Summer 2020 Projects and Application


Applications for the 2020 Online Young Scientist Program will be open from March 1 to April 15.

BMSIS provides opportunities for college students and recent grads to participate as Young Scientists with our institute, providing opportunities to participate in basic research and learn about science communication. Young Scientists conduct supervised research under direct supervision by a BMSIS mentor. The Young Scientist may work on-site or remotely, depending on the needs of the project, mentor, and Young Scientist. Funding is available for some projects (see the list below) but not all. Young Scientist positions will last nominally a maximum of three months. Funded positions may last longer.

BMSIS Young Scientists 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. BMSIS Young Scientists 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 their mentors. Young Scientists also will attend monthly BMSIS seminars and may have other opportunities to participate in BMSIS activities.

Upon successful completion of the Young Scientist Program and required modules, BMSIS Young Scientists 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 on a rolling basis with limited available positions, so interested applicants are encouraged to apply or contact us for more information.

Eligibility

  • Currently seeking a degree at a 4-year university or a community college, or recently have completed a 4-year degree and currently considering graduate school (note: we cannot currently accept graduate students).
  • 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
  • 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)
  • May not be a current US government employee or a civil servant
  • BMS cannot sponsor travel or work visas to the United States

Important Dates for the 2020 YSP

  • March 1, 2020 – Applications open
  • April 15, 2020 – Applications close
  • May 1, 2020 – Decisions communicated to applicants
  • June 1, 2020 – YSP begins
  • September 30, 2020 – 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.
  • Satisfy any eligibility requirements specified by the BMS YSP and the “Special Skills” section of the project to be considered for the project
  • Complete the online BMSIS Young Scientist application form
  • Have two letters of recommendation sent to apply@bmsis.org
BMSIS InvestigatorProject TitleDescriptionLocationSpecial Skills
Dr. Tony Jia
null
tonyjia@bmsis.org

Dr. Jim Cleaves
null
hcleaves@bmsis.org
Stability and Function of Polyester Microdroplets as Primitive Compartments All living systems are made of cells, yet how such cells first emerged and evolved still remains a mystery, which has led many researchers to consider how the first cells and Compartments on Earth emerged. We have recently discovered a Polyester-based system (originally from prebiotically relevant building blocks) which allows the assembly of membraneless microdroplets compartments, which have been shown to be able to hold and segregate small molecules and biomolecules. In the project, we seek to further characterize Polyester microdroplets in the context of primitive compartments by studying the stability of the compartments to changing geological conditions as well as whether such compartments had functions that could lead to the assembly or emergence of early biochemistries. The applicant must be interested to learn basic biochemical assays and fluorescence/light microscopy.

There may or may not be financial assistance for this position, including relocation costs. Applicant must either be from a country eligible for visa-free entry into Japan, or be able to obtain a visa to Japan and enter before June 1.
Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo, JapanIntro chemistry laboratory. Chemistry and biochemistry courses. Experience with microscopy and intro biochemistry laboratory is a plus, but not necessary. Enthusiasm for research and to learn new techniques!
Dr. Jim Cleaves
null
hcleaves@bmsis.org
Planetary Nitrogen CyclingWe will use machine learning to build an exhaustive network of possible atmospheric chemical reactions and estimate their rates. This study will help constrain the types of planet-scale atmospheric chemical processes that might have contributed to the origins of life, and assist in the detection of planet-scale biosignatures on exoplanets.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
Online, Washington, DC, or it may be possible for the person selected to relocate on a paid or unpaid basis to Japan for the summer if desired.Programming 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
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.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
Online or Washington, DCProgramming 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, Nanjing, China or Washington, DC, USAProgramming skills in Python or other computer languages. General knowledge of chemistry and organic chemistry would also be helpful.
Dr. Chris Butch
null
chris@bmsis.org
Chemo-informatic Analysis of Self Assembly Potential of the Prebiotic Chemical InventoryThe ability to assemble into self complementary structures is a key characteristic of proteins, nucleic acids, and carbohydrates, the three major classes of structural biopolymers. We will analyze a representative database of prebiotic molecules for the molecular characteristics necessary for self assembly to understand the relative abundance of capable structures in the prebiotic milieu.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
Online, or Nanjing, China Programming skills in Python or other computer languages. General knowledge of chemistry and organic chemistry
Dr. Anamaria Berea
null
anamaria@bmsis.org
Understