environments in the Universe.  Stars are packed a million or more times closer to each other than in the solar neighborhood. Interactions between single and binary stars lead to the formation of unusual star systems such as strongly interacting white dwarf - main sequence star binaries.  One summer REU student will process Hubble Space Telescope archival images in several unexamined stellar clusters, searching for and studying interesting stellar systems and their properties.



2015 Physical Sciences REU Interns and their Research Projects