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 $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, 2023.  

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: January 31st, 2023

Accepting Applications between January 1-31, 2023



For assistance with application process, contact [email protected]

2023 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

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.


High Energy Astrophysics

Advisor: Tim Paglione

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!).


Understanding the formation and evolution of ancient mountain belts using ultramafic rocks from Norway and North Carolina

Advisors: George Guice and Celine Martin

George Guice and Celine Martin REU 2023
Fig. 1: Back-scattered electron (BSE) image and elemental maps (Cr and Fe) for spinel-group mineral grains from Morro do Onça, Brazil. Data collected using an electron microprobe.

The Appalachian–Caledonian mountains span over 6000 km, meandering from Alabama to Norway via. Maryland, New York, Quebec, Newfoundland and Scotland. The geology of these mountains — referred to as the Appalachian–Caledonian orogen — records their formation over 350 million years ago, including the initiation of subduction, closure of the Iapetus Ocean, and subsequent continent-continent collision. While a basic timeline for the formation of the Appalachian–Caledonian orogen is relatively well understood, many questions remain regarding the timing and evolution of key processes (i.e., subduction initiation) along its 6000 km strike length.

Ultramafic rocks (Mg-rich igneous rocks that can are often significantly metasomatized) are found throughout the Appalachian–Caledonian orogen and can form in a variety of geologic environments. These ultramafic rocks could represent fragments of the lowermost portions of ancient oceanic crust (known as ophiolites), slab and/or mantle wedge of fossil subduction zones, or the remnants of fossil magma chambers intruded into the continents. Constraining the origin of these ultramafic rocks can therefore help to elucidate our understand of the magmatic and tectonic processes responsible for the formation of the Appalachian–Caledonian mountains.

This project will focus on seven ultramafic samples from the northern and southern extremities of the Appalachian orogen. Four samples are from the Leka ophiolite in Norway, which is well-constrained as a 490-million-year-old ophiolite. The remaining three samples are from the Buck Creek ultramafic body in North Carolina; whose origin remains enigmatic.

The objectives of the study will be to: (a) characterize the mineralogy of the seven samples, using optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy; and (b) establish the petrographic and chemical characteristics of spinel-group minerals, which are a common tool for distinguishing between ultramafic rocks of different origins, using the electron microprobe at AMNH.

The principle aim of the study will be to establish the origin of the Buck Creek ultramafic body (ophiolite, intrusion, or subduction-related?) by comparing the spinel-group minerals to those found in the Leka Ophiolite. Ultimately, this study will help us to understand the tectonic evolution of the Appalachian–Caledonian Orogen500–350 million years ago.


How Do Neutrinos Shape the Physics of Stellar Processes? – An inference-based study

Advisor: Eve Armstrong

PS REU Eve Armstrong
PS REU Eve Armstrong

Neutrinos are elementary particles created in abundance in explosive events such as the core collapse of a supermassive star (a core-collapse supernova or CCSN), as well as in the core of the Sun.  To better understand the physics of these processes, we study neutrino “flavor,” a property that defines the manner in which neutrinos interact with other matter particles.  A neutrino’s flavor evolves as it propagates, both in time and in spatial location.  We aim to map the complete flavor evolution of neutrinos as they emanate from these events. 

This aim is a challenge, for two reasons.  First, neutrinos interact weakly with matter and thus are extremely difficult to detect.  The data obtained by existing detectors are sparse.  Second, current methods of studying the physical model of flavor evolution – specifically, numerical integration techniques – possess drawbacks, including high computational cost and the adoption of rigid a priori physical assumptions.  For these reasons, we are developing a means to augment those codes, via an inference formulation.  Inference is a means to efficiently optimize a model given available data.  We use a specific type of inference – called data assimilation – that is designed for the case of extremely sparse data.

Our focus this summer is to hone the procedure using a physical model of the Sun, as solar physics is significantly simpler than CCSN physics.  The longer-term aim will be to then apply our developments to the CCSN model, in preparation for interpreting the next galactic CCSN event. 

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 also learn to use Unix and a supercomputing cluster.


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

Primary Investigator: Rondi Davies, Queensborough Community College & AMNH

Research Collaborator: Steven Jaret, Kingsborough Community College & AMNH

Mantle peridotite and a double-polished grain mount with garnet and clinopyroxene mineral grains.
Mantle peridotite left (credit: Michael C. Rygel, Wikimedia Commons) and a double-polished grain mount with garnet and clinopyroxene mineral grains.

Image Caption: Mantle peridotite left (credit: Michael C. Rygel, Wikimedia Commons) and a double-polished grain mount with garnet and clinopyroxene mineral grains.

