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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, 2019.  

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

2019 Project Titles 

Tailby PS  REU Project 2019

Constraining peak pressure-temperature and partial melting conditions within the Manhattan Prong

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

Project description: The various rock units that comprise the Manhattan Prong (e.g., the basement rocks of Manhattan) record a complex history of tectonics, metamorphism and glaciation. One of the key episodes of metamorphism experienced by these rocks occurred during the Taconic Orogeny (~440 Ma), when a series of marine sediments and volcanic units were accreted on to the North American continent (Laurentia). During this orogeny, prograde metamorphism produced a high-grade metamorphic mineral assemblage (e.g., amphibolite to granulite facies) that includes garnet-biotite-muscovite-aluminosilicate-quartz-plagioclase. The composition of many of these coexisting minerals can be used to evaluate the pressure and temperature experienced during metamorphism (e.g., Ferry and Spear, 1978; Koziol and Newton, 1989). The Fe-Mg exchange of coexisting biotite and garnet, for example, represents an excellent geothermometer that can be used to evaluate crystallization temperature. Similarly, the composition of coexisting plagioclase and garnet (a type of net transfer reaction) can be used to effectively estimate pressure. By measuring the composition of mineral phases within a range of rocks at predefined locations in Manhattan, it is possible to reconstruct the tectonic evolution of the Manhattan Prong and the evolution of this section of the Laurentian margin.


Methods of analysis: the majority of this research will involve analytical work on an sx100 electron microprobe, Zeiss Evo scanning electron microscope (SEM) and CT scanner housed at the American Museum of Natural History. This research will also include petrographic work (including optical and electron microscopy) on conventional thin sections and 1" epoxy round mounts. Approximately 5-10 samples will be acquired and prepared in the process of the summer research program.


Formation of Fusion Crust on Carbonaceous Chondrites

 Mentor: 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

Steve Jaret PS REU pic 1
Steve Jaret PS REU pic 2

Shock Metamorphism in Accessory Minerals from Terrestrial Impact Structures

Mentor: Steven Jaret (Earth and Planetary Sciences, Division of Physical Sciences)

Impact cratering is the dominant surface-changing process in the Solar System. Although less common on the Earth than on other planets, the set of ~190 terrestrial craters serve as excellent analogs for understanding this planetary process. During impacts, the target rocks experience extreme pressure and temperature conditions which results in deformation effects that include structural transformations and formation of high-pressure/high-temperature phases. Analysis of these phases can yield both insight into high P/high T mineralogy and into the impact cratering process both on Earth and on other planets.

This project will focus on transformations in accessory phases zircon, apatite, and biotite. Recently there has become increasing interest in these phases because they are robust and can survive in the post-impact sedimentary record, and may help identify the existence of old, now eroded impact events.  Additionally, these phases are frequently used as geochronometers and therefore understanding shock in these minerals may be critical for dating impact events across the Solar System.

Using samples from the 7-km diameter Gardnos Impact Structure (Norway) and the 80-km diameter Manicouagan Impact Structure (Canada), this project will be designed to petrologically identify, document, describe, and measure shock effects in accessory phases both in thin section and in mineral separates using optical microscopes, electron microscopes, and infrared spectroscopy.



Starburst and Post-Starburst Galaxies at Multiple Wavelengths

Mentor: 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.

Kelle Cruz REU Pic

Low-mass stars, brown dwarfs and exoplanet analogs

Mentors:  Jackie Faherty, Kelle Cruz, Emily Rice, Johanna Vos, Daniella Bardalez-Gagliuffi and the BDNYC group (Astrophysics, Division of Physical Sciences)

In the Brown Dwarfs in NYC (BDNYC) research group we study the intersection of properties of low mass stars, brown dwarfs, and exoplanets using observations and model comparison. Brown dwarfs are the lowest mass stars and can have masses, temperatures, and atmospheres very similar to giant exoplanets. A variety of projects are available on these topics including how they move in space (kinematics), spectra and chemical compositions, binary properties, and magnetic activity.

Mike Shara PS REU pic

A search for Symbiotic Stars in Globular Clusters

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

Symbiotic stars (SySt) are amongst the longest orbital period interacting binaries. The components are a cool red giant and an accreting, hot, luminous companion white dwarf surrounded by a dense ionized nebula. Some SySt must give rise to nova explosions, and possibly even supernovae, as matter is cannibalised from the red giant onto the whole dwarf. Symbiotic stars offer insights into all sorts of interacting binaries that include evolved giants and accreting WDs during any phase of their evolution.

While a few hundred SySt are known in the Milky Way, almost none have definitive distances, luminosities or known ages. Luminosities and ages are essential to characterise any kind of star. One way to progress in characterising SySt is to locate at least a few of them in star clusters of known age and distance. The most populous star clusters in our Milky Way Galaxy contain over 1 Million stars, and have well-determined ages. Images of these “globular clusters” have been obtained through filters that transmit only at the wavelengths of ionised hydrogen or helium. Because SySt are brightest at these wavelengths, they can be separated from the vast majority of other stars by “subtracting” hydrogen or helium images from images taken through conventional filters. The goal of this REU project is to use this image-subtraction technique to search for SySt in several clusters with recently acquired hydrogen and helium images from the Carnegie Observatories in Chile.

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.

Mike Weisberg PS REU Pic
Meteorite X-ray composite map (Si red, Ca green, Fe blue) of the NWA 8785 EL3 enstatite chondrite


Chondrule and Opaque Nodule Mineralogy in Enstatite Chondrites

Advisor:  Michael Weisberg (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, opaque nodules -- free-floating in space combined to form the various chondrites. We seek to understand the distribution of major elements such as Mg, Si, Ca, Al, and Fe among these inclusions in the highly reduced enstatite chondrites, with a focus on recently discovered NWA 8785 (EL3). 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. Michael Weisberg and colleagues, the student will describe inclusions, their abundances relative to matrix, and major element compositions using electron microprobe x-ray mapping and image analysis. Results will be compared with ongoing work on other chondrites (e.g., Ebel et al. 2016, Geochim. Cosmochim Acta, 172: 322-356).