REU 2018 Mentors

Click here for 2018 Application Instructions.

Pascal Lee

Title:  Study of Noctis Landing as a proposed first landing site / exploration zone for humans on Mars

Description: 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.

Virginia Gulick

Title 1: Fluvial and hydrothermal studies using high-resolution images, Digital Elevation Maps, and spectral data

Description: Fluvial and hydrothermal studies using high-resolution images, Digital Elevation Maps, and spectral data. These studies are focused mostly on the formation of gullies and other fluvial landforms on Mars. However, terrestrial analog sites, hydrologic, or landform models will be used to illuminate the importance of various processes and their implications for understanding 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, and Python is helpful.

Title 2: Developing science analysis algorithms for future planetary missions

Description: Developing science analysis algorithms for future planetary missions. We use innovative laboratory techniques to study over 1200 rock and mineral samples. We use Ramen spectrometers to develop automated  mineral, rock and image identification algorithms that might be used on future Mars rover missions. Student would  acquire images and Raman spectra of our samples, and analyze samples in hand sample, thin section and other techniques. A well-qualified student could also work to improve our automated mineral identification algorithms. Students with experience in computer programming (C++), MATLAB, signal processsing, or rock sample analysis (in hand sample and thin sections) preferred.

Title 3: Developing collaborative science and crowdsourcing websites

Description: Developing collaborative science and crowdsourcing websites. One project aims to go beyond our original crowdsourcing websites Mars Clickworkers (developed in 2000) and HiRISE Clickworkers site (2007-2010) to a new level of collaborative science. Another project seeks to develop collaborative interactive tools to analyze spectra and images within the web browsing environment.  Students with significant experience in web design and web tools development in JAVA or PHP for example. Some geology background is also helpful.

Janice Bishop

Title:  Composition of ancient clay-rich outcrops at Mawrth Vallis, Mars

Description: Dr. Janice Bishop’s research involves characterizing the surface of Mars using hyperspectral visible/near-infrared (VNIR) images of Mars collected by the CRISM spectrometer on MRO. We are interested in studying the early Martian environment through detection of phyllosilicates, sulfates, and other aqueous minerals on the surface of Mars.

Dr. Bishop is seeking a summer intern to study the Mawrth Vallis region of Mars. We will be working together to investigate this region using CRISM images and document the mineralogy present. In particular, we will be characterizing sites where phyllosilicates and sulfates are associated in the light-toned outcrops. The student will learn how to collect spectra from CRISM images and compare these with lab spectra of minerals. We will also measure spectra in the lab of Mars analog rocks and relate these to the Mawrth Vallis spectra. The student will master how to measure spectra of geologic samples, how to use several image processing techniques, and how to identify different materials based on spectral features (e.g. clays, sulfates, basalt).

David Summers

Title 1:  Microbial detection at low levels by iodine-125 radiolabeling

Description: This work would develop a new method for the detection of microorganisms for planetary protection purposes. It would accomplish this by the detection of an organism’s protein through labeling them with a radioactive label, iodine-125. This would provide greater sensitivity and universality while preserving a good turn-around time for analysis. By utilizing a universal biosignature (cell proteins), this method provides broad generality with regard to the range of organisms that can be detected and isn’t restricted to any type(s) of organism, the ability of the organisms to be cultured, etc. This work would develop a quick and simple method for detecting the proteins from cells. This laboratory-based project would involve: 1) Separation of cells/spores, 2) Lysis of cells, 3) Labeling of released proteins & separation from unreacted label and 4) Detection by standard or multiphoton detection.

Title 2:  Biosignature detection

Description: We are currently studying the detection of biomarkers, organic compounds that represent biosignatures of life, in mineral samples. We study where they can be found, how they can be found, and why they are there. This is so we can better search for biosignatures when we look for life on Mars. This project, in collaboration with other members of the SETI Institute’s team in the NASA Astrobiology Institute, will use IR microscope methods to detect and characterize organic samples that have been obtained from the Atacama desert.

