Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)
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.
Apply here for summer 2023 internship positions.
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 2023 projects
Project list subject to change. Click each project title to expand the full description.
Project 1: Plasma line extraction from low signal-to-noise datasets
When detectable, plasma lines can give an accurate measure of the electron density which can be used to constrain incoherent scatter estimates of electron temperature. Manual techniques of line extraction from visualized datasets are inherently slow and error prone, and do not scale when large numbers of datasets need to be processed. The current automated technique needs a high signal-to-noise ratio to work well, but likely can be optimized for lower signal to noise datasets. On this project, the student will learn the current techniques, tune the software for low signal-to-noise datasets, run tuned scenarios for evaluation, and possibly automate tuning.
Mentors: Bob Schaefer, Bill Rideout, Phil Erickson
Project 2: An open source drone platform for radio science using software-defined radios (SDRs)
This exciting project will involve developing a prototype drone platform with a software radio payload. The goal of the platform will be to monitor the radio frequency (RF) spectrum around Haystack Observatory and to search for sources of Radio Frequency Interference (RFI). The student will have the opportunity to work with hardware (assembling the drone, making modifications as needed), software (programming the payload using Python), and electronics (wiring together drone and payload components, interfacing with the flight controller, etc.). Open source platforms will be used as much as possible, such as the Pixhawk flight controller and the Digital RF library.
Mentors: Lenny Paritsky, John Swoboda
Project 3: Uncovering the mass loss histories of dying stars
During the late stages of stellar evolution, stars like the Sun return up to 80% of their mass to the interstellar medium through cool, dense stellar winds. Such winds play a major role in enriching the galaxy with dust and heavy elements. However, a number of aspects of this mass loss process remain poorly understood, including its timescale and geometry, as well as its dependence on various properties of the star. This project will leverage multi-wavelength data sets to explore the mass-loss histories of dying, Sun-like stars.
Mentor: Lynn Matthews
Project 4: Observing black holes with the Event Horizon Telescope
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 project, 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
Project 5: Using a natural cosmic telescope to study a distant radio quasar
Gravitational lensing is a natural phenomenon caused by massive celestial objects, such as a galaxy or galaxy cluster. The lensing effect intensifies and stretches light from a distant universe, and thus it is called a natural telescope. Gravitationally lensed light allows us to investigate astrophysical systems in the early universe. Moreover, it can be used to constrain fundamental cosmological parameters. At mm-wavelengths, only a few radio quasars are identified as a gravitationally lensed system. In this project, we will use multi-frequency very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) monitoring data to study a gravitationally lensed blazar, exploring its various scientific applications. Students will learn about the imaging process for VLBI data, and investigate the chromatic variability of the radio blazar or molecular absorption lines from an intervening galaxy of the lensed blazar.
Mentors: Dongjin Kim, Kazu Akiyama, Vincent Fish
Project 6: Geospace stormtime plumes in the ionosphere observed by GNSS system
The solar-driven geospace storm is a major disturbance of terrestrial magnetosphere-ionosphere-thermosphere system due to dramatic energy input from the solar wind into the near-Earth space environment. GNSS satellites provide radio signals that are often used to by ground-based receivers to measure ionospheric plasma density variation. With the fast growing of world-wide ground-based GNSS receiver networks in the past decades, the GNSS dataset has become one of the most widely-used tools for space scientists to study storm-time ionosphere variation with unprecedented details and superior spatial-temporal resolution. In particular, MIT Haystack has been producing daily global ionospheric maps of the total electron content (TEC) using 6000+ GNSS receivers. We are looking for a motivated student to join us in using MIT Haystack’s GNSS-based ionospheric database to investigate storm-time ionospheric density gradients and their morphology, especially the storm-enhanced density (SED) plume structures. The SED plume is a characteristic form of large-scale electron density enhancement that can impose substantial space weather impact and therefore represents an important frontier area in the community research. Computer language skills and proficiency (e.g., Python, MATLAB) will be essential to this project. An interest in space, atmosphere, geophysics, meteorology science, or other relevant discipline is welcome but not required.
