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REU Physical Sciences Program

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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, 2018.  

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.  


Applications Now Open!   Apply here.

2018 Project Titles


Using Magnetite and Biotite to Monitor Crystal-Melt Evolution

Mentors: Dr. Nicholas Tailby (Earth and Planetary Sciences, Division of Physical Sciences)

Magnetite (Fe3O4) and biotite (K(Mg,Fe2+)3[AlSi3O10](OH,F)2 are common minor phases known to crystallize from a broad array of silicic magma types (e.g., granites, granodiorites, tonalite, etc). Magnetite and biotite crystals from intrusive bodies often display euhedral habit and record complex, core to rim, minor element zonation patterns indicative of crystallization conditions. The composition and minor element content of magnetite/biotite - particularly multivalent elements - show excellent potential as indicators of magma evolution (e.g., crystallization, influx of new melt, assimilation of country rock, vapor saturation, etc). In this study we propose to analyze a suite of magnetite/biotite crystals taken from two sample transects (see Figure c) carried out across the Dalgety granodiorite pluton (southeastern Australia). This work will involve electronprobe microanalysis on samples taken rim-to-core of the intrusion in order to determine whether variations in Fe,Ti, Cr, V, Mn, Al, etc can be used to evaluate whether the magma was emplaced as a single batch or whether multiple injections of incrementally emplaced magma . These analyses will also help to evaluate evolution of redox conditions during magma emplacement and crystallization - e.g., did the magmatic body see multiple injections and redox variations over time?


Formation of Fusion Crust on Carbonaceous Chondrites

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

Miller (H5 ordinary chondrite, fell 1930 Arkansas) showing flow lines where glass (fused, or melted rock), flowed from the front of the meteorite toward the back of the meteorite, while it was in flight. The front is toward the viewer (you) in this photograph, while the back part is concealed. The fusion crust has chipped off in a few places toward the center of the specimen. 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. The fusion crust of these meteorites forms during their atmospheric entry Igneous silicate and metal inclusions -- chondrules, metal grains -- free-floating in space combined to form the various chondrites. These components have different compositions, so they melt to form distinct liquids that quench with different properties. The fusion crust records the composition of the melted material, which reflects the composition of the material just below the crust at that place on the meteorite, and records mixing (if any)of melted material before it froze. The student will receive a crash course in solar system origins and meteorite petrology. Working with Dr. Denton Ebel and colleagues, the student will use the electron microprobe and scanning electron microscopes to investigate fusion crust in CV chondrite meteorites, to understand in detail how it inherits its composition and texture from its parent material.

See also

Fiege PS REU 2018 pic (Lunar)

Volatile Evolution of Lunar Mare Basalts: Insights from Apatite

Mentor: Dr. Adrian Fiege (Earth and Planetary Sciences, Division of Physical Sciences)

Bulk-rock analyses of mare basalt samples suggest that lunar magmas were relatively depleted in volatiles elements (Cl, F, H, S, C) compared to terrestrial analogues. However, recently reported abundances of volatiles in lunar melt inclusions, volcanic glasses, and apatites challenge this interpretation, triggering a controversial debate about the volatile budgets and evolution in lunar magmas. In particular the elevated sulfur contents in some lunar apatites remain enigmatic (Konecke et al., 2017). Hence, further investigations are required, considering the importance of volatiles for magmatic processes.Apatite – commonly Ca5(PO4)3(F, Cl, OH) – is an ubiquitous mineral in lunar mare basalts  that forms during late stages of magma solidification (>85% crystallization). It incorporates F-Cl-H as major elements and often contains traces of S-C-Fe-Mn and rare earth elements (REE). Variations in apatite composition are directly related to changes in chemical and physical properties of the coexisting silicate melt. Thus, apatite can record volatile, REE, Fe, and Mn activities during its formation. Here, the resistant nature of apatite often results in a preservation chemical zonation induced by the syn-crystallization evolution of the residual melt.In this project, we will measure volatile (F, Cl, S) and trace element (Fe, Mn, rare earth elements) signatures in apatite from several lunar mare basalts collected during the NASA Apollo missions. We will analyze apatite inclusions in mineral phases, apatite in the groundmass (often surrounded by late-stage melt), and apatite in the mesostasis regions (see Figure). Studying the composition and chemical zonation of these apatites will help us to better understand lunar magmatism. For the analyses we will use the electron microprobe (chemical analyses), secondary electron microscopy (imaging) and electron backscattered diffraction (crystal orientations).

Figure: X-ray map of lunar mare basalt 12039,63. Apatites are present as inclusions in minerals, in the groundmass, and in mesostasis regions.

Reference: Konecke, B. A., Fiege, A., Simon, A. C., & Holtz, F. (2017). Cryptic metasomatism during late-stage lunar magmatism implicated by sulfur in apatite. Geology, G39249-1.


Starburst and Post-Starburst Galaxies at Multiple Wavelengths

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

Research projects are available to students who will work with images and spectra - mostly from the SDSS-IV MaNGA dataset - 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.

Sterling Hills Mines

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

Mentors: Dr. Jim Webster (EPS) 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.

Meteorite X-ray composite map (Si red, Ca green, Fe blue) of the SAH 97096 EH3 enstatite chondrite. A large (~400 micron) barred olivine chondrule is
Meteorite X-ray composite map (Si red, Ca green, Fe blue) of the SAH 97096 EH3 enstatite chondrite. A large (~400 micron) barred olivine chondrule is visible at lower right.

