REU Physical Sciences Program

PS REU Web Pic

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 $6,400 traineeship stipend, as well as per diem costs for housing and meals, relocation expenses, and transportation subsidies. Housing is made available at nearby International House.

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, 2024.  

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.

Application Deadline: February 4, 2024

For assistance with application process, contact [email protected]

Summer 2024 Physical Sciences Project Titles 

(includes Earth and Planetary Sciences and Astrophysics)

Note: We encourage interested students to check the web site frequently since we expect to update it with additional projects through the winter



Brown Dwarfs in New York City Research Group

A depiction of where brown dwarfs lay in terms of spectral classifications.
A scale depicting the relative position of brown dwarfs relative to other bodies.from Astrobites
from Astrobites

Advisor: Jacqueline Faherty, PhD

The Brown Dwarfs in New York City Research group (BDNYC) is at the forefront of characterizing objects at the planetary mass boundary. We host a wealth of observational data (spectra, astrometry, photometry, etc) on thousands of sources and expect to start seeing James Webb Space Telescope data by the summer of 2022. An REU student would be invited into one of several different projects ongoing at BDNYC. The variety of choices range from studying the weather related phenomena on warm, young giant worlds; the diversity of characteristics in the coldest isolated giant worlds, looking at the orbital characteristics of giant worlds around very nearby stars, or examining the rotation rate evolution for the highest to lowest mass components of nearby associations. We are extremely open to working within the skill set of the right student so we are also open to adapting any project to the REU student's preference.


Chondrules in an Unequilibrated Enstatite Chondrite

Advisor: Michael Weisberg, PhD

Chondrite PS

Meteorites are clearly the poor man’s space probe, being the least expensive method for studying the solar system and providing a wealth of information from a wide variety of solar system bodies. Much of our current knowledge of the physical and chemical makeup of asteroids and their alteration and collisional histories are derived from the study of meteorites. Chondrites are meteorites from primitive (undifferentiated) asteroids and are often interpreted to be the building blocks of the inner planets. They are mixtures of mm-sized spherical igneous assemblages called chondrules, Ca-Al-rich inclusions and metal-sulfide assemblages, all surrounded by a fine grained matrix composed of µm-sized minerals and fragments. These components of chondrites are interpreted to have formed through various processes in the early solar nebula. It is particularly important to study the materials formed in the inner solar system that were (potentially) available during accretion of the inner planets. Enstatite chondrites have stable isotope compositions similar to the Earth-Moon that strongly suggest they were present in the inner solar system when Earth was forming.

This project is to study the textures and mineral abundances and compositions of chondrules in a primitive enstatite chondrite and compare them to chondrules in other types of chondrites. Olivine is of particular importance. In most kinds of chondrites olivine is a common mineral. Its composition has been used as an indicator of metamorphic degree because it is sensitive to low degrees of metamorphism. Olivine is much less common in enstatite chondrites and its compositions are not as well known. Study of olivine will be a focus of the work. Sulfides will also be studied. Some sulfides in enstatite chondrites are important as geothermometers.


EARTH: Exploring Alternative Resources To Harness

Advisors: Deborah Berhanu and Kieren T. Howard

Exploring Berhanu

Closing the loop to promote circularity can only be achieved through a clear understanding and management of wastes and minerals. Overall, this project aims to show how the waste economy can be elevated to benefit society, by promoting the use of landfills as mining sites for sourcing raw materials, developing valorization processes and creating new ventures for entrepreneurs in science and technology.

Aiming to replace materials that are polluting our environment, yet considering finite resources, we are investigating the potential to mine and refine from landfills. At present, the waste economy is underdeveloped, exacerbating the immense issue of waste management that our societies are facing worldwide. This inaction is also relegating important research in the transformation of waste into raw materials. Yet, trash trade has existed throughout history, and its well-designed rehabilitation could initiate the urgently needed circular economy, endorsing and revalorizing the work of many secluded communities around the world. Beyond cataloguing, it is important to disseminate the value of waste, in order to trigger the cascade of responses that will be necessary to make an impact.

An REU student will contribute to the theoretical framework that we are establishing, by researching the composition of anthropogenic deposits and the feasibility of landfill mining. Depending on how the project evolves, there may be analytical work included.


High Energy Astrophysics

Advisor: Tim Paglione, PhD

Phenomena in space
A depiction of energies in the sky above 1 GeV.
Copyright AMNH

Gamma-rays probe the most energetic processes in the universe. Most gamma-rays are created by light and matter interacting with cosmic rays, particles accelerated to nearly the speed of light by supernova explosions and the pulsars they leave behind. Our group uses over a decade of data from the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope to stack signals from any and all potential sources of gamma-rays including pulsars, hot stars, and a variety of interacting binaries and other exotica (even Jupiter!).



Hydroclimate Reconstructions using Stalagmites from Caves

Advisors: Nikita Kaushal, PhD and Nathalie Goodkin, PhD

Photo of a cave site with stalagmites.
Sisal PS
Map showing the locations of stalagmite records in the SISAL database versions.





