Summer 2023 YSP Projects and Application Information

BMSIS provides opportunities for college students and recent grads to participate as Research Associates with our institute, providing opportunities to participate in basic research and to learn about science communication, ethics, policy, and more. YSP Research Associates (RAs) conduct supervised research under direct supervision by one or more BMSIS scientists and colleagues. The RA may work on-site or remotely, depending on the needs of the project, mentor, and RA. Funding is available for some projects but not all (see the list below). Research Associate positions will last nominally three months, though some may last longer, especially those that are funded.

BMSIS Research Associates will write a written report of their work for the project. This report may be used in a variety of applications, including (but not limited to): undergraduate project/thesis, conference proceedings, peer-reviewed journals, magazine/newspaper articles, and writing samples for job applications. RAs will be expected to present the results of their work either internally (to an audience of BMSIS scientists and affiliates using virtual communication tools) or externally (to an audience at an academic conference, convention, or other meeting venue).

The Young Scientist Program includes required modules in science communication as well as ethics and society with guidance from project mentors and other research scientists at BMSIS. RAs also will attend monthly BMSIS seminars and will have opportunities to participate in a variety of seminars and meetings held by professional researchers, science communicators, and more.

Upon successful completion of the Young Scientist Program and required modules, Research Associates shall receive a certificate of completion. Alumni from the Young Scientist Program may also receive requests for follow-up program evaluation.

Applications for the Young Scientist Program will be accepted from 1 March through 15 April with limited available positions, so interested applicants are encouraged to apply or contact us for more information.

Eligibility Requirements

Currently seeking a degree at a 2-year, 4-year, or 5-year university or a community college (or the equivalent), or recently have completed an undergraduate degree and currently considering graduate school (note: while we do not accept graduate students, some exceptions can be made for those who are in a dual BS/MS program or who have been enrolled in a Masters program without having begun the program. Other graduate students who are pursuing Masters and Doctoral degrees are encouraged to instead apply to our Visiting Scholars Program). For further questions on eligibility, please see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document.

Able to dedicate at least 5 hours per week for the duration of the program (time requirements may depend on the project)

Provide proof of eligibility to work in the country of the Young Scientist Program (note: this only applies to projects where the RA is working on-site. Applicants for the online program need only be capable of working within their country of residence)

May not be a current U.S. government employee or a civil servant

Also note: BMSIS cannot sponsor travel or work visas to the United States

For further inquiries, please see our FAQ document. The FAQ document will be updated as needed during the application window.

Important Dates for the 2023 YSP

1 March 2023 – Applications will be open by this date

• 15 April 2023 – Applications close (applications will be accepted until 20:00 Pacific Daylight Time on the 15th)

• 3 May 2023 – Decisions communicated to applicants beginning on this date (due to the large number of applications we receive, some notifications may take longer)

• 1 June 2023 – YSP Begins

• 31 August 2023 – YSP Ends

Application Requirements

Contact one or more BMSIS scientists expressing specific interests about listed projects (see list below) by sending inquiries to scientists at their email address listed in the table below. Please include a thoughtful message of introduction, but also be courteous of their time.

Satisfy any eligibility requirements specified by the BMSIS YSP and the “Required Skills” section of the project to be considered

Complete the online application form for the project(s). If you have questions about the application form, please read the FAQ document.

Have two letters of recommendation sent to For more information about the letters of recommendation, please read the FAQ document.

There is a $20 USD fee for applying to the program.

