Summer 2021 Projects and Application


Applications are now closed for the summer 2021 Young Scientist Program


Announcements for the 2021 YSP selections will be announced starting 3 May. Due to the high number of applicants this year, it may take several days before all announcements are made.

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 a BMSIS mentor. 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 4-year university or a community college (or the equivalent), or recently have completed a 4-year 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 FAQ document.
  • At least 18 years of age
  • Able to dedicate at least 5 hrs 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 be required to allow a background check in order to obtain security clearance (e.g. if needed to obtain a badge at a NASA center or other on-site laboratory)
  • 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 Frequently Asked Questions document before sending an email to apply@bmsis.org. The FAQ document will be updated as needed during the application window.

Important Dates for the 2021 YSP

  • 1 March 2021 – Applications will be open by this date
  • 15 April 2021 – Applications close (applications will be accepted until 20:00 Pacific Daylight Time on the 15th)
  • 3 May 2021 – Decisions communicated to applicants
  • 1 June 2021 – YSP begins

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 “Special Skills” section of the project to be considered for the project
  • Complete the online BMSIS Young Scientist application form (the application for 2021 is now closed)
  • Please note: if applying to more than one project, you will still only submit one form. We will not accept more than one application form per applicant. If you have questions about the application form, please read the Frequently Asked Questions document before sending an email to apply@bmsis.org
  • Have two letters of recommendation sent to apply@bmsis.org
  • Note, inquiries from recommenders or in regard to letters of recommendation may also be sent to apply@bmsis.org, however we strongly recommend reading the FAQ document for answers to questions first. Also, please DO NOT send your letters to the email addresses of the scientists with whom you would like to work. If your letters are not received by apply@bmsis.org, then your application will be considered incomplete. Finally, please do not use links to OneDrive, GoogleDrive, Dropbox, or other storage systems in your emails. We will not retrieve letters from links in emails.

See below for a list of the projects that are available for summer 2021

BMSIS InvestigatorProject TitleDescriptionLocationSpecial Skills
Dr. Jihua Hao
null
jihua@bmsis.org
Photo-stability of nitrogen-bearing biomolecules in the primitive oceanNitrogen is a critical element to compose amino acids and nucleotides in life. The functioning of the N-bearing biomolecules relies heavily on the stability of amine group and nucleobases. It was proposed that these N-bearing organics could come from extraterrestrial delivery by meteorites/comets and/or abiotic synthesis through lightning, photo-irradiation, or hydrothermal alteration. However, accumulation of organics could be threatened by harsh UV-radiation on the ozone-free primitive Earth. This project aims to understand the photo-stability of N-bearing biomolecules under the simulated primitive ocean conditions. We will conduct UV-irradiation experiment with several selected N-bearing biomolecules, such as amino acids and nucleobases.

There may be financial assistance for this position, but the applicant must be able to visit USTC.
University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Chinachemistry lab skills; geochemistry/astrobiology, chemistry, and biochemistry courses; enthusiasm to learn and collaborate with other lab members.
Dr. Jihua Hao
null
jihua@bmsis.org
Abiotic synthesis of organic molecules in the subsurface ocean of EnceladusRecently, the NASA Cassini detected water plume in the polar regions of Enceladus, the moon of Saturn. It is a strong evidence of the existence of a subsurface ocean below the icy shell. More interestingly, there is also evidence of hydrogen gas and a variety of organic species in the plume. How did these organics originate? Is it possible to have abiotic synthesis of organics in the reducing Enceladus ocean water? This project aims to understand the chemical affinity of abiotic synthesis in the Enceladus ocean water. We will develop and conduct thermodynamic and kinetic simulations on abiotic synthesis reactions.

