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REU Physical Sciences Program

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Physical Science Research Experience for Undergraduates Program

The Research Experience for Undergraduates Program in Physical Sciences (Earth and Planetary Sciences and Astrophysics) is funded by the National Science Foundation. The Museum's 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, 2021.  

Who Should Apply

All students in the program must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the United States. 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 will be accepted from January 1-January 31, 2021.

For assistance with application process, contact [email protected]

2021 Project Titles 

Identifying the Biogeochemical Signals of Eddies in the Bermuda Atlantic Time Series

Mentors: Nathalie Goodkin (Earth and Planetary Science, Division of Physical Sciences)

Mesoscale eddies are prevalent in the Sargasso Sea near the Bermuda Atlantic Time Series (BATS) station.  While eddies have themselves been well studied, little is known about how eddies propagate on-shore.  Evidence for the influence of eddies exists in the paleo-proxy records near Bermuda (Goodkin et al., 2008, Goodkin et al., 2015).  In this project, the student will mine the BATS data combined with eddy tracks to identify months when eddies were most prevalent in the Sargasso Sea.   Using the BATS data, the geochemical signal of the identified eddies will be found and compared to paleo-proxy records to evaluate the potential of paleo proxies to identify years of increase eddy frequency.

Goodkin REU Project 2021 Figure provided by D. Lindo-Atichati

Figure provided by D. Lindo-Atichati

Surface relative vorticity and tracks of modeled eddies in the Gulf Stream region at the end of May.  The boundaries of the analysis region (black lines) and the location of BATS site (cross) are shown.

Characterization of zircon populations from the Blue Ridge Mountains (North Carolina) metabasites.

Mentors: Céline Martin and Steven Jaret (Earth and Planetary ScienceDivision of Physical Sciences)

The Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina are a segment of the Appalachian Mountains. They have been scarcely studied over the past decades, but the development of in-situ methods should permit us to unravel the history of these complex terranes. Metabasites samples have been taken from two locations (Boone and Bakersville) and characterized for their mineralogy and P-T conditions. This study highlights that the samples come from three different protoliths and recorded different P-T paths. The next step is to study zircon, which is the goal of the present project, to eventually recreate the P-T-t (Pressure-Temperature-time) paths of these rocks. Zircon is particularly robust, often chemically zoned, and provides information on the rock protolith (chemistry of the zircon core), the temperature of crystallization (Ti content), and the crystallization age of its different zones (U-Pb analyses). The selected REU student will separate zircon grains from selected samples, mount them in epoxy, and analyze them (X-ray maps, Ti contents, possible CL analyses, mineralogy of the inclusions) using the electron microprobe at AMNH. These results will enable accurate U-Pb dating on selected zircon grains, and finally allow unravelling of the P-T-t path(s) of the metabasites.

Martin and Jaret REU 2021 Project Image

X-ray maps acquired on sample BKM18-4 (Bakersville) showing basic mineralogy, and likely two kinds of zircon: 1) as inclusions in garnet (small grains) and 2) within a quartz grain (bigger grains).

Properties of Opaque Nodules in Ordinary Chondrites

Mentors: Denton Ebel and Jon Friedrich (Earth and Planetary ScienceDivision 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. The chondrules in them represent clasts that were free-floating in the nebula prior to accretion with fine grained matrix. But there are also nodular aggregates of metal, sulfide and oxide minerals that are opaque in transmitted light and strongly attenuate x-rays in 3D tomography (CT) scans. The origin of these nodules, their relationship to chondrules, and the fractionation of metal from silicate are all open questions. The student will receive a crash course in solar system origins and meteorite petrology. We will use CT scans combined with electron microscopy on slices within CT volumes to study opaque nodules in L and LL ordinary chondrites. The goal is to understand how representative is 2D sampling, what is the true 3D size and spatial distribution of opaque objects, and how these properties changed due to alteration on chondrite parent asteroids (Alpert et al.,2019, LPSC XLIX, Abs. #2920).

Ebel and Friedrich REU Summer 2021- 1
Ebel and Friedrich REU Summer 2021- 2

CT frame (t1-YZ_206) and 2D x-ray element composite (Fe-Ni-S = red-green-blue, color-balanced) area map (t1-ps2A) showing opaque assemblages m2 and m3 in the Semarkona (LL3) chondrite.