Ann Marie Cody

Title:  Stellar rotation and planet detection with K2

Description: Ann Marie Cody is an astronomer at NASA Ames, working on the study of young stars and planets with Kepler's K2 Mission. Over the past few years, the Kepler telescope has observed tens of thousands of stars and send its imaging back to earth, where astronomers produce light curves to study variability and identify exoplanets. As part of that data, Kepler has observed some regions in its "superstamp" mode, whereby it acquires images of an entire cluster plus many unassociated foreground/background stars. These superstamp images contain a wealth of variability data, and yet to date few researchers have touched them.

The REU intern will work to create and analyze light curves from K2 superstamp data, with several science goals. The first goal is to search for signs of planets that have not yet been detected. The student will examine the light curves for transits and investigate the properties of any potential planets found. The second goal is to look for young spotted stars and measure their rotation rates. This will be especially important for the M35 cluster, which contains many stars with periodic light curves. It is similar in age to the famous Pleiades, which was also studied with K2. The intern will compare the measured rotation rates as a function of stellar mass with the results already reported for the Pleiades. He/she may also assess the frequency of multiperiodic light curves, which are indicative of either binary systems or rapid spot evolution. Some Python programming experience is recommended.

Peter Jenniskens

Description: Peter Jenniskens uses meteors as a tool in astronomy. He is conducting a surveillance of the night sky to map our meteor showers in order to understand what comets and primitive asteroids are responsible. As part of this program, the meteors are probed with spectrographic tools to measure their content of sodium and other elements.

The internship project is to develop a python script to automate the extraction of those spectra in the video records for which meteor trajectories were obtained, then run the spectral analysis tools to determine the elemental content of the meteoroids. That data will be used to determine how the matter in meteoroid streams differs from one source comet to the next. The analysis tools may need to be adapted so they work in conjunction with the script. Python and C++ programming skills are required, as well as a willingness to tackle large data in observational astronomy and a keen interest in meteors and planetary science.

Lori Fenton

Title:  The origin of gypsum dune sand in the north polar sand seas on Mars

Description: Olympia Undae is Mars’ largest dune field, located adjacent to the north polar ice cap. The dark sand is largely composed of mafic minerals, but in the eastern portion there is a significant component made of the hydrated sulfate gypsum. What makes this interesting for Mars is that nearly every other known exposure of gypsum is very, very old. In fact the “Theiikian” era on Mars, during which most sulfate-bearing rocks formed ( ~3.5-4 Ga), was named for the Greek word for sulphur. However, the sand in these dunes is actively eroding from the north polar cap, which itself is geologically young. It is still unclear whether the gypsum in Olympia Undae formed in the recent geological past, or whether it was originally derived from much older rocks. A more detailed look at the wind patterns shaping the dunes, and the distribution of gypsum on the dunes, is warranted, building on previous work. This project will entail a review of the current literature, analysis of bedform alignment using HiRISE images, and near-infrared spectral analysis of the gypsum signature in CRISM image cubes.

Jill Tarter and Gerry Harp

Title:  An updatable archive of SETI searches

Description:The community needs a good archive of SETI-related observations that have been conducted over the past 5+ decades. We maintained an archive in a proprietary, home grown format until 2015. With a previous REU student, I attempted to update and modernize the archive in order to create a document that SETI observers could easily update themselves, supplying the details about their particular search program. Though we made a good start, we did not complete the project and I’d very much like to do that during the summer of 2018. The goals of this project would be 1) make the current version of the archive visible on the SETI Institute web site, 2) do a literature search to update the archive with searches published in the last few years, and 3) create a template/tool that will allow researchers to enter the details of their own searches.

The REU student working on this project will need to be able to manipulate large excel spreadsheets, and have a mastery of some high-level programming language such as Python. Because I am formally retired, and do not spend many days a week at the SETI Institute. I will be available electronically; Dr. Gerald Harp will help with daily on-site supervision and institute staff will advise on integration into the SETI Institute’s web site.