Mentors: Shunrong Zhang and Ercha Aa
Project 7: High-resolution imaging of radio stars
Every single star in our Milky Way galaxy emits radio waves. The radio emission from stars stems from a wide variety of physical processes, providing unique insights into a broad range of stellar phenomena. An exciting frontier of the stellar astrophysics is imaging stars using a large array of radio telescopes as optical telescopes photograph the surface of planets in our solar system. In this project, we will analyze data from high-resolution observations of radio stars using the Very Large Array (VLA) and Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to image stars with the state-of-the-art radio imaging techniques. The project offers another option to study the capability of imaging various radio stars using the next generation Very Large Array, a future large-area radio array made of hundreds of radio telescopes in the US. The student working on this project will conduct researches using various software packages in the Python and/or Julia programming languages on Linux machines to analyze observational data of radio stars.
Mentors: Kazu Akiyama, Lynn Matthews
Project 8: Radio observations of dying stars: resolving clumpy clouds via radio interferometry
At the last stage of stellar evolution, intermediate-mass stars eject their mass via strong stellar winds, forming a circumstellar envelope (CSE). This dense and gaseous medium is the site of various thermal and non-thermal molecular emission lines in the radio wavelength range. Spectroscopy using radio telescopes allow us to investigate the chemical and dynamical properties of the CSE in dying stars. In this REU project, students will study the kinematics of clumpy molecular clouds ejected from pulsating dying stars with both single-dish monitoring and high-angular resolution VLBI observation data. This project would include student participation in actual observations using the 37m Haystack antenna.
Mentor: Dongjin Kim
Project 9: LEGO: Using dark clouds in the Milky Way to understand distant galaxies
It is hard to study fine details in even the most nearby galaxies. To give an example, some of the most exciting research today focuses on the formation of stars in the Milky Way and other galaxies. The star-forming sites in the Milky Way, also known as dark clouds, can be studied at an amazing level of detail. We can actually see how individual stars and planets form in our neighborhood. However, if we turn to galaxies, even the best telescopes available today cannot resolve dark clouds at a meaningful level of detail. Astronomers have therefore developed tricks to study the structure of clouds they cannot resolve. They study radiation from a variety of molecules, for example, hoping that some molecules provide clues on dense gas while others might indicate that a dark cloud is being stirred up by embedded young stars. These are fascinating methods — but they have never been fully tested in the Milky Way. The LEGO survey therefore images dark clouds in the Milky Way to perform such tests. This teaches us lessons about star formation in the Milky Way and other galaxies. As part of this program, you will lead a small original research project that uses LEGO data. You will learn how to visualize and analyze the data from several astronomical observatories, and how to draw conclusions from the trends in the data. You will do this as a member in an international collaboration that includes researchers from the US, the EU, Chile, and Japan. Successful projects are expected to produce results that will be published as parts of the LEGO papers.
Mentor: Jens Kauffmann
Project 10: Is the galactic center deuterium abundance anomalous?
Big Bang nucleosynthesis was the first and only source of deuterium (D) in the Universe. Because D is destroyed rather than produced in stellar interiors, across cosmic time the elemental D abundance relative to H atom (D/H) steadily decreases unless there is an alternate source of deuterium. Our galaxy’s center is the most active star forming region of the Milky Way. Therefore it is a powerful laboratory to test the abundance of D and hence the primordial conditions of the universe. In this project, the student will analyze data from the lowest excitation rotational lines of several deuterium-bearing molecules toward a diverse population of galactic center clouds and derive a robust estimate of the elemental D/H abundance.
Mentor: Thushara Pillai
Project 11: Role of magnetic fields in star formation in a nearby molecular cloud
Stars form during gravitational collapse in molecular clouds. This process affects properties of the planets formed along with the young stars. Collapse in molecular clouds during star formation is controlled by self–gravity, random “turbulent” gas motions inside clouds, and interstellar magnetic fields. Past studies have revealed a detailed picture of the role of self– gravity and gas kinematics during star formation—but observational assessments of magnetic fields remain challenging. SIMPLIFI (“Study of Interstellar Magnetic Polarization: a Legacy Investigation of FIlaments”) is a NASA/SOFIA legacy project designed to clarify the role of magnetic fields in star formation. In this project, the student will use far-infrared polarization data from the SOFIA telescope to gauge the relative role of magnetic fields with respect to gravity and turbulence in forming stars in a nearby molecular cloud.