While our confidence in future modelled temperature projections has been increasing, our understanding of what controls hydroclimate variability still remains challenging. This is because hydroclimate changes (e.g. precipitation amount, seasonality) occur at smaller spatial scales, and the parameters are inherently more complex to reconstruct from natural archives.

In this project, we will investigate the extent to which the natural archive of stalagmites, which are secondary calcium carbonate (CaCO3) deposits found in caves (Fig. 1a), can be used for hydroclimate reconstruction. Stalagmites encode climatic variability during their growth period in proxies such as oxygen and carbon isotopes, and trace element ratios of Sr/Ca, Mg/Ca, Ba/Ca and U/Ca. They are an excellent archive for reconstruction of paleoclimatic parameters at seasonal to multi-annual resolution going back 600,000 years and longer. The PAGES-SISAL WG (Past Global Changes – Speleothem Isotope Synthesis and Analysis: has created a database called SISALv3 which includes 830 speleothem isotope and trace element records (Fig.1b). We will use this database, and tools such as MATLAB / Python, to investigate the extent to which stalagmite records from different regions in the world can be used to reconstruct hydroclimate, specifically long-term droughts (multi-annual to multi-decadal).  Students should have demonstrated coding abilities and while the student will be in residence at AMNH, they need to be able to work with a mentor remotely.


Serpentinites from Cuban Ophiolites: comparison of EMPA and FTIR maps

Advisors: Steven Jaret, PhD and Céline Martin, PhD 

Scientific background: Ophiolites – which likely represent a sliver of forearc of back-arc crust obducted onto a continent – display a layer of altered (serpentinized) mantle at their basis. Studying these serpentinites gives us insights on the mantle alteration processes, temperature(s) at which the alteration occurred, sources of the fluid responsible for alteration, etc.

Description of the project: This project will be conducted on serpentinite samples from the Santa Clara Ophiolites, Cuba. The selected student will acquire X-ray chemical maps using the electron probe micro-analyzer (EPMA) to identify textures possibly inherited from the protolith, as well as accessory phases difficult to identify under the optical microscope. Indeed, serpentinites are usually very fine-grained (< 5 µm), and minerals like calcite, magnesite, talc, and chlorite may be impossible to identify optically in the serpentine ground mass. The same polished sections of rock will be mapped using micro-Fournier Transformation Infra-Red (FTIR) spectroscopy, aiming to identify the serpentine polysome(s). Indeed, serpentine is a mineral family, made of three polysomes: lizardite (low-temperature, < ~ 350 ºC), antigorite (high-temperature, ~ 350 to ~ 600 ºC), and chrysotile (low-temperature and open space, like cracks). These are chemically similar, so the EMPA analyses cannot help to distinguish between the different polysomes, but present different IR spectra.

The compilation of EMPA and FTIR maps, together with boron isotopic analyses (already acquired), should enable to unravel the full story of these serpentinites from the Santa Clara Ophiolites.


Water in cratonic peridotite and eclogite xenoliths from the Superior and Sask Archean Cratons, Canada


Cratonic Davies
Double-polished mineral mounts of orthopyroxene, olivine, and garnets.

Advisors: Rondi Davies, PhD; Steven Jaret, PhD and Samantha Tramontano, PhD

The cores of Earth’s ancient continents, or cratons, are largely frozen in deep time, inert to modern-day tectonic processes that recycle and renew Earth’s surface. Rocks sampled from cratons preserve a multi-billion-year record of Earth’s formation and evolution, specifically, through the geochemistry of their deep mantle roots, host to common peridotite and rarer eclogite lithologies. Common minerals in these mantle rocks contain trace amounts of structurally bonded hydrogen, or water, designating them as nominally anhydrous minerals (NAMs). These NAMs, in turn, can be used to indirectly measure water contents in the mantle, which is a potentially a large reservoir for water. Water in mantle minerals changes the chemical, physical, rheological, and electric properties of rocks and affects geological processes such as melt formation, rock deformation, and element diffusion. Constraining how much water is stored in the mantle is ultimately important for understanding planetary evolution and dynamics, and can help to address the role of structurally bonded waters impact on craton stability.

It remains unclear how water contents of NAMs influence craton stability. Investigations of water in NAMs in mantle xenoliths from global cratons show unique histories for each region that begin to address this. Constraining water contents in NAMs from the diamondiferous Superior and Sask Archean Cratons in Canada can provide a new perspective because these cratons have experienced younger tectonothermal events: for the Superior Craton rifting and thermal modification around 1.1 Ga, and for the Sask Craton collision during the Trans Hudson Orogeny (1.9–1.8 Ga).

The goals of this research are to measure the water contents of NAM phases in mantle peridotite and eclogite xenoliths from Attawapiskat kimberlites and Fort à la Corne (FALC) kimberlites. The project will involve sample preparation of double-sided mineral mounts followed by Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopic analyses and electron probe mapping of minerals, and the calculation of water contents. Results will be interpreted in the context of craton formation, modification, and stability in these understudied regions.