Summer 2022 Projects and Application Information

Note: The application window for the 2022 BMSIS YSP has now closed. We will reopen applications for the 2023 program early next year. While the available projects will likely change for 2023, much of the accompanying information below is still relevant and may help you prepare a successful application.

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 Scholar 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 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 2022 YSP (these dates are subject to change for 2023)

  • 1 March 2022 – Applications will be open by this date
  • 15 April 2022 – Applications close (applications will be accepted until 20:00 Pacific Daylight Time on the 15th)
  • 3 May 2022 – Decisions communicated to applicants beginning on this date (due to the large number of applications we receive, some notifications may take longer)
  • 1 June 2022 – YSP Begins
  • 31 August 2022 – 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). Links for applying will be provided for each project. 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.

Below you will find all of the projects for the 2022 YSP. Please note that we are no longer accepting applications for this program. If you are interested in applying for the YSP, please check back in February/March of 2023 for the new projects and program information. Some of the projects below may still be available, but many will not (and there will also be new projects available that were not listed for 2022):

Project Mentor(s)Project TitleDescriptionRequired Skills for Applying
Tony Z Jia
Comparative studies of primitive and modern phase separated systemsModern cells contain membraneless organelles, which are produced by biomolecular phase separation. Such phase separation also can occur in primitive environments, producing prebiotic membraneless compartments (some refer to these as protocells). In this project, fellows will do a literature review comparing the similarities and differences of primitive (prebiotic) and modern (biological) phase separation systems, in hopes of finding out more about the potential evolution from primitive membraneless compartments to to modern membraneless organelles.Familiarity with biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, biophysics, materials science, or similar. Experience reading scientific articles. Enthusiasm and interest in exploring questions related to origins of life!
Jim Cleaves
Identifying Organocatalysts Using Graph-Theory Based Reaction ModelingThis YSP 2022 project seeks a candidate interested in applying data analysis techniques to chemical reaction networks using computer programming (python). The candidate will learn about chemoinformatic techniques, and network closure models. The object of the study will be to find likely organocatalProficiency with python programming and an intense curiosity to learn, strong analytical skills.
Jim Cleaves
Understanding Earth's Global Sulphur Cycle Using In Silico ModelingThis YSP 2022 project seeks a candidate interested in applying data analysis techniques to geochemical reaction modeling using computer programming (mostly C++). In detail, the candidate will learn about geochemical cycling, geochemical network modeling, and sulfur chemistry.Familiarity with Earth Sciences or intense curiosity to learn, strong analytical skills, familiarity with python or intense motivation to learn to program.
Jim Cleaves
Viruses vs. the Human Immune System: Identifying Globally Antigenic Peptide Sequences Using BioinformaticsThis YSP 2022 project seeks a candidate interested in applying data analysis techniques to bioinformatics questions to understand the constraints of the evolution of viral proteomes using computer programming. The candidate will learn about antigenicity, and how simple bioinformatics techniques can potentially quickly identify families ofFamiliarity with Earth Sciences or intense curiosity to learn, strong analytical skills, familiarity with python or intense motivation to learn to program.
Rafael Loureiro
The SALAD ProjectThe 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.
Shiladitya DasSarma and 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, limiting water, ionizing and ultraviolet radiation, and toxic chemicals. These organisms have been hypothesized to be able to survive conditions near the surface of Mars. The project goal is to understand how they evolved and survive these extreme conditions using a bioinformatics approach.Students with diverse backgrounds in the sciences are welcome, including microbiology, biochemistry, earth sciences, etc.
Omer Markovitch
Optimizing the chemical structure of self-synthesizing coacervates using a genetic algorithmCompartmentalization is one of the main characteristics of living systems (e.g. the cell) that allows them to protect themselves from the outside world. Coacervates are a type of compartment that is formed by mixing oppositely charged polymeric molecules, and have shown great potential as models for studies of the origin of life. This project explores how these compartments can emerge from their building blocks.
Recently, we designed and synthesized a series of building blocks that spontaneously form coacervate materials through dynamic combinatorial chemistry. These building blocks are designed with a peptide chain containing positive and negative segments linked to an aromatic dithiol. Upon oxidation, building blocks form macrocyclic rings linked by the aromatic dithiols, and these rings dynamically change their sizes by participating in disulfide exchange reactions that leads to liquid-liquid phase separation called coacervates.
In this 2022 YSP project, you will “evolve” experiments in order to find the optimal coacervate formulation in a way that is analog to how Darwinian evolution works. Using genetic algorithms, you will explore the vast parameter space of possible experimental conditions with input from real experiments, using computer simulations. The goal is to find the “fittest” conditions that give rise to the best coacervates, that otherwise would be impossible to explore by trial and error in the lab.
Knowledge/experience with programming is needed. Familiarity with basic chemistry, biology, and math is helpful. The project does not have any experimental part.
Jen Blank & Ali Guarneros-Luna
Who’s Going to the Moon?!Government space agencies and private organizations have announced more than fifty future lunar missions to be launched in the next ten years. Who’s proposing to go, and what will they do there? This YSP 2022 project seeks two candidates interested in creating a website to feature current and announced upcoming activities for new satellites, landers, rovers, and human-crewed missions to the Moon. In addition to learning about who’s doing what and how and where, the YSPs will create a website with compiled resources and information about these future missions. The YSPs will have a chance to talk with engineers and scientists who are actively working on current and upcoming NASA and ESA missions and mission instruments.Website design and development and/or interest in learning to create a website that will serve as a tool open to all; graphic design and familiarity with online drawing tools; excitement about our next phase of lunar exploration; good written and oral communication skills.