Chondrule and Element Abundances In Enstatite Chondrites

Mentor: Dr.  Denton Ebel (Division Chair and Curator, Earth & 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 highly reduced enstatite 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, their abundances and major element compositions using electron microprobe x-ray mapping and image analysis, and then (as time permits) measure their trace element abundances using Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry. Results will be compared with ongoing work on other chondrites (e.g., Ebel et al. 2016, Geochim. Cosmochim Acta, 172: 322-356).

Bellovary PS REU 2018 pic (dwarf galaxies)

Examining the Temporal Evolution of the Massive Black Holes in Dwarf Galaxies

Mentor: Jillian Bellovary, (Research Associate/AMNH, Assistant Professor/CUNY-QCCZ)

The recent discovery of massive black holes in dwarf galaxies has led to many questions of how such black holes form and evolve.  The student will analyze existing hydrodynamical cosmological simulations of low-mass galaxy environments to study how black holes in dwarf galaxies evolve over time.  Prior work has shown that the black holes do not accrete rapidly or often, possibly because they vacate the centers of their hosts.  The student will analyze the formation locations of each black hole and their subsequent dynamical evolution.  They will characterize the amount of time black holes spend in dwarf galaxy centers, the reasons for each black hole exodus, and the environmental factors which may influence the dynamical evolution of each black hole.

Ding PS REU 2018 pic (Augustine Magmas)

Volatiles in Augustine Magmas

Mentors: Dr. Shuo Ding, (Postdoctoral Fellow) and Dr. James D. Webster (EPS)

 Augustine Volcano, an 84 km2 island located in the eastern Aleutian arc in south-central Alaska’s Cook Inlet region, has erupted at least seven times in the past 200 years (in 1812, 1883, 1935, 1964, 1976, 1986, 2006). Augustine’s eruptions can generate a wide variety of natural hazards, which have endangered people and property. For example, volcanic ash clouds ejected to the atmosphere by explosive eruptions from Augustine volcano are a hazard to all airplanes downwind from the volcano.  Ashfall from the eruptions may affect public health for parts of south-central Alaska. Release of volatiles, such as CO2, H2O, SO2, HCl, from magmas is one of the key factors influencing the timing and nature of volcanic eruptions, and the chemistry of volcanic gases released to the surface. Therefore, understanding the degassing processes of Augustine magmas is critical for volcano monitoring, eruption notification and hazards assessments in Alaska.

Melt inclusions (MI) are small parcels of melt trapped by crystals and can preserve information of melts before they are modified by later processes. Therefore, MI are commonly used to study abundances of volatiles in primitive and evolved melts. Previous studies on MIs show that intermediate-felsic Augustine magmas contain abundant H2O, S Cl, CO2 and F, however, the measurements of all five volatiles in the mafic MIs are relatively rare. In this project, we will assess the H2O-CO2-S-Cl-F abundances in mafic melt inclusions from Augustine volcano. This work will involve electron microprobe analysis on melt inclusions for major elements, S, F, and Cl; and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) analysis for CO2 and H2O. Combined with previous work on intermediate-felsic MIs, the results will be used to understand the degassing path of Augustine magmas during crystallization, and to constrain the magmatic volatile budgets of the active Augustine volcano in the context of its eruptive behaviors.

Paglione PS REU 2018 Pic (cosmic rays)

Cosmic Rays and Star-Forming Regions

Mentor: Tim Paglione (Astrophysics,Division of Physical Sciences )

The most energetic and enigmatic particles in the universe are known as cosmic rays. Several thousand just went thru your body while you read these lines! Cosmic rays are accelerated primarily in supernova explosions in regions of massive star formation. Still nestled within their nascent giant molecular clouds, these star forming regions will glow across the entire spectrum revealing the interactions between the cosmic rays and the magnetic fields, radiation fields, cloud chemistry and heating. A variety of projects are available to engage students: the solar neighborhood in gamma-rays, the central molecular zone of the Milky Way, starburst galaxy disk chemistry.

Maller PS REU 2018 pic (Halos)

Probing the Gas Halos of Galaxies in Simulations

Advisor: Dr. Ariyah Maller (Astrophysics,Division of Physical Sciences )

Feedback in galaxies ejects gas and metals into the area around them.  This gas and metals can be observed as absorption systems in background quasars. We will determine the distribution of absorption systems produced in a number of galaxy simulations with a goal of comparing them to observations and thus constraining the feedback mechanisms in galaxy formation.

Cook PS REU 2018 (Neptune)

Modeling Giant Planet Atmospheres

Mentor:  Dr. Statia Cook

The properties of a giant planet can be constrained by its spectrum:  spectra directly reflect the thermal structure and composition of a planet’s atmosphere, and indirectly inform us about a planet’s dynamics. Observations at near-infrared wavelengths are particularly sensitive to clouds and hazes, which act as tracers of dramatic weather and large-scale atmospheric motions in these planets. In this project, the student will work with Dr. Cook to analyze spectra of storms on Uranus or Neptune. The student will utilize state-of-the-art near-infrared observations from the W. M. Keck Observatory, and apply an atmospheric retrieval code to determine the likely composition and structure of the atmosphere within different storms, contributing to our understanding of giant planet atmospheric circulation. Projects that focus on model development (for example, working towards generating model spectra of extrasolar giant planets) are also possible.

Figure caption: False-color image of the planet Neptune, generated from Keck OSIRIS spectroscopy. Clouds that appear reddish are deep in the atmosphere, whereas bluer clouds are at high altitudes. Black pixels are locations where we do not have data.


2015 Physical Sciences REU Interns and their Research Projects