The mantle makes up 80% of the earth by volume and is dominated by minerals that contain trace amounts of structurally bonded hydrogen, or water, known as nominally anhydrous minerals (NAMs). NAMs contain only trace amounts of water; however, because of its large volume consisting mainly of NAMs, the mantle is potentially a large reservoir for water and may even contain several ocean masses of it. Water changes the chemical, physical, rheological, and electric properties of rocks and affects geological processes such as melt formation, rock deformation, and element diffusion. When sampled from Archean cratons, billions-of-years-old stable parts of the Earth's continental lithosphere, NAMs can inform us about Earth’s entire mantle evolution (including processes related to diamond genesis and preservation).

Water in NAMs from the well-studied South African Kaapvaal and Russian Siberian cratonic lithosphere shows different melt extraction and refertilization histories. 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. This project will involve extensive sample preparation of double-sided mineral mounts followed by Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopic analyses of minerals at AMNH, and calculating water contents. Results will be interpreted in the context of craton formation, modification, and stability in these understudied regions.


Exploring the composition of Orbicular Granite

Advisors: Denton S. Ebel and Sam Alpert

2023 PS REU Pic Ebel & Alpert
2023 PS REU Pic Ebel_Alpert

Orbicular granites occur throughout the world, but their formation histories are poorly understood. The orbicular granite of Craftsbury, VT, is a poorly researched granite in this category. This project will focus on the petrology of the granite, examining the composition of the major minerals and their chemical zoning in both the orbicules and the groundmass of the granite. Over the course of this project the student will learn to use the Cameca SX-5 Tactis electron microprobe to analyze the compositions of rock-forming minerals. This project will also include the basic sample-preparation techniques required for microprobe analysis. Interpretation of measurements will address how orbicular structures may have formed in this particular locality.


The Effects of Decompression on Mineral Composition

Advisor: Samantha Tramontano

2023 REU Tramontano
2023 REU Tramontano

When rising magmas go from high to low pressures, there are strong effects on the compositions of crystal rims. Following chemical analyses of natural samples from the recently active La Palma hot-spot, we will interpret olivine compositional zones through thermodynamic models. The student will learn how to use the electron microprobe for mineral chemistry, including sample preparation. In particular, we will look at Ni and other trace elements in traverses across hot-spot- and arc-erupted crystals to determine if chemical zonation at the edges of crystals is growth- or diffusion-dominated. The application of computational decompression scenarios will then allow us to search for conditions that favor growth-dominated chemical zonation across tectonic settings. The approach would be extensible to other olivine-bearing volcanic rocks; and this work would be important, basic research for new models for the rates of ascent of basanite-basaltic magmas.


Detection of Transiting Exoplanets and Eclipsing Binaries Around Nearby M-dwarf Stars

Advisor: Dax Feliz

M-dwarf stars are the most numerous type of star in our galaxy but due to how faint they are, they are fairly understudied. As of January, 2023 out of the 5,200+ exoplanets discovered, only about 200 are known to orbit M-dwarf stars. Additionally, M-dwarf binary star systems are also difficult to detect for similar reasons and are rare. Using data from the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) space telescope, we will search for planetary and stellar eclipses of these faint star systems via the transit method. An REU student would be invited to learn about transit detection techniques as well as data processing and programming in Python. In addition to hunting for planets and stellar companions, there are also opportunities to study stellar activity for these stars to better understand their nature. There is plenty of flexibility of adapting the project to the REU student's preference and we are welcoming to students of all programming skill levels!


Studying the sky: stellar astrophysics & data science with Kepler

Advisor: Isabel Colman


You might have heard of NASA’s Kepler mission as the telescope that discovered thousands of exoplanets — but to find those planets, first we had to look at stars. Kepler stared at one patch of the sky for four years and measured the brightness of over 150,000 stars, leaving a legacy of huge advancements in stellar astrophysics and plenty of unsolved questions. In the Stars & Planets group at AMNH, one of our main focuses is stellar rotation. Just like looking at spots on the Sun, we can detect the surface rotation periods of other stars by seeing if they have spots, and then measuring how fast those spots are moving. Rotation can provide us with information about the life cycles of stars, but while we’re still piecing together that puzzle, we need as much data as possible.

Data science is the key to answering big questions in astrophysics. In this project, you’ll be working with the programming language Python to study a collection of 9,500 stars that have yet to be searched for signals of rotation. You’ll start by learning how to analyze Kepler data, with a focus on data processing techniques and signal detection. You’ll also develop a deep understanding of stellar rotation, including looking at other work and being able to compare your own findings. Finally, you’ll learn to write software that analyzes a large volume of data and run your code on a supercomputer. You’ll also have the invaluable opportunity to join an active research environment and get a sense of what it’s like to work as an astronomer.

For a student coming to the project with prior programming and/or Linux experience, there’s scope to go beyond this work — maybe even studying data from Kepler’s successor, TESS, a whole-sky survey which has already observed well over four times the number of stars as Kepler.