Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)

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

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.

The program extends from early June to mid August. 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.

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

REU and RET, 2018

Participants have been selected for the REU 2021 program. If you would like to apply for the REU 2022 program, the applications open at Thanksgiving every year for the following summer.

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.

REU projects

Project 1: AERO-VISTA satellites (3 students)
AERO-VISTA is a small satellite mission led by Haystack, scheduled for launch in 2022, which will test a novel “Vector Sensor” radio capable of sampling low radio frequencies from orbit in the Earth’s auroral zones. The satellite is currently being built, providing an excellent opportunity for students to get involved with a space mission at the ground floor and explore some of the capabilities of the sensor, the engineering of the satellite itself and/or aspects of planning for the mission. We envision a three-student team project working on different aspects of AERO technology and science. Possible projects could include (but are not limited to): mission planning software, capturing and analyzing signals using prototype AERO RF sampling instrument, and science software aimed at accelerating the discovery of new phenomena. Mentors: AERO-VISTA team.

Project 2: Development of a seismo-geodetic software package for Antarctic glaciology
The student will further develop a software package to process seismic and geodetic data for Antarctic glaciology studies. The data will be collected by a SeismoGeodetic Ice Penetrator (SGIP) instrument and downloaded via satellite communications in near-real time after its expected Antarctic deployment in 2022. SGIP sensors include a geophysics-grade broadband seismometer, a geodetic-quality GPS receiver, and various meteorological and engineering parameters. In the course of this internship, the student will be trained with existing seismic and geodetic data from Antarctica that can be downloaded from public data servers and will learn how to process and manipulate the data using publicly available computer packages and/or self-developed computer programs. The data analysis includes, but is not limited to, handling miniSEED seismic data, RINEX GPS data, and satellite imagery such as MODIS. The ultimate goal of the project is to build a science software package that can process SGIP data automatically, generating data products and visualization tools relevant to Antarctic cryospheric science. For this project, students will ideally have a background in geophysics, physics, mathematics, electrical engineering or a related science/engineering field, and an interest in areas such as computer science, seismology, and geodesy, and basic knowledge in Linux, Python programing, and optimal estimation theory. Mentors: Dhiman Mondal, Pedro Elosegui, John Barrett, Chester Ruszczyk.

Project 3: Sensing snow depth over the Arctic sea ice using GPS reflectometry
Snow is a remarkable thermal insulator. As such, snow on top of sea ice has a very important role in the rate at which ice melts, and also grows in the Arctic Ocean. It is a critical climate variable. Unfortunately, it has always been a real challenge to know how much snow there is on Arctic sea ice. The new technique known as GPS reflectometry whereby GPS signals are reflected off the snow surface may offer the possibility of estimating snow depth. The student will use GPS data collected by a network of GPS ice-strain buoys (GIB) deployed on Arctic sea ice starting in February 2021 to explore this capability. The GIB instruments include a geodetic-quality GPS receiver. The dataset will include a number of collocated glaciological and atmospheric sensors. In the course of this internship, the student will learn to process geodetic data to analyze the multipath characteristics and to extract information about the snow depth in an automatic fashion using publicly available computer packages and/or self-developed computer programs. The data analysis includes, but is not limited to RINEX GPS data. Results will be compared to satellite-based estimates such as NASA Icesat-2 and ESA Cryosat-2. The ultimate goal of the project is to build a science software package that can process GIB data automatically, generating data products and visualization tools relevant to Arctic cryospheric science, particularly time-varying snow depth. Mentors: Dhiman Mondal, Pedro Elosegui, John Barrett, Chester Ruszczyk.

Project 4: How stratospheric gravity waves affect traveling ionospheric disturbances
Traveling ionospheric disturbances (TIDs) represent a key dynamic process for energy transfer in the horizontal and vertical directions, and are one of the important sources of ionospheric variability. Although they have been studied for an extended period of time, the sources of TIDs remain a matter of a debate, and the mechanisms by which they are coupled to different atmospheric regions are not yet understood. This project will analyze selected cases of strong and weak stratospheric gravity wave activity and examine if and how they are linked to TIDs observed at the middle and high latitudes in the ionosphere. The project will use GNSS Total Electron Content observations as well as observations by incoherent scatter radars. In the course of the project, the student will determine and document a range of TID characteristics during different levels of stratospheric gravity wave activity and examine if and how they are linked. Mentors: Larisa Goncharenko, Anthea Coster, Shunrong Zhang.