Lev Horodyskyj
Technology-Based Science Learning in Challenging EnvironmentsScience Voices, through the YSP program, seeks a candidate interested in exploring the use of low-cost technology to improve learning in challenging environments as part of the Agavi project. Candidate will learn about science pedagogy, learning analytics, coding, and/or low-cost instrumentation, depending on the interests of the candidate. Opportunities exist for candidate to assist in development, deployment, and/or analysis of Agavi in the Amazon rain forest (environmental learning in river schools) and the US Virgin Islands (astrotourism).Familiarity with basic coding, interest in learning science
Lev Horodyskyj
Improving Environmental Stewardship Through Interdisciplinary Role-Playing ExperiencesScience Voices, through the YSP program, seeks a candidate interested in contributing to our Greenworks program, an inter-university role-playing game where students engage in environmental diplomacy followed up by on-location community projects. Candidate will learn about development and evaluation of interdisciplinary curricula (Earth science, public policy, and economics), simulator development to enhance learning, and/or analysis of learning data, depending on the interests of the candidate. Opportunities exist for candidate to assist in development, deployment, and/or analysis of the Greenworks curriculum in Brazil, Scotland, and Ukraine.Interest in the intersection between coding, science, learning, and internationality
McCullen Sandora
Optimal Biosignature Search StrategiesUpcoming missions will be able to survey a small number of nearby planets in the hope of finding signs of life. Because of the small statistics, high stakes nature of this endeavor, it is crucial to be as deliberative as possible when designing missions and selecting targets. We will develop a mathematical formalism for optimizing the amount of information gained from observations, and apply it to several questions regarding decision making in biosignature searches. Tools from optimal stopping theory and behavioral ecology will be applied to this problem, and the formalism will be tested with historical and future missions.strong familiarity with calculus and probability
Jihua Hao
Dissolution of volcanic ash under the simulative planetary conditionsThis YSP 2022 project seeks a candidate interested in conducting laboratory experiments to study dissolution reactions of volcanic ash under the simulative planetary conditions. In brief, the candidate will learn about characterizing volcanic ash (which is ready in the lab) using XRD, SEM, and Raman etc. Then, the candidate will be guided to conduct dissolution experiments using the cleaned volcanic ash under the controlled conditions (atmosphere, temperature, and water chemistry). The dissolution reaction will be monitored by analyzing water chemistry and secondary minerals using techniques including ICP-OES/MS, FTIR, Raman, XRD, and SEM, during the project. The goal of the project is to understand the dissolution behavior of volcanic ash and its controlling factors in planetary environments. The implication for the habitability of planetary surfaces will also be discussed.Familiarity with Earth Sciences or intense curiosity to learn analytical facilities, familiarity with inorganic chemistry and/or physical chemistry. Physical presence at USTC, China is required for this experimental work. Financial support is available.
Jihua Hao
Stability of evolving populations in variable, heterogeneous environments and significance for origins of life studiesAn important prerequisite for the early complexification of life is evolutionary continuity - a population of primitive cells, each deriving from another, must have been maintained over different timescales. The environments considered the most probable for the origins of life are marine hydrothermal chimneys and pools in surface hydrothermal systems; this means that primitive populations most likely evolved in a medium with spatial boundaries (e.g. chimney pores, pools), limited resources, and where conditions (pH, T, redox levels) changed during time.
During this project, using a python code modeling evolutionary processes in primitive cell populations, the candidate will initially address the following question: depending on the modalities of evolution, do environmental variations affect the maintenance of an evolving population and/or the outcome of competition with a non-evolving population? At the end of his project, the candidate will be encouraged to give a short presentation of the results of his research.
Familiarity with Geochemistry and/or Evolutionary Biology, with an intense drive to learn. Familiarity with programming or strong drive to learn.
Angelica Angles
Paleohydrological evolution of Terra Sirenum and its implication for habitability on MarsThe Terra Sirenum region provides unique insight into ancient aqueous processes. The region exhibits a number of evaporite deposits, dyke fields, valley networks and channel-like structures that point to hydrological cycling in the past, however, the magnitude and duration of this cycling remains unclear. The successful candidate will use a combination of orbital information together with crater-count statistics to investigate the palaeohydrological evolution of Terra Sirenum, in order to understand the origin and formational conditions of the geomorphological features. This is particularly relevant for astrobiology, as these sedimentary deposits could represent the last remnants of habitable surface water on Mars.The candidate should have a background in Earth Sciences/Geology or similar, and/or familiarity and interest in Astrobiology. Additionally, the candidate should have intense curiosity in Mars exploration and science communication.
Graham Lau, Thilina Heetanigala (ELSI), and Tony Jia (ELSI/BMSIS)
Landscape of Community Engagements Efforts in Origins of Life ResearchThe Origins of Life (OoL) field is an interdisciplinary research area that involves a global community of researchers exploring the questions of how Earth formed in the solar system, how life originated on Earth, and how life and the Earth arrived at their present forms, and more. These are the very questions that the general public often wonders about whenever OoL topics are discussed. However, the availability of outreach materials within the OoL is scattered and quality may vary. The selected Research Associates will work to create a global map of the ‘Landscape of Community Engagements Efforts in Origins of Life Research’, by collecting and creating a repository of OoL outreach, education, and other engagement materials and by identifying areas that are missing such content.
The project is coordinated and supervised jointly by BMSIS and ELSI. Accepted individuals will have the opportunity to work with science communicators and scientists.
The ability to read and understand the educational materials and connected scientific area.