Projects Available for the 2023 BMSIS YSP:

Project Mentor(s)Project TitleDescriptionRequired SkillsSkills the Interns will Acquire
Graham Lau
Communicating Topics in Earth and Space ScienceScience communicators stand on the front-line of community engagement and the public understanding of science. Making science accessible for everyone requires developed skills in communication as well as an understanding of human nature. The Research Associates who work on this project will develop these skills while writing about science by creating short jargon-free pieces for the BMSIS website. Accepted individuals will also receive training in the use of social media for science communication and will have the opportunity to explore their own science communication skills by developing a project to communicate a topic in Earth and space science through writing, artistic media, music, video, social media campaigning, or another outlet that is most fitting.Good writing skills are necessary but will also be developed during the project. The ability to read and understand scientific peer-reviewed research is required. Applicants do not need to have their own social media accounts.The successful participants in this project will learn how to communicate more effectively and will gain skills in writing, speaking, and sharing science.
Shiladitya DasSarma & Priya DasSarma,
Evolution and Survival of Ancient Microbes – A Bioinformatic ApproachExtremely halophilic Archaea are models for astrobiology due to their ability to survive multiple extremes including high salinity, low water activity, ionizing and ultraviolet radiation, and toxic chemicals and have been hypothesized to be able to survive near the surface of Mars. Our laboratory is researching their genetics, biochemistry, and genomics in order to be able to understand how they tolerate polyextreme conditions using a combination of experimental and bioinformatic approaches. In this project, students will use the latter approach to address microbial evolution and survival via the DasSarma Group Virtual Lab ( genomic database and gene analysis tools.Students should have a good background in molecular biology. Experience in microbiology and bioinformatics and/or phylogenetics will be an advantage.Students will acquire skills building and searching blastable databases, evaluating gene and protein alignments, and addressing evolutionary and functional predictions.
William Brazelton
Exploration of Metabolic Pathways Encoded in Metagenomes from the Lost City Hydrothermal FieldWe have a large collection of metagenome sequences from the deep-sea Lost City hydrothermal field that we have only begun to explore. In this YSP project, we will choose a particular metabolic pathway of interest (e.g. methanogenesis or sulfate reduction) and search for genomes of Lost City organisms that might encode that pathway. We will examine their phylogenetic relationships and look for evidence of horizontal gene transfer. The project is open-ended and can be customized according to the interests of the student.Basic understanding of genetics, especially how genes encode proteins.Use of publicly available genomic databases and tools. The entire project can be completed with web-based applications, but if desired, the student can also learn how to use Linux-based command line interfaces to interact with and manipulate large metagenomic datasets (i.e. optional).
André Antunes
Extremely Halophilic Archaea in Space Biotechnology: Identifying Potential Bio-products and Mapping Experimental Knowledge GapsExtremely halophilic archaea are a key group in astrobiology. They are usually poly-extremophilic and are the champions of life at high salinities, making them relevant in discussions about Life on Mars or on the icy moons. They are also rising stars of biotechnology, being used in a wide range of industries and providing several bio-products. This project will compile their full range of applications/bio-products and respective species, identify those with potential application in space-exploration, and cross-compare with data from space-exposure experiments within this group. This approach will allow us to propose a roadmap for future application, listing key species, and mapping experimental knowledge gaps on cell viability, growth, and activity under space-like conditions.The candidate should preferably have a background in Microbiology/Biosciences, or keen on learning about this field. Project is particularly suited to keen readers with strong reading comprehension and summarising skills.Scientific data collection, analysis, synthesis and comparison skills. Data presentation and scientific writting and communication. This project will also provide a solid background on the limits of life, space exposure experiments, and space biotechnology.
André Antunes & Marta Filipa Simões (State Key Laboratory of Lunar and Planetary Sciences, Macau University of Science and Technology),
Genetic Mechanisms of Fungal Adaptation to Space ConditionsFungi are widely diverse and ubiquitous eukaryotic organisms . They can be very useful in several industrial processes (e.g., production of medical drugs, enzymes, food, nanotechnology), but they can also be a cause of many unwanted problems (e.g., degradation, contaminations, infections). Fungal genotypes, phenotypes, and processes can change when they are exposed to stress such as the ones found when exposed to space conditions. We know that fungi can adapt, survive and even thrive in such locations because they have been accompanying us since the first steps of space exploration, mainly as hitchhikers. This project intends to identify genes and genetic mechanism mentioned in the literature as related to any of these adaptations. Compiling this information will allow us to better understand how fungi behave under conditions such as microgravity and contribute to plan safer and more sustainable missions.Curious mind, willing to explore scientific publications in order to find useful links and connections relevant to astrobiology research. Preferably with a biosciences background and with basic bioinformatics knowledge.Development of knowledge in astrobiology and astromycology, transferable skill in data analysis and scientific literature and communication. Furthermore, at least one poster is expected to be presented at an international scientific conference.
Angélica Anglés & David Fernandez-Remolar (State Key Laboratory of Lunar and Planetary Sciences, Macau University of Science and Technology),
Life Detection Strategies in Iceland’s Mars Analog SitesTo improve the chances of success of Mars life-detection missions, it is necessary to better understand how representative a returned sample is from the entire area.