Project 5: Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE)
MOXIE, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) Experiment, is an instrument on board the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, scheduled to land on Mars on 18 February 2021. MOXIE will produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere using solid oxide electrolysis. A replica of MOXIE is being set up at the MIT Haystack Observatory, and will be used for a wide variety of experiments to both support flight operations and characterize the solid oxide electrolysis process. Several project options are available depending upon the student’s area of interest, for example: lab software development, hardware installation and commissioning, or data analysis from experiments. Mentors: John McClean, Michael Hecht.

Project 6: Studying auroras with total election content (TEC)
This computer-science project will utilize the MIT Haystack’s total electron content (TEC) database to study the effects of aurora on the earth’s ionosphere.  TEC is measured using signals from the ground based receivers of  the global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) such as GPS.  In addition, TEC is measured from GNSS signals received on-board satellites such as the COSMIC, COSMIC2, and SWARM satellite systems.  Auroras are associated with electron precipitation into the ionosphere.  These additional electrons can be measured by GNSS receivers, and the amount can quantified.  In addition, auroras generate small scale irregularities in the ionosphere which can cause scintillation effects on the received GNSS signals.  Scintillation is a well-known space weather effect.  Utilizing separate measurements from GNSS receivers, these scintillation effects will also be studied. Mentors: Anthea Coster, William Rideout.

Project 7: Three-dimensional ionosphere and sensor modeling
There are a number of computation ionospheric models that researchers use to understand space weather. One model, the Geospace Environment Model of Ion-Neutral Interactions (GEMINI), can model transient phenomena at a very high spatial resolution. This model was developed to model phenomena within the high-latitude ionosphere but can be used to study phenomena in the mid-latitude ionosphere. GEMINI can then be used to drive sensor models that can help researchers improve their measurement campaigns. This project will study the applicability of the GEMINI model to various mid-latitude phenomena and create pipelines to sensor models. Mentors: John Swoboda, Larisa Goncharenko, Shunrong Zhang.

Project 8: Observing black holes with the Event Horizon Telescope (3 students)
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 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. Mentors: Vincent Fish, Kazunori Akiyama.

Project 9: Measuring meteors and estimating winds with the Zephyr meteor radar network
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. In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Colorado Boulder, we are building a meteor radar network called [Zephyr]( to observe upper-atmospheric winds in the Rocky Mountain region. Zephyr has many tasks suitable for an REU student to make their own; the specific focus of this project will depend on the student’s skills and interests. Possible directions include:
• Optimization of the network geometry (transmitter and receiver locations) to improve wind field estimation
• Development of a dashboard for monitoring the meteor radar network, including live display of data, status, and operational control
• Improvement of the current Gaussian process regression wind estimation technique (a machine learning tool) using different mean/covariance functions or physics-based models
• Prototype testing of a local transmitter and receiver
• Analysis of meteor and wind data to inform future design decisions

Project 10: SAPS and thermospheric wind variation analysis
This project will collectively use the historical Millstone Hill incoherent scatter radar (MHISR) database and the Fabry-Perot interferometer (FPI) measurements to investigate the thermospheric zonal and meridional neutral wind response to subauroral polarization stream during geomagnetic storm and substorm periods. This project will not only help the student to obtain a clear scientific understanding of the stormtime ion-neutral coupling processes in the subauroral/midlatitude region, but also help the student to gain experimental skills in processing the MHISR and FPI database. Mentors: Ercha Aa, Philip Erickson, Shunrong Zhang.

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 for 2021?

A: We hope that the Haystack internship program will be held in person in summer 2021. However, this decision is affected by local and MIT safety and health regulations. We continue to monitor the situation closely. (In 2020, our research internship program was successfully held completely remote.) More to follow as information becomes available.

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.

The Haystack REU program starts in early June and ends mid-August.

The 2021 REU program at Haystack will run from June 6, 2021, through August 13, 2021.

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 $600, 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.