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, 2017.  

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.

2017 Project Titles


Using Apatite Composition to Track Magmatic Evolution in Granitoids

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

Apatite[Ca5(PO4)3(OH,F,Cl)] is a common accessory phase known to crystallize from a broad array of silicic magma types (e.g., granites, granodiorites, tonalite, etc). Apatite crystals from intrusive bodies often display euhedral habit and record complex, core to rim, trace element zonation patterns indicative of crystallization conditions. The composition and trace element content of apatite - particularly volatile species - show excellent potential as indicators of magma-vapor 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 apatite crystals taken from two sample transects (see Figure c) carried out across the Dalgety granodiorite (southeastern Australia). This work will involve electronprobe microanalysis on samples taken rim-to-core of the intrusion in order to determine whether variations in OH:F:Cl (structurally bound within the crystal and sensitive to changes in volatile content/saturation) can be used to evaluate whether the magma was emplaced as a single batch or whether multiple injections of smaller magma bodies were involved. Similarly, the OH:F:Cl content will be used to track how many vapor saturation events occurred during magmatic fractionation and how this influenced vapor composition.



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

Apatite- Fiege

Apatite – A Deceitful, Yet Resourceful Mineral

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

Volatiles (H-Cl-F-S-C) play a key role in the evolution of Earth’s crust, where once exsolved at depth they can be separated and transported rapidly, resulting e.g. in partial melting, redox changes, and metasomatism. Upon liberation and buoyant ascension through the crust, volatiles and participate in various reactions leading to the transfer and enrichment of metals.

Apatite – commonly Ca5(PO4)3(F, Cl, OH) – is an ubiquitous, resistant mineral in magmatic and hydrothermal environments that incorporates F-Cl-H as major and S-C as trace elements. Here, variations in volatile contents in apatite are directly related to changes in chemical and physical properties of the fluid or silicate liquid/melt in equilibrium with apatite. Thus, apatite can record volatile activities during its formation and potentially preserve volatile signatures considering its resistant nature. Recently, it has been discovered that apatite can host three different sulfur species (S6+, S4+, S2-) and that the oxidation state of sulfur in apatite correlates with oxygen fugacity (fO2; Konecke et al., in press). To our knowledge, this makes apatite not only the first mineral to incorporate reduced, intermediate and oxidized sulfur, but also demonstrates that S-in-apatite can serve as a powerful oxybarometer to quantify fO2.  In this project, we will measure volatile signatures in apatite from major volcanic systems (e.g., El Chichón, Mount Pinatubo, Huerto Andesite) and from selected magmatic-hydrothermal ore deposits (e.g., Chilean Iron-oxide apatite deposits; Philips Mine (NY), see X-ray map: Red = Fe, Blue = P, Green = S). Through combination with apatite crystallization and hydrothermal alteration experiments, we will investigate the properties, sources, and evolution of volatiles at depth. Ultimately, this research aims at a better understanding of volcanic degassing and the formation of magmatic-hydrothermal ore deposits.

Crystalline Melt Inclusion Cluster

Linking melt composition to phenocryst composition - a case study from volcanic quartz

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

Pre-eruptive magma conditions such as pressure, temperature, and volatile contents are key parameters controlling the eruptive style of a volcanic systems (e.g., rather harmless effusive vs. hazardous explosive). The trace element contents in quartz can help to elucidate these conditions. For example, the Ti-content of quartz can be used to estimate crystallization pressure-temperature, the Al-content of quartz is a sensor for the melt peraluminosity, and the OH-content of quartz is linked to the water content in the silicate melt. Melt inclusions (MI) entrapped in quartz provide a snapshot of the pre-eruptive melt composition. By studying both MIs and the host quartz crystal it is possible to place constraints on the pre-eruptive history of volcanic systems from a variety of magmatic environments.  We will investigate homogenized and crystalline MIs as well as the host quartz crystals from a number of volcanic settings (e.g., Pinatubo, Phillipines; Merapi, Indonesia; Lachlan Fold Belt, Australia; Bishop Tuff, USA). We will use a rapid-heating-cooling stage to determine the ideal temperature-time path for homogenization. Subsequently, batches of quartz grains will be homogenized in a cold-seal pressure vessel. Analytical techniques will include electron probe microanalysis (melt and quartz composition), cathodoluminescence (to image zonation) and infrared spectroscopy (volatile content). 

Figure: (a) transmitted light image of crystalline melt inclusion cluster in a quartz phenocryst from Mount Painter volcanics (dacitic ignimbrite). (b) cathodoluminescence image of melt inclusion from Mount Painter volcanics with primary quartz zonation in the phenocryst and daughter crystal development within the inclusion.


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. Image:

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.

Subway Garnets

Minerals of New York City

Mentor: Dr.  George E. Harlow (Curator, Earth & Planetary Sciences, Division of Physical Sciences)

Few places on Earth have been as extensively excavated in the process of constructing the infrastructure of society as New York City.  Much of this was carried out by hand before the 21st century, so workers gained an appreciation for the rocks and minerals they encountered.  Combine this with a rich and complex geology of some billion plus years, and it is no wonder that the City boasts a wealth of diverse and interesting mineral specimens of more than 70 species, counting more than 500 in the mineral collection of the American Museum of Natural history.  However, the mineral assemblages represented by these specimens are poorly recorded.  Thus, this project will focus on evaluating the mineral assemblages in a representative suite of the 500 specimens, so we can better understand the environments and conditions at which the formed and provide a more complete picture of New York City geology.  The research will involve ample examination, microscopy, X-ray diffraction, and some electron microprobe analysis.  The results will be added to a database destined to be available to the public. 

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).

 2015 Physical Sciences REU Interns and their Research Projects