Shawn Erin McGlynn, Liam Longo, Harrison Smith, Joshua Goldford
Network approaches to primordial energy exchange reactionsEnergy conversion is central to all life, and metabolism today uses ATP as the primary energy “currency” of the cell. Was ATP always central in this role, or were there other molecules before it used in the development of metabolism? This research project will take a graph view of metabolism and combine it with structural bioinformatics to ask questions about both the evolution of metabolism and the enzymes that mediate metabolic reactions. The focus of this project will be to understand whether thioesters — or some other primordial class of high energy molecules — may have preceded ATP. This project is ideal for students interested in (bio)chemistry, enzyme reaction mechanisms, and graph representations of complex biological networks. Basic familiarity with, or an interest in learning, simple scientific programming is recommended.
Ivan Glaucio Paulino Lima and Jessica Snyder
Identifying Supply Chain Vulnerability for Synthetic Biology in the USAInnovation requires infrastructure. The COVID-19 pandemic made us feel the fragility of our global supply chain. The effects of shortages will continue to hinder scientific advancement for time to come. Before offering solutions to supply chain limitations, we first define the vulnerabilities using the synthetic biology sector as a case study. The objective of this research is to short-list the supply chain vulnerabilities of the synthetic biology sector using supplier-side breakdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic as a case study. We accomplish this goal in three tasks: (1) synbio community feedback, (2) data processing, and (3) prioritization of exposed assets.Familiarity with data science, strong analytical skills, strong communication skills.
Rafael Loureiro, Priscila Lange, and Ivan Paulino-Lima
Pattern recognition Model (PRIMO): machine learning on reflectance spectral signatures of extremophilic microorganismsThis YSP 2022 project seeks a candidate interested in applying data analysis techniques to reflectance spectra. In detail, the candidate will gather information available in the scientific literature and feed into a biosignature pattern recognition model called PRIMO. The model, in its first version, will cover most aspects of unicellular organisms regarding their spectral signatures. However, it also has the potential to be enriched with more variables in the future (i.e. temperature or pH) allowing it to be used as the base for other models capable to create an exoplanetary individual construct based on earth organisms experimental data banks.Familiarity with Earth Sciences and bio-optics, or intense curiosity to learn, strong analytical skills, familiarity with python and machine learning or intense motivation to learn.
Priscila Kienteca Lange
Satellite monitoring of harmful algal blooms in vulnerable coastal environmentsThe project is looking for a candidate interested in using remote sensing for monitoring the occurrence of harmful algal blooms in populated coastal areas or vulnerable coastal ecosystems (i.e. biological reserves) where in-situ observations are constrained by the lack of logistic support. The candidate will be responsible for gathering information about past harmful algal events from the local news, personal communication, interviews with fishermen, health services logs, etc. The information will be used to speculate about possible causes and effects of these bloom events on the local population and ecosystem. Then, reflectance spectral signatures of key harmful algae species gathered from the literature will be used to create proxies to detect past blooms using satellite reflectance imagery. Finally, the data will be combined with oceanographic and atmospheric variables in order to determine possible causes of these blooms, which will support the future creation of a regional predictive model for harmful algal blooms.The candidate must be familiar with basic concepts of ocean optics and remote sensing, have basic programming skills (R, Python, Google Earth Engine), be enthusiastic about the theme and have curiosity and motivation to learn. Candidates from developing countries are encouraged.
Fathi Karouia
Characterizing and cataloging the microbiome of the International Space StationThis YSP 2022 project seeks one or more candidate(s) interested in characterizing and cataloging microbes collected onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Over the past 6 years the microbial tracking studies, Microbial tracking 1 and 2, collected surface samples from the same United States Orbital Segments onboard the ISS. Upon return to Earth, culture and molecular based methods are used to understand the diversity of the microbial flora. Sampling microbes multiple times enables scientists to understand the diversity of microbes on the station and how the microbial population varies over time. The candidate(s) will work closely (virtually) with the PI to either (1) catalogue the drafted whole genome sequences into the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) database and/or (2) characterize unique properties of known and novel microbes exposed to the space environment. Finally, manuscripts will be prepared and published upon completion of the project.Meticulous and good organizing skills are required. Preference will be given to someone with some microbiology background. Skills in bioinformatics (e.g., phylogeny tree, pangenomic analysis, etc.) will be also of interest, but not necessary, for more complex projects.
Andro Rios and Svetlana Shkolyar
Helping define false positive and true negative signs of life for future NASA life detection missionsDetecting true signs of extraterrestrial life will be based on our understanding of what life is and how it interacts with its environment. The NASA Center for Life Detection (CLD) aims to support the planning of missions that will seek evidence of life beyond Earth. The CLD is currently developing tools for members of the astrobiology community to formulate their knowledge, research, and expertise for mission planning. One such tool, the Life Detection Knowledge Base (LDKB), is an online repository of signs of life, or biosignatures, organized according to a unique framework which is intended to guide testing and evaluation of in situ and remote biosignatures. The YSP Research Associate(s) will have the opportunity to work with the CLD team to (1) learn about the tool’s unique structure and usage, and (2) contribute content to it based on review and analysis of relevant scientific literature. The CLD is specifically looking to enhance LDKB content that will help with the identification of false positives and true negatives for future life detection missions to diverse Solar System targets (i.e., Titan, ocean worlds). The YSP will be able to choose topics for investigation and content development based on their interests. Applicants with an interest in any of the following fields will be best aligned for this internship and are highly encouraged to apply: Meteoritic analyses, astrochemistry, Titan chemistry, ocean worlds, prebiotic chemistry, and the origin of life.