After an Analog Mission to Iceland, multiple locations were visited in order to explore how biodiversity and habitability vary over several parameters (geological, environmental, microclimate…). The purpose of this project is to help understand the results of the in-situ and laboratory analyses of the Icelandic samples, understand how and why the biomarkers vary over different locations, compare the results to similar Martian locations, help publish the results and prepare for future Icelandic analog missions.
The student must have knowledge in geology, astrobiology and microbiology (to help us understand the results from our Icelandic samples)During the project you will not only analyse the results of the laboratory analyses, but also compare those to several locations on Mars. This will give you a broader idea of the type of biomarkers we could find on Mars. By the end of the project, you will be part of a publication.
Jim Cleaves & McCullen Sandora,
Measuring the Complexity of Written and Molecular AlphabetsVarious human languages transmit information by encoding it in written alphabets (for example, the one being used here). The symbols (letters, but also numerals in math) in these alphabets must be able to represent all of the vocal phonemes or conceptual units which the language needs to be intelligible, and are generally arbitrary, though sometimes they descend from earlier pictographs. These symbols need to be distinguishable among themselves, which implies they have significant and easily discernible structural differences (e.g., "0" vs. "1", "v" vs. "w"). The complexity and differences among these symbols can be quantified by various metrics, as can the processes needed to construct them (such as the number of writing strokes or stroke order). Similarly, biology uses molecular alphabets, most notably the nucleobases and amino acids, which are used to construct biopolymers (polynucleotides and proteins). In contrast with written language, these symbols are three dimensional and have specific functional properties, so the metrics which make these symbols unique may be different, or there may be deep structural similarities in the ways systems select symbolic alphabets. This project aims to develop complexity metrics for both human linguistic and biological molecular alphabets, compare their distributions, and understand how information is compressed into structure and selected for functional use in alphabets.Proficiency with python programming and an intense curiosity to learn, strong analytical skills.programming, math, data analysis
Liam M. Longo
Modularity Across Scales in BiologyProteins are composed of modular "pieces" called domains that represent a key evolutionary unit of reuse. Cofactors -- essential mediators of biochemical reactions -- are also modular and often contain a recurring cast of chemical moieties. By analyzing the domain structure of cofactor binding sites, we will explore whether these aspects of modularity are mutually reinforcing or largely independent.Successful applicants must have completed a basic biochemistry course and have prior programming experience (any language is okay).Students will develop expertise in protein structure analysis, basic bioinformatics, the properties of protein-ligand binding sites, and metabolism.
Lev Horodyskyj
Role-Playing Games for Environmental EducationIn this project, the student will help develop, play-test, and/or analyze results from play-test sessions of an analog version of a digital role-playing game we've been developing for several years that teaches about science and governance as applied to environmental challenges.NoneDesign interviews, conduct focus groups, data analysis
Tony Z. Jia, Kuhan Chandru (National University of Malaysia), & Jim Cleaves,,
The Landscape of Ester Bond-forming ChemicalsEster bonds are abundant in modern biology, and potentially played a role in primitive chemistries, being present in polyesters and other relevant prebiotic molecules. There are an abundance of chemicals that can form ester bonds, some of which are possibly present in prebiotic milieux such as within meteorites and hydrothermal vents. In this project, we will curate and explore the literature regarding the distribution of ester bond-forming chemicals that can be found in different meteorites, such as organic acids, alcohols, heterocycles and other compounds that can undergo abiotic polymerization. This project may also include cataloging the physical and chemical properties of such chemicals using chemical database such as Scifinder,,,,,, with the final goal to make a resource that can be used in design of future prebiotic chemistry projects/experiments, as well as a review paper.

