Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)

Haystack REU students at AGU conference, 2019
Haystack REU students at AGU conference, 2019

Applications are now CLOSED for summer 2024! Thank you for your applications.

Haystack Observatory invites all interested undergraduate students to apply for our paid summer research positions in science, engineering, and computer science. Our REU program has been held for decades, and we have seen many of our student interns go on to rewarding careers in STEM research.

Download our REU information sheet here! Please share with any undergraduate students and departments.

Application information

Applications are now closed for the summer program in 2024. The program extends from early June to mid August each year. People from groups under-represented in STEM fields are encouraged to apply. Undergraduate students eligible for this program must not have graduated prior to the start of the summer internship in June.

The Haystack application process requires the following submissions:

  • Completed REU application form
  • Cover letter explaining your interest in our program and research projects
  • Transcript (unofficial is acceptable)
  • Resume

Details on the program, including schedule, stipend, housing, and transportation are available below.

REU and RET, 2018

Support is provided by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. The National Science Foundation, which sponsors this program, requires U.S. citizenship or permanent residency to qualify for positions supported under the REU Program. Undergraduate students eligible for this program must not have graduated prior to the start of the summer internship in June.

MIT is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.

MIT strongly recommends that all MIT faculty, staff, enrolled students, affiliates, and visitors follow CDC guidelines for COVID-19 vaccinations.

REU 2024 potential projects

Project list subject to change. Click each project title to expand the full description.

The Arctic Ocean’s snow and ice play a vital role in the Earth’s climate system. The ice and snow act as a shield for the ocean water. The highly reflective surface of the ice and snow reflects most of the sun’s radiation back to space (i.e., high albedo) and helps regulate the ocean temperature thereby contributing to the control of global temperatures and the climate. Hence, documenting the accumulation of snow and ice in the Arctic Ocean and understanding what controls their loss and formation are important processes for climate models. In this project, the student will learn to estimate snow and ice thickness in the Arctic Ocean by analyzing a broad range of remote sensing and in-situ data from various missions including but not limited to ICESat-2, CryoSat-2, Operation IceBridge, and MOSAic as well as from atmospheric reanalysis products using publicly available and/or self-developed tools in Python. 

Mentors: Dhiman Mondal, Pedro Elosegui, John Barrett, Chet Ruszczyk, Dan Hoak

This project offers an opportunity to analyze archival data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), using its powerful NIRCam instrument. The data is that towards a dense, massive gas reservoir hidden within one of the representative dark cloud in the inner galaxy and will be used to help answer the question “How do high-mass stars form?”
The student will modify existing tools to search for, identify, and catalog the earliest stages of star formation – the protostars. The massive protostars amongst them are potentially the precursors to some of the massive stars in the Milky Way. This will help investigate a critical question: Do high-mass stars form simultaneously with their low-mass counterparts?

The student will additionally characterize their distribution and explore their evolutionary stages. By integrating this data with additional information on molecular gas distribution, we will make an assessment of how efficiently gas transforms into stars in these cosmic nurseries.

Mentor: Thushara G.s. Pillai

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) [] is a planet-wide array of millimeter-wavelength radio telescopes that uses the technique of very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) to observe supermassive black holes. The goals of the EHT include testing general relativity and furthering our understanding of the astrophysics of accretion and outflow processes around black holes. The EHT is uniquely capable of resolving structures on angular scales of a few Schwarzschild radii around the black holes in the Galactic Center (Sgr A) and the giant elliptical galaxy Virgo A (M87). The EHT has recently provided the first-ever images of a black hole [] in M87, and the second black hole images [] in Sgr A. EHT observations of Sgr A* and M87 in recent years have resolved their event horizon-scale structures. EHT data are also used to constrain the properties of the accretion flow and jets, to measure the black hole space-time described by its mass and spin, and to test Einstein’s general relativity. In this REU program, we will investigate a potential extension of the EHT to obtain further higher quality images of Sgr A* and M87. The project will utilize EHT software in the Python and Julia programming languages to simulate, image and analyze data of EHT observations.