Multiple positions available
Junior or Senior standing in any major of science that has had general and organic chemistry and some biochemistry or molecular biology coursework. Internship requires a strong curiosity about astrobiology, life detection, and/or NASA missions, as well as basic experience with reviewing scientific literature or a willingness to learn.
Betül Kaçar
Utilizing contemporary biology to reconstruct ancient biosignaturesOne of the fundamental challenges inherent to the search for life in the universe is that we are able to conduct observations at relatively large stellar and planetary scales, but we are seeking to detect a phenomenon that manifests and maintains itself at molecular and microscopic scales- so small that it's difficult to directly observe even when located right in front of us, let alone if when we are looking across the vastness of interstellar distances. Linking the history of different modes of biological innovations and environmental states to planetary-scale signatures facilitates an expanded reconstruction of biosignatures that may be detected or inferred across interstellar distances of observation. This project aims to connect the genotype of modern microbes with their phenotype through a multidisciplinary (evolutionary, synthetic and systems level) laboratory and computational approach.
There may or may not be financial assistance for this position. Applicant must be already authorized to legally work in the United States at the time of application. Unfortunately, no travel funding to/from Tuscon, AZ, can be provided.

Internship location: Madison, WI

Financial support may be available for interns who are authorized to legally work in the United States.
Background in molecular and cell biology, basic programming in any language, skills and experience with sterile laboratory techniques
Sanjoy Som
The information content of water: Machine learning on geochemical datasetsThis YSP 2022 project seeks a candidate interested in applying data analysis techniques to geochemical datasets using computer programming (python). In detail, the candidate will learn about self-organizing maps, an unsupervised machine learning technique used to produce a low-dimensional (typically two-dimensional) representation of a higher dimensional data set. The geochemical dataset will be the simulated water composition of several hundred water-rock reactions. To start, seawater reacting with ultramafic rocks will be our environment of interest. Does the resulting water composition carry information that can be used to deduce what the original rock composition was?Familiarity with Earth Sciences or intense curiosity to learn, strong analytical skills, familiarity with python or intense motivation to learn to program.