Mentor: Thushara Pillai
Project 12: Deformation analysis for Arctic Sea Ice
Arctic sea ice plays a controlling role in both the regional and global climate. The last few decades have seen a dramatic reduction of Arctic sea ice extent and volume, particularly multi-year ice. Consequently, the character of the drift, deformation, and fracture of the sea-ice cover is changing under the (also changing) various forces acting on it such as winds and ocean currents. We deployed a network of twelve ice-anchored, high-precision GPS buoys on Arctic sea ice in February 2021. The network formed a small-scale (less than about 5 km) array to study sea-ice fracture and deformation. The student will use the geodetic data collected from these sensors to explore the character of ice deformation over several spatial and temporal scales using computer programs that are publicly available and also developed in-house.
Mentors: Dhiman Mondal, Pedro Elosegui, John Barrett, Chet Ruszczyk
Project 13: Developing software tools to monitor Antarctic ice-shelf stability
Ice shelves are a pivotal element in the stability of the Antarctic cryosphere, because they restrain and modulate the flow of grounded ice from the massive ice sheet covering the continent to the ocean. An ice shelf that is melting, retreating, and thinning leads to an increased discharge of grounded ice to the ocean, hence to sea-level rise. Obtaining meaningful observations that help us understand how the ice shelves are being impacted by climate change is therefore key to obtain improved projections of sea-level rise. We are developing a rather unique instrument equipped with geophysics-grade sensors, such as a seismometer and a GPS receiver, to obtain those ice-shelf observations. This Seismo-Geodetic Ice Penetrator (SGIP) will collect seismic, geodetic, atmospheric, and engineering data on the ice shelves, and will transfer that data to the Internet in near-real-time via Iridium satellite for science discovery. The student will develop a software package that monitors, visualizes, and processes the data from these SGIP instruments. In the course of this internship, the student will be trained with existing seismic and geodetic data from Antarctica that are readily available and will learn how to process and manipulate the data using publicly available computer packages and/or Python computer programs developed in house. The data analysis includes, but is not limited to, handling miniSEED seismic data and RINEX geodetic data. The ultimate goal of the project is to build a monitoring dashboard that processes SGIP data automatically, generating data products and visualization tools relevant to Antarctic cryosphere science.
Mentors: Dhiman Mondal, Pedro Elosegui, John Barrett, Chet Ruszczyk
Project 14: GNSS SDR for geodetic or geospace measurement
Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) are invaluable for understanding our Earth and near-space environment. The first step in creating these measurements will be signal processing of the raw radio frequency measurements. Currently, many new software-defined radio (SDR) tools are available. This project will entail exploring readily available SDR processing tools and coupled software-defined GNSS receivers to generate GNSS phase measurements to enable new applications in geospace science and space geodesy.
Mentors: John Swoboda, Dhiman Mondal, Chet Ruszczyk, and Pedro Elosegui
Project 15: Developing high-accuracy empirical models of ionospheric parameters
This research project focuses on the development of local empirical models of ionospheric peak electron density and total electron content as an alternative to existing global models of ionospheric parameters. Global models are known to have significant limitations, particularly at low and high latitudes. Numerous studies have demonstrated that local or regional models by far outperform global models, as they can more accurately describe regional conditions.
On this project, the student will use long-term datasets collected by several ionosondes located at low and subauroral latitudes, as well as observations of Total Electron Content (TEC) from GNSS receivers. The project will build upon already available early versions of local empirical models that characterize expected ionospheric behavior as a function of solar activity, season, local time, and geomagnetic activity. As part of the project, the student will generate models at several new locations and explore potential improvements in empirical models through more accurate descriptions of solar ionizing flux and geomagnetic activity. The student will also generate a database of differences between empirical models and observations, investigate variations of differences with season and local time, and identify large data-model anomalies. If time allows, the project will continue with focus on the analysis of several selected anomalies in order to understand potential connections with stratospheric conditions.
Mentor: Larisa Goncharenko
REU summer projects from past years are available in the presentation archives.
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, as it was in summer 2022. However, this decision is affected by local and MIT safety and health regulations. We continue to monitor the situation closely. (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.
The Haystack REU program starts in early June and ends mid-August. The 2023 REU program at Haystack will run from June 4, 2023, through August 11, 2023.
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.