Doug Caldwell

Title: Mission Design: Earth as an Exoplanet

Description: Douglas Caldwell is an astronomer who studies the detection and characterization of exoplanets. He serves as the Kepler Instrument Scientist and is supporting the development of the TESS data analysis pipeline.

Over that past decade NASA’s Kepler Mission has shown us that planets are common in our Galaxy and specifically that small planets in potentially habitable regions can be found around ~10-50% of stars. Scientists are now undertaking many studies to answer the next questions in understanding life in the universe:
What are the conditions on these potentially habitable planets? Do these planets have atmospheres? If so, what are they made of?
Are these planets inhabited? What are indicators of life, or biomarkers, that we can detect from an exoplanet?

In order to help answer these questions, NASA is launching TESS in spring 2018, and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in spring 2019. TESS will conduct the first-ever spaceborne all-sky transit survey; its principal goal is to detect small planets with bright host stars in the solar neighborhood. Such systems are best suited for detailed characterizations of the planets and their atmospheres by JWST and by large ground-based telescopes. Interpreting the atmospheric measurements will require understanding what the atmosphere of an inhabited planet looks like. There are extensive and detailed models of the spectra of Earth-like planets that can be used to help interpret results from exoplanets. However, these models have limited comparison with ‘ground truth” observations, based on only a few satellite observations taken of the whole Earth. The goal of this student project is to work on the design of a small satellite mission to take whole-Earth spectra. The mission results will be a measure of the temporal variability of spectra from an inhabited planet (Earth) with illumination phase, rotation (land vs ocean), cloud cover, and season. The data would inform instrumentation, models, and analyses for future NASA missions to search for signs of life on exoplanets. The student will work to refine the science goals of the mission and to help translate those into a requirements for the satellite and for mission operations. The work will involve reviewing scientific literature, researching instrument capabilities, and helping to define the hardware, orbit, and data requirements needed to meet the science goals. The ideal outcome of this project will be a preliminary mission design that can be put forward as part of a proposal to fly the mission.

Qualifications: This project is ideal for someone interested in mission design and development, who also has an interest in exoplanets. The student should have a background in engineering or science and a willingness to work on a broad variety of topics spanning instrument design requirements to exoplanet science.

Cristina Dalle Ore

Title: A study of ice in craters as a way to measure age on icy Solar System objects

Description:Cristina Dalle Ore’s main focus has been the study of icy surfaces and in particular of their physical characteristics. These are composition, temperature, ice phase, and structure, important parameters that ultimately tell us the story of the surface itself. Cristina uses mostly data from the Cassini and New Horizons missions. One of the projects that she is working on now involves the study of ice phase in and around craters on the satellites of Saturn. She maps the shape of the 2-micron H2O ice band in the observed spectra collected around craters. Distortions in the shape of the band are telltales of variations in ice phase. Since craters are the result of collisions with sizeable objects it is assumed that the collision itself would raise the temperature in the area causing the ice to first melt and then freeze in crystalline form. H2O ice changes phase from crystalline to amorphous with time as a result of bombardment from micrometeorites and general radiation processing. The relative amount of one phase versus the other can give us clues on how old the crater is. Generally, craters are used as yardsticks to measure a surface age, the larger the number of craters the older the surface. Therefore, the aim is to use ice phase as an alternative measure of age, which could then be compared to crater counts and provide validation to the very widely used crater counting technique.

Qualifications: Some computer experience is recommended.

Franck Marchis

Description: 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.

Matthew Tiscareno

Title: Cassini imaging of Saturn’s rings

Description: The Cassini spacecraft concluded its 13-year mission at Saturn with a 10-month “Grand Finale,” during which it obtained (among other things) unprecedentedly close-range images of Saturn’s rings from December 2016 to September 2017. The student and mentor will work together to find features of interest in these images 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.

Qualifications: Because Saturn’s rings are a dynamical system, physics or astronomy majors would be best suited, especially if they have taken classical mechanics at higher than freshman-level. Since this project involves using computational tools to process images, we seek individuals who are comfortable with computers and computer programming.