REU 2017 Mentors

Uma Gorti and Paul Estrada

Paul EstradaUma Gorti and Paul Estrada work on understanding the physical processes that govern planet formation in disks around young stars. They study the evolution in time and space of both the solid component which eventually forms the rocky planets and the more massive gas component which greatly influences the formation and early dynamical evolution of nascent planetary systems. Theoretical models are being developed that will eventually be compared with future observations to be taken by the SOFIA, JWST, ALMA and other telescopes. Such studies will help us understand the conditions under which planets form and the likelihood of planet formation, and hence life, in different star forming environments.

The internship project involves applying existing theoretical models to make advances in our understanding of how disks evolve and form planets before they are destroyed. The output from these models will be compared with data obtained from telescopes (e.g., Spitzer, Herschel) and sub-millimeter observatories (e.g., ALMA), to find signatures of the early stages of the planet formation process. The main focus will be on dust (solid component) evolution through collision and fragmentation processes, and how this is affected by local conditions in the disk. The project involves a mix of different techniques, and the intern will work on theoretical modeling, will analyze data, and make inferences.

Viginia Gulick

Virginia Gulick is a planetary geologist with multiple interests. As a member of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera team, she studies geomorphic and hydrologic processes on Mars and compares them to analogs on Earth. She is interested in instrument and software development aimed at helping to improve the science return of future planetary missions and terrestrial research. She also leads a software development effort that facilitates greater involvement of the public in the scientific discovery process.

1) Fluvial and hydrothermal studies using HiRISE images and Digital Elevation Maps, combined with other Mars data sets. These studies are focused mostly on the formation of gullies and other fluvial landforms on Mars. Terrestrial analog sites, hydrologic, or landform models will be used to illuminate the importance of various processes as well as understanding the implications for paleoclimatic change. Opportunities are also available for HiRISE science operations support, including help with science planning and targeting and analysis of acquired data. Geology background, especially in geomorphology and hydrology, is desired. Experience working with ENVI, ArcGIS, Matlab, ISIS, and Python is helpful.

2) Developing science analysis algorithms and building a biosignature library for future planetary missions. We use innovative laboratory techniques to analyze over twelve hundred rock and mineral samples, some of which exhibit biosignatures. We use Raman spectrometers and cameras to develop automated computer mineral, rock, and biosignature identification algorithms that might be used on future Mars rover missions. Student would work to acquire controlled images and Raman spectra of our samples. A well-qualified student could also work to improve our automated identification algorithms. Experience in computer programming (C++), MATLAB, or hand sample and thin section analysis preferred.

3) Developing a new collaborative science crowdsourcing website. This project aims to go beyond our original crowdsourcing websites Mars Clickworkers (developed in 2000), which involved building an impact crater database of Mars, and the HiRISE Clickworkers site (2007-2010), which involved building landform databases of Mars to a new level of collaborative science. A well-qualified student will help develop interactive web tools for the new website that will enable both scientists and the public alike to collectively build, view, and interrogate landform databases for collaborative research experiences.

Gerry Harp

Gerald Harp is working on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and studies of the interstellar medium using radio astronomy. The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) is a unique radio telescope in Northern California, simultaneously performing SETI searches and making radio astronomy observations. The intern will work with staff at the SETI Institute and the ATA and its data products. The intern will be responsible for novel observations and analysis of the results. These results contribute to new research going on at the SETI Institute, including everything from array calibration to optimize ATA sensitivity to applications of new techniques for discovering alien signals using ultra-fast numerical processing.

Using new and archived observational data from the ATA, we search for unusual radio signals that may provide evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence and/or unusual physical processes in the galaxy. The work involves using computers to reduce large amounts of radio observation data, the generation of images and writing new C++ code to analyze scientific the results. The successful student enjoys working with computers and programming them. A working knowledge of C++ is recommended and Python programming and/or the linux operating system is a plus.

Pascal Lee

Pascal Lee studies the history of water on Mars and also works on planning the future human exploration of Mars. Dr. Lee has led over 30 expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctica to study Mars by comparison with the Earth. He also studies asteroids and the two moons of Mars. His first book, Mission: Mars, won the 2015 Prize for Excellence in Children’s Science Books from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Noctis Landing is a Proposed First Landing Site/Exploration Zone for Humans on Mars currently under consideration by NASA. The student will work with Dr. Pascal Lee at the SETI Institute and the Noctis Landing Team to help characterize the site using existing Mars spacecraft data and Google Mars mapping and visualization tools.

Franck Marchis

Franck Marchis studies the solar system using mainly ground-based telescopes equipped with adaptive optics (AO). Over the past 5 years, he has been also involved in the definition of a new generation of AOs for 8-to-10-meter class telescopes and future Extremely Large Telescopes. He has developed algorithms to process and enhance the quality of images, both astronomical and biological, using fluorescence microscopy. He is currently involved in the development of the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), an extreme AO system for the Gemini South telescope which is capable of imaging and recording spectra of exoplanets orbiting around nearby stars. The detection and study of Exoplanets, or planets around other stars, is one of the hottest area of research in modern astronomy.

The unique GPI instrument was specifically built to hunt for Jupiter-like planets around nearby stars, and had its successful first light in November 2013. A large consortium of 102 researchers located across North and South America developed the instrument and its complex observing and data processing pipeline, and has recently initiated an observing campaign called the GPI Exoplanet Survey to search for Jupiter-like exoplanets around 650 nearby and young stars, with the goal of expanding the number of imaged planets from a handful to several dozen. The student will join the consortium by working with Franck Marchis and Max Millar-Blanchaer (postdoctoral fellow at JPL & Caltech U) on the analysis of new data, including the testing of an advance algorithm, called RDI, necessary to remove imperfections in the GPI data and detect Jupiter-like exoplanets.

Jeff Smith

Jeffrey Smith studies exoplanets. He works on developing and implementing signal processing and machine learning algorithms for use with NASA space missions. Dr. Smith has contributed to the development of planet detection algorithms for the Kepler mission but is now concentrating his efforts on a new NASA planet finding mission.

The NASA TESS mission (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) is a new planet hunting space observatory to be launched in 2018. The TESS Science Processing Operations Center at NASA Ames Research Center is developing the planet detection software for the mission. Building upon the great success of the Kepler mission, the team is adapting the Kepler Science Processing Pipeline for use with TESS. The pipeline will run on the NAS Pleiades supercomputer and search for planet signals over all 200,000+ target stars observed over the 2-year mission. We are currently deep in software development and need to confirm that our software successfully detects planet signals.

The student will run simulated data with modeled planet transit signals through the pipeline and compare the found planet properties to the ground truth simulation values. This critical step will validate the science pipeline and demonstrate to the mission science team that the mission will succeed at discovering Earth’s closest cousins. The student will gain experience developing robust, mission-critical scientific software for large scale NASA missions. The successful student will already be familiar with Matlab and have experience running scientific software.

Matthew Tiscareno

Matthew Tiscareno is a planetary scientist who studies motion in the Solar System, especially the constantly-moving rings of Saturn. The goal of this project is to understand the morphology and particle properties of Saturn's rings, including waves that propagate through the rings, the detailed structure of scalloped gap edges, and embedded moons that migrate within the rings (analogous to planetsimals in protoplanetary disks).

In the final year of its 13-year mission at Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft is taking unprecedentedly close-range images of Saturn’s rings during its “Grand Finale.” The student and mentor will work together to find features of interest in these images (most of which have not yet been obtained as of this writing) and will address them by processing Cassini images to characterize features within the images and to determine the geometry and position of such features. As time allows, follow-up work will involve describing and understanding the features identified in the first part of the work.