There is no financial assistance available for online work, but there may be financial assistance for this position if the applicant is able to visit USTC.
Online or University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, Chinaphysical chemistry and geochemistry/astrobiology/oceanography courses; programming skills are helpful but not necessary; enthusiasm to learn and collaborate with other lab members.
Dr. Betul Kacar
null
betul@bmsis.org
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.
Tuscon AZ, USA or OnlineBackground in molecular and cell biology, basic programming in any language, skills and experience with sterile laboratory techniques
Dr. Shiladitya DasSarma
null
shiladitya@bmsis.org
Evolution & Survival of Ancient Microbes - A Bioinformatic Approach
Extremely halophilic Archaea are models for astrobiology due to their ability to survive multiple extremes including high salinity, low water activity, ionizing and ultraviolet radiation, toxic chemicals like perchlorate, etc. These organisms have been hypothesized to be able to survive conditions near the surface of Mars. Our laboratory is researching their genetics, biochemistry, and genomics in order to be able to understand how they tolerate these extreme conditions using a combination of experimental and bioinformatic approaches. The main approach to be used by YSP students would be using bioinformatics via our online genomic database and gene analysis tools (https://halo.umbc.edu/haloed).

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
Online Interest and willingness to read the scientific literature in Astrobiology and Evolution
Background in the genetic code (available through online MolGen Tutor and Lecture)
Familiarity with evolutionary computation databases and tools (HaloWeb and NCBI)
NOTE: Student interest is most important, with experience to be gained through the YSP.
Dr. Milena Popovic
null
milena@bmsis.org
Interaction of iron-bearing minerals with RNA
Interactions between mineral surfaces and organic molecules are thought to have played key roles in the emergence of life. Mineral surfaces have been shown to adsorb, concentrate, protect, and oligomerize ribonucleic acids (RNA). But little is known about the sequence and structure dependence of RNA-mineral interactions. We will analyze data sets from high-throughput sequencing of RNA populations exposed to redox-active minerals.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
Online Some programming skills (Python or other computer languages). General knowledge of chemistry and biochemistry.
Dr. Cassie Juran
null
cassie@bmsis.org
Single Cell RNA sequencing of rlbone regeneration
Regeneration is the process by which tissue deficits are wholly replaced. In mammals, like humans, this ability is limited to select tissues including the liver, intestines and bone. Spaceflight stressors microgravity unloading and ionizing radiation have been shown to have negative effects on stem cell based regeneration. Our lab seeks a YSP intern to conduct an evaluation of a recently generated single-cell dataset of bone marrow stem cell osteogenesis (new bone formation), looking for molecular signaling mechanisms imperative for mechanoregulated regeneration. We seek an individual interested in working on this completely virtual project.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineSome experience with coding languages and/or bioinformatic investigation would be preferred.
Dr. Ken Williford
null
ken@bmsis.org
UI/UX design for citizen science platformWe are in the early stages of development for a citizen science platform that would enable analysis of planetary images for features of geologic and astrobiologic interest. Seeking an enthusiastic web platform designer with interest (and ideally some expertise) in geology.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineApplicants must have familiarity and demonstrated experience with data-driven web application design.
Dr. Jim Cleaves
null
hcleaves@bmsis.org
Constructing Global Abiological P and S Geochemical Cycling ModelsP and S are thought to be important elements for the origins of life and sustained planetary habitability, but their speciation and distribution in the primitive environment remain poorly constrained. We will use coupled geochemical modeling to build an extensive network of possible environmental chemical transformations of S and P containing species to attempt constrain and estimate their transport rates, steady-state concentrations and reservoir fates.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
Online or Washington DC, USAProgramming in Python and C++ and/or Fortran90. General familiarity with chemistry and Earth-systems processes would be helpful.
Dr. Jim Cleaves
null
hcleaves@bmsis.org

Dr. Chris Butch
null
chris@bmsis.org
In Silico Modeling of Network Autocatalysis to Understand the Origins of LifeWe will build a chemically complete in silico model of plausible prebiotic chemical reaction networks using automated computational methods. We hope this will enable detection of autocatalysis for understanding the origins of life, and assist in the interpretation of mass spectra from planetary materials and laboratory simulations.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
Online or Washington DC, USAProgramming skills in Python or other computer languages. General knowledge of chemistry and organic chemistry would also be helpful.
Dr. Rafael Loureiro
null
rafael@bmsis.org