The Origin of Components in Enstatite Chondrites

Mentors: Michael K. Weisberg and Mabel Gray (Earth and Planetary Sciences, Division of Physical Sciences)

Chondrites are meteorites from primitive (undifferentiated) asteroids and are central to our understanding of the earliest history of the Solar System and the materials that accreted to form the terrestrial planets. Of the different kinds of chondrites, enstatite chondrites have the distinction of having stable isotope chemistries that imply they represent the closest analogues of the materials that accumulated to form the Earth.  However, there are still many unanswered questions regarding our understanding of these meteorites and the formation of the small rock particles they are made of (including chondrules and metal-rich nodules and the surrounding fine-grained matrix that contains organic molecules and pre-solar grains.) The project is to explore the textures, mineral assemblages and petrologic features of components in a recently found enstatite chondrite that has not been previously studied.

The student will work with mentors to explore an enstatite chondrite and study its chondrules and metal-rich nodules. The work will include literature review, optical and scanning electron microscopy and electron probe microanalysis. Hypotheses for the origin of components in enstatite chondrites range from impact melting on asteroid surfaces to primary formation in the primitive Solar Nebula, for example, see Rindlisbacher et al. (2019, Lunar and Planetary Science 51, Abs. #1702). The goal is to characterize an enstatite chondrite, compare it to other previously studied enstatite chondrites and evaluate hypotheses for the origin of enstatite chondrite components.

Weisberg and Gray Summer 2021 REU

Tracing the  Flavor Evolution History of Neutrinos in Core-Collapse Supernova

Mentor: Eve Armstrong (Astrophysics, Division of Physical Sciences)

Neutrinos are extremely light particles that are created in abundance during the core collapse of a supermassive star, and they may drive the subsequent supernova (SN) explosion.  Neutrinos come in at least three “flavors”: a property that describes the manner in which neutrinos interact with matter.  Specifically, neutrino flavor sets the neutron-to-proton ratio within the SN envelope – and hence the elements that may be created in the explosion.  We would like to map the complete flavor evolution of neutrinos as they emanate from the collapsing core through the SN envelope, to understand the cosmic elemental abundances, as well as the mechanism of SN explosion itself.  Meanwhile, studying neutrino flavor presents vexing difficulties.  Current methods – specifically, numerical integration – possess Trlimitations, including rigidity and high computational cost.  For this reason, we are developing a means to augment these existing codes, in the form of an inference procedure.  Inference is a means to efficiently optimize a model given available data. The student will use Python to learn two distinct techniques for solving a physical model: 1) numerical integration and 2) optimization-based inference.  The student will use the latter technique to help us solve a nonlinear problem in flavor evolution that to-date has thwarted the traditional technique of integration.

Phys Sci REU2 2021
Copyright AMNH

Gamma-Ray Halos of Hot Stars

Mentor: Timothy A. Paglione (Astrophysics, Division of Physical Sciences)

Gamma-rays probe the most energetic processes in the universe. Even the light from our own Sun can be scattered to such extreme energies by cosmic rays, particles accelerated to nearly the speed of light by supernova explosions and the pulsars they leave behind. The scattered sunlight forms a halo of gamma-rays more than a dozen degrees wide around the Sun. The halos of hotter, far more luminous stars should be detectable with a decade of stacked observations by the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. We can compare the observed halos (if found) to the model expectations to search for gradients in the local density of cosmic ray electrons. Our group is also interested in the stacked signal from any and all potential stellar sources of gamma-rays including interacting binaries and other exotica.

Milkyway expansion with red and blue shift.
Copyright AMNH

Low-Mass Stars, Brown Dwarfs and Exoplanet Analogs

Mentors:  Jackie FahertyKelle CruzEmily RiceJohanna VosDaniella Bardalez-Gagliuffi (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.

Kelle Cruz REU Pic

Observing Theories of Star and Planet Formation

Mentor: Aleksandra Kuznetsova (Astrophysics, Division of Physical Sciences)

With the advent of high-resolution radio interferometry, astronomers have now been able to image planetary systems in the midst of formation. A survey of the brightest of these protoplanetary systems with ALMA has yielded a menagerie of interesting features and structures like spirals, rings, and gaps. Computer simulations can help us model the hydrodynamics involved in star and planet formation in order to investigate the physics behind these disk features. However, in order to put theory to the test we must be able to understand what parameters are important for matching observations. Light processed by interstellar dust and emitted at infrared and radio wavelengths is one of the key ways that astronomers today study star and planet formation in the Galaxy. The student will work on generating and analyzing synthetic observations from simulated protoplanetary systems in order to investigate the formation of structures and their detectability by radio telescopes.

REU 4 PS 2021
Copyright AMNH