Note: This is mainly intended to be a virtual internship, with regular meetings with mentors/co-mentors online. As the mentors are based in different timezones in North America and East Asia, we hope that the applicants are in a timezone that allows attendance of such meetings with a mentor in at least one of these timezones. However, if a selected intern is based in or near Tokyo, Japan, or Washington, DC, USA, there may be the option of also having face-to-face meetings, office space, and some in-person activities at a mentor’s institute. In addition, while there will unfortunately be no travel or relocation expenses support available, selected interns who can legally work in Japan that are based in or near Tokyo may be eligible to receive a nominal stipend.
Experience reading scientific articles. Familiarity with general, organic, and/or geochemistry. Coding skills are also welcome. Enthusiasm and interest in exploring questions related to origins of life!Scientific literature review. Learning about origins of life- and prebiotic chemistry and chemical database inquiry. Manuscript preparation. Presentation skills. Science communication.
Graham Lau
The Life Detection Knowledge Base: Research on BiosignaturesThe search for extraterrestrial life remains one of the most ambitious and important pursuits for our species. Figuring out whether or not we are alone relies on multiple forms of observation as well as a rigorous approach to understanding what signs of life, or biosignatures, can serve us in making a definitive detection of alien life. In this YSP project, you will help the Center for Life Detection (CLD) in the development of the Life Detection Knowledge Base (LDKB). The LDKB is an online repository of knowledge about the utility of potential biosignatures. The project will involve selecting one potential biosignature and then developing thorough argumentation based on evidence in the scientific literature as to whether that feature may indeed be useful in our search for alien life.The ability to read and understand scientific peer-reviewed research is required, but the applicants do not need to consider themselves experts on any of the topics currently available within the LDKB. While having institutional access to scientific journals will be helpful, it is not required to take part in this project. A fundamental level of knowledge in a scientific realm such as biology, chemistry, geology, or physics will be necessary.The successful participants will hone their skills in reading and critically assessing research. They will also be listed on the LDKB as the authors/co-authors of the entry on which they work.
Rafael Loureiro, Luke Concollato, Sam Humprey, & Chad Vanden Bosch,,,
The Space Agriculture Laboratory Analysis Database (SALAD)The Space Agriculture Laboratory Analysis Database (SALAD) Project is looking for research assistants to help search the scientific literature for all published and unpublished work related to plant research for space applications. Assistants who join this project will have an opportunity to choose a certain subset of “plants in space” research to specialize in, and contribute summaries of these papers to the database we are building. SALAD will be a free, searchable database online for researchers and space entrepreneurs to use to learn the state of knowledge on space agriculture to inform experiments and technology developmentFluent in the English language; strong reading comprehension for technical papers on plant biology; coding experience (Python) *A pre-acceptance assessment will be conducted with each finalist on their skill levels in each one of the categories listed above. The SALAD team reserves the right to dismiss any candidate based on their assessment scores. Being pre-accepted is not a guarantee for any candidate to participate in the project.Utilize appropriate research methods and techniques to analyze and summarize research papers; Understand the interactions between plant omics and plant phenotype data; Compare and contrast different approaches and methodologies used in space agriculture research; Contribute to the development of a valuable resource for researchers and space entrepreneurs in the field of space agriculture.
Lev Horodyskyj
Improving Teacher Feedbacks in Science LearningIn this project, the student will work on developing mechanisms for improving feedback to teachers about how students are performing in digital science learning experiences, particularly via intelligent tutoring systems with the ability to test the approaches in our Agavi tool that we are developing.Familiarity with spreadsheets and data analysis tools (desired, but not required)Data analysis and use of data analysis tools, coding experience, classroom and/or public outreach activity design and implementation
Celia Blanco
New bioinformatic tools for the analysis of deep sequencing dataIn vitro selection is a technique used in molecular biology to screen large libraries of RNA or DNA sequences for a specific function, such as catalysis or binding. But, how do we find a very small needle in a very large haystack? This YSP 2022 project seeks a candidate interested in developing a new bioinformatic pipeline for high-throughput sequencing data analysis using shell and python. The candidate will learn to identify and implement appropriate metrics to find relevant sequences in vitro selection and in vitro evolution experiments. They will also test and validate the pipeline using simulated and real datasets.Previous experience with shell scripting and python is highly recommended. Motivation to learn about in vitro selection and in vitro evolution.Programming, sequencing data processing and analysis, science communication.
Jen Blank
Model Mars – a learning platform for future Martians!Following our initial rollout in 2022, we’re seeking interns to join our Model Mars team this summer, to help deploy our second 6-week run of a STEAM learning platform we’ve developed for youth. Set 100 years in the future when human outposts are scattered on the Red Planet, Model Mars is inspired by the Model United Nations and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Players, in teams of four, are assigned to one of a diverse array of outpost settlements on Mars and begin a journey using a story that introduces characters and a specific problem. Assuming character roles, the teams solve a given societal or technical challenge, while examining ways in which human society on Mars might evolve. Content for Model Mars draws from three areas: (1) a foundation of science and knowledge about current and future plans for human Mars habitation; (2) possible futures as inspired by science fiction literature and media; and (3) a model of collaborative effort to address societal challenges.