Gina Misra
null
gina@bmsis.org
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 development.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineMust have strong reading comprehension for technical papers on plant biology, and an interest in the history of science.
Dr. Lev Horodyskyj
null
lev@bmsis.org
Gamification of scientific modelsThis project examines the development and use of scientific models in teaching and learning scenarios. As more classrooms become active learning classrooms, there is increasing demand for toy models that students can manipulate to understand concepts. Many scientific models, however, are highly complex and not amenable to teaching contexts. Student will investigate and simplify climate, ocean circulation, human migration, disease, economic, and/or governance models for use in a virtual world used in a nation-building and diplomacy class. Models developed will be tested for effectiveness over the summer through use in teaching settings.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineBasic familiarity with coding logic, programming skills. Good writing and research abilities. Familiarity with field from which models will be investigated and simplified.
Dr. Lev Horodyskyj
null
lev@bmsis.org
Development of tools for determining student competencies in science classroomsThis project will focus on identifying student competencies on various topics using big data analytics in various science classrooms. Students will work with analytical data from astrobiology, astronomy, and physics courses from multiple universities, help develop research methodologies, and assist in coding and classifying learners’ written work for analysis. Students may also develop learner models and investigate them for how well they predict student behaviors and outcomes.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineBasic familiarity with mixed-methods (quantitative and qualitative data), comfort with statistical analyses. Basic familiarity with computer programming and/or machine learning is an advantage.
Dr. Lev Horodyskyj
null
lev@bmsis.org
Assessing communication and response to uncertain info within a role-playing simulationThis project examines how participants communicate within and between groups as they resolve collective problems in a diplomatic role-playing simulation and how these behaviors change when actionable information is uncertain. We have piloted the simulation with uncertain vs certain scenarios across three cohorts and collected data on participant characteristics, post-scenario observations, and rationale; and network maps of inter- and intra-team communication. The student researcher would help us refine assessment tools based on pilot data and a literature review of current game theory research. The revised tools would be deployed in a fourth cohort run in the summer. The student researcher can also contribute to proposed conference and journal submissions related to the project.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineSophomore or higher academic standing. Good writing and research abilities. Experience in communications network mapping (e.g., Kumu, Compass) is an advantage.
Dr. Anamaria Berea
null
anamaria@bmsis.org
Communication in Complex Living Systems: From Information and Computation to Biology and SociologyIn this project we look at the fundamentals of communication and information exchange from cells to animals to humans and artificial systems such as AI. We try to understand what is the role of communication for collective behavior in species and for the adaptation and selection of species in general. We will use information theory, agent-based modeling and natural language processing to analyze datasets such as dolphin languages or DNA signals.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlinePython or R, mathematics, background in complex systems
Dr. Tony Jia
null
tonyjia@bmsis.org

Dr. Graham Lau
null
grahamlau@bmsis.org
Applying Novel Technologies from Physical and Biological Sciences to Life Detection One of space exploration’s main goals is to unambiguously detect past or extant life outside of Earth. As such, a number of so-called Life Detection Technologies have been applied to instruments as part of past, current, and future space missions. As astrobiology is a truly interdisciplinary field, under the realms of space exploration, with major contributions from physical and biological sciences (among others), recently there have been development of a number of relevant techniques from such scientific fields that have yet to be fully applied to life detection. In collaboration with external researchers (Drs. Chaitanya Giri and Aishwarya Paknikar, Dawon Advisory & Intelligence), this project will see the student perform literature searches in various physical and biological sciences fields (including, but not limited to, chemistry, materials science, biology, medical science, and more) to catalog, review, and present potential novel life detection technologies from these fields as a means to inform future Life Detection missions.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineIntro chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, and/or planetary science courses. Experience with scientific literature searches and reviews. Interest and enthusiasm for learning about new technologies and techniques!
Dr. Graham Lau
null
grahamlau@bmsis.org
An Internship with the Center for Life Detection ScienceDetecting true signs of extraterrestrial life will be based on our understanding of what life is and how it interacts with the environment. The Center for Life Detection (CLD), managed by NASA Ames, is working to develop an online repository of our knowledge in the realm of life detection by classifying and analyzing potential biosignatures in a structure known as the Knowledge Base. Research Associates with the YSP who work on this project will have the opportunity to contribute to the Knowledge Base, and will also be asked to join in with other activities through the CLD and the larger organization known as the Network for Life Detection (NfoLD). Multiple positions are available, specifically within the content areas of biominerals and geochemistry as well as cellular structure and morphology. There also is an opportunity to work with Dr. Lau and with Dr. Andrew Pohorille of NASA Ames on a programming project to create a specific module for the Knowledge Base.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineCapable of reading and critically understanding scientific literature. A general background in geology, chemistry, or biology is required, while a more specific background in biomineralization, geochemistry, and/or cellular morphologies is helpful but not mandatory. For the programming project, a background in programming in any language will be required.
Dr. Graham Lau
null
grahamlau@bmsis.org