Mentors: Kazu Akiyama, Vincent Fish, Dongjin Kim

The Experiment to Detect the Global EoR Signature (EDGES) is an exquisitely sensitive all-sky telescope that is searching for the red-shifted 21-cm signal emit- ted way back when the very first stars were born, roughly 13.8 billion years ago. Due to the vast expanse of space that this signal has had to traverse, the emitted frequency of 1.4 GHz has undergone significant cosmological red-shift, residing in the ∼ 50 to 100 MHz range upon reaching the Earth. Since these frequencies lie directly in the FM band, EDGES has observed from incredibly remote areas, including Devon Island in the high Arctic and the outback of Western Australia. These data hold a wealth of information aside from the cosmological signal EDGES is searching for, including ionospheric scintillations of strong radio sources, reflections of terrestrial FM radio signals off of satellites and micrometeorites, and evidence of exotic ionospheric propagation modes. The REU student involved in this project will explore the EDGES data for these secondary science targets, with the strong potential for discovering exciting, novel, and publishable results. The ideal candidate should be comfortable with programming (e.g., Python or C) and have a basic understanding of navigating the Linux operating system, combined with a passion for discovery through data analysis.

Mentors: Rigel Cappallo, John Barrett

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events globally as well as in the Azores Islands, Portugal. The weather patterns of the Azores Islands influence the weather and climate patterns of Western Europe and beyond. The GNSS network in the Azores Island covers an area of approximately 650 by 300 km and is well suited to map changes and track the progression of weather fronts. In this project, the student will utilize atmospheric water vapor data from GNSS and reanalysis products from an atmospheric general circulation model to investigate how extreme weather events in the Azores are affected by climate change using a self-developed Python program.

Mentors: Dhiman Mondal, Pedro Elosegui, John Barrett, Chet Ruszczyk, Dan Hoak

Radio jet outflows, located near supermassive black holes, are among the universe’s most powerful astrophysical phenomena. Utilizing Very-Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), this project aims to unveil the complex kinematics and structures of these jets. High-frequency VLBI observations are essential for examining the core regions of radio jets, but they face obstacles from atmospheric turbulence. In this REU project, students will engage in demonstrating new observational techniques to enhance high-frequency VLBI capabilities, leveraging multi-frequency data. 

Mentors: Vincent Fish, Kazu Akiyama, Dongjin Kim

In this REU project, students will investigate the final evolutionary stages of intermediate-mass stars, focusing on the circumstellar envelope (CSE) formed by mass ejection through strong stellar winds. This dense, gaseous environment is key to understanding various molecular emissions in the radio spectrum. Using various radio telescopes, including the 37m Haystack antenna, students will analyze the dynamics of molecular clouds ejected from pulsating dying stars, utilizing both single-dish monitoring and high-resolution VLBI data. This project offers a hands-on experience in astronomical observation and data analysis.

Mentors: Dongjin Kim, Lynn Matthews

Annual meteor showers are familiar to many from the increased frequency of visible “shooting stars”, but few people are aware that the Earth’s atmosphere is constantly being bombarded by dust-sized micro-meteoroids. These do not create visible meteors, but they are observable through radio scattering with a moderately-sized radar. Moreover, specular meteor trails provide a plentiful, natural tracer of upper-atmospheric winds through measurement of the line-of-sight Doppler shift of the reflected radio signal. Meteors occur sporadically in time and space, so they provide plentiful random samples of atmospheric wind and temperature that are hard to come by through any other means. Filling this gap in our observational knowledge is important for improving atmospheric models and studying coupling between the space environment, ionosphere, and atmosphere.

By the time this project starts, we will have run a campaign around the April 2024 total solar eclipse to collect about two months of meteor radar data from the still-being-built Zephyr Millstone network deployed across New England. We will just be starting to analyze this data when the REU programs kicks off, and the focus of this project will be to participate in the analysis and extract wind field estimates for the upper atmosphere. Specific tasks can be tailored to the student’s interests and experience. On the programming side: software already exists to perform wind estimation estimation for small batches of data, and there is much that can be improved to scale up the analysis to a multi-day (and indeed months-long) dataset. On the statistics and science side: we don’t know what interesting things we might see in the data that will merit in-depth investigation, and the project could involve going deep on some of those investigations.

We encourage students with an interest in statistical estimation/machine learning or a curiosity in geospace/atmospheric science to apply!

Mentor: Ryan Volz

REU summer projects from past years are available in the presentation archives.

Program details

Please see the following sections for general information about the Haystack REU program. (Note that all information on this page is subject to change if necessary.)

Q: When can I apply for next summer? What is the time frame for applications?