Note: this project has a time commitment of 10 hours per week
Who we want: Interns who will help expand and organize our online Model Mars resource library and share our interest in the evolving narratives of who can and should participate in and benefit from Space. The role will involve online research, some technical (and optional creative) writing for a young (general) audience, learning about the SDGs and related policies, and collaboration with the four Model Mars co-founders.
Jim Cleaves
Exploring the reaction space of prebiotic chemistry using computational chemical reaction networksPrebiotic chemistry generally involves iterative combinatorial reactions among a few small precursors, e.g., HCHO, HCN, NH3, etc. These react to form larger molecules which can in turn react with each other to form an ever-expanding network of reactions and products, which at some point may enable self-sustaining chemical reaction loops. We will use in silico reaction network expansion software to simulate various prebiotic reaction networks with a special emphasis on finding autocatalytic, self-sustaining reaction sequences which may have been important for the origins of life.Ideal candidates for this project will have strong C++ and Python programming skills and some knowledge of organic chemistry. This project will be conducted remotely.
Jim Cleaves
Computing the Synthesis of pre-RNA Genetic Molecules for the Origins of LifeIt is widely believed life passed through an "RNA World" stage early in its emergence, in which RNA molecules played the roles of both catalysts and information storage molecules. A stronger but more controversial version of the RNA World posits that RNA was the original living molecule, which was systhesized abiotically on the primitive Earth directly from simple environmentally supplied precursors. However, it is now known there may be millions of molecules similar to RNA which could perform the same functions, and there may have been one or more "genetic takeover" events during the earliest evolution of life, with RNA being the penultimate version (before DNA). This project will use in computational reaction network tools to map the potential abiotic syntheses of pre-RNA genetic molecules, ot understand the landscape of which may hve been the easiest to produce abiotically.This project will be remote. The ideal candidate(s) will have very strong programming skills in Python, and experience working in a Linux environment. Some familiarity with basic concepts in organic chemistry and biochemistry would also be helpful.