Optional co-mentorship through NMT and NCKRI
null
null
(students of New Mexico Tech can apply for this separately)
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.

Financial assistance is only available for this position for students applying through NMT.
OnlineGood 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.

NMT students can contact Dr. Daniel Jones (daniel.s.jones@nmt.edu) for further inquiries.
Dr. Dimitra Atri
null
dimitra@bmsis.org
Radiation and its effects on astronaut health in long-term space missionsAstronauts are exposed to an increased amount of radiation during long-term space missions in outer space. I have a number of projects where students will compute radiation doses using simple tools to understand and estimate the effects of long-term radiation exposure on astronaut health. We will focus on the Low Earth Orbit, transit to Mars, and radiation exposure on the Martian surface. Multiple positions available.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineBasic programming knowledge in any language. Background in either one or more of the following -- physics, biology, medicine, aerospace engineering or related disciplines
Dr. Dimitra Atri
null
dimitra@bmsis.org
Microbial life in the Solar system and beyondWe will explore a number of solar system objects and assess their suitability for microbial life. We will estimate the likelihood of finding life in the Solar system and beyond.OnlineBackground in one of the following -- biology, chemistry, geology
Dr. Dimitra Atri
null
dimitra@bmsis.org
Life as we don't know itWe will study the basic mechanisms through which life powers its metabolism. We will suggest alternate mechanisms using which life could sustain itself in extraterrestrial environments and device detection strategies.OnlineBackground in one of the following -- physics, biology, chemistry, geology
Dr. Dimitra Atri
null
dimitra@bmsis.org
Martian subsurface habitabilityMartian surface is bombarded with high levels of radiation, but the shallow subsurface is protected and potentially more suitable for life. We will explore this region of Mars and prepare for the upcoming ExoMars mission capable of drilling 2 meters below the surface.OnlineBackground in one of the following -- biology, chemistry, geology
Dr. Sanjoy Som
null
sanjoy@bmsis.org
Geochemical investigation of Lake Salda, Turkey, with application to Jezero crater, MarsIn collaboration with Serhat Sevgen of Middle East Technical University, this project will examine computationally the aqueous geochemistry of Lake Salda, Turkey. Lake Salda is considered a modern analog to the lake that used to exist in Jezero crater, Mars. Lake Salda sits on peridotite rocks, and the reaction of water and peridotite is known to generate hydrogen, a fundamental source of energy for biology. We seek to draw parallels between the geology of Lake Salda and Jezero crater to investigate the depositional history of Jezero crater and make inferences about the plausible habitability of the now extinct lake.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineFamiliarity with introductory geology, Linux, and programming with python a plus, but not a requirement. In addition to dedicated Linux computers, Linux is freely available on Windows 10 computers.
Dr. Sanjoy Som
null
sanjoy@bmsis.org
Carbon budget estimation of a real companyThis project will help design processes and tools to measure the carbon budget of our non-profit. Help us become a greener company by assessing our footprint and help shape our policies!

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineThis project is designed around applicants interested in organizational sustainability, carbon mitigation, and data analysis.
Dr. Sanjoy Som
null
sanjoy@bmsis.org

Crystal Riley
null
crystal@bmsis.org
Webform development for programming enthusiastsThis project will be a programming project designed to help modernize parts of the IT infrastructure of Blue Marble Space. The main task will be to translate existing JSON files into modern web forms. Help make our non-profit more efficient!OnlineApplicants must have familiarity with either Javascript or Typescript.