A: Applications are made available on Thanksgiving each year for the following summer. The deadline is February 1; we notify successful applicants on March 1, followed by a series of notifications for acceptances if any are open after the first round of notifications. Please do not contact us about the status of your application. If you are not accepted, you will receive notification of this in March after all positions have been filled.

Q: My institution is on a quarterly system (or another schedule). This means that I won’t be available on the exact start date. Can I still apply?

A: Yes, please apply to the program. Make a note of your possible start date in your statement letter. The mentors will determine whether your earliest possible start date is acceptable within the requirements for their project. We prefer that people be available for the actual start date but realize that some institutions’ schedules make this difficult.

Q: Do you accept international students?

A: Unfortunately our sponsor, the NSF, requires applicants to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to qualify. We won’t be able to respond to inquiries regarding this.

Q: How is “undergraduate student” defined for this application?

A: An undergraduate student is a student who is enrolled in a degree program (part-time or full-time) leading to a baccalaureate or associate degree. Students who are transferring from one college or university to another and are enrolled at neither institution during the intervening summer may participate. High school graduates who have been accepted at an undergraduate institution but who have not yet started their undergraduate study are also eligible to participate. Students who have received their bachelor’s degrees and are no longer enrolled as undergraduates are not eligible to participate. Undergraduate students eligible for this program must not have graduated prior to the start of the summer internship in June.

Q: Will the REU program be held in person or online this year?

A: We expect that the Haystack internship program will be held in person this year. However, this decision is affected by local and MIT safety and health regulations. (In 2020 and 2021, our research internship program was successfully held completely remote due to the COVID pandemic.)

Q: Do you send notification letters when my application is submitted?

A: We will notify everyone of their application status after the final deadline for submission (February 1) has passed. If you are missing a piece of your application, we’ll let you know then.

Q: I applied but did not hear from you on March 1. How will I find out about my application’s status?

A: The first round of acceptances is sent out every year on March 1; if any of these positions is not accepted, it will be offered to the next round of candidates on March 8, and so on until all of the positions are filled. This means there is a series of acceptance letters, starting on March 1 and possibly continuing into March. We do not inform applicants of their status until all the positions have been accepted; if you are offered another position in the meantime, we suggest that you accept it, as we have only a very limited number of internships available.

Q: To whom should the cover letter be addressed?

A: Please address your cover letter to the MIT Haystack Observatory REU Selection Team. (If you have already submitted a cover letter addressed otherwise, it’s okay.)

The Haystack REU program starts in early June and ends mid-August. The 2024 REU program at Haystack will run from June 3, 2024, through August 10, 2024.

A uniform start date is preferred in order to conduct orientation activities for the group. For students on an academic quarter system or those interested in extending their stay, such requests can be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The Haystack summer undergraduate internship includes participation in the following:

  • Science discussions: Haystack staff members lead discussions on numerous current research subjects, which include introductory information for all students, as well as a chance for active conversation with scientists, engineers, and other staff.
  • Tours: Students will attend tours of the various Observatory facilities to learn about the extensive state-of-the-art instrumentation at Haystack. 
  • Group meetings: In addition to the frequent meetings between the sponsoring staff member and the student, several meetings with all students are held to review project status and encourage interactions among the students.
  • Final reports and seminar: Students prepare brief final reports and create presentations on their projects to teach the Haystack community about their summer work.
  • Attendance at conferences: Depending on available funds and meeting schedules, there are opportunities for students to participate in national conferences.
  • Follow-up academic year program: Depending on available funds, interest, and project status, a student may continue the summer project during the following academic year.
  • Travel support: Limited travel support is available for those students whose homes and colleges are more than 100 miles away from Haystack.

Students are assigned a mentor from the Haystack research staff for their summer work.

At the end of the summer, students present their research to a general audience at the Observatory. Their presentations are available in the REU presentation archives.

Compensation is provided as a weekly stipend of $620, paid biweekly.

The Observatory makes arrangements for student dormitory housing and pays the cost of housing for all students. Kitchen facilities are available in the dormitories. Daily transportation to and from Haystack is also provided.

(Students can arrange alternative housing on their own if they wish.) 

The Observatory provides free daily transportation for all students from REU housing to our offices.

Accepted students must have a current medical insurance plan in place which will cover their health needs during the period of the REU program. Evidence of such insurance must be submitted upon acceptance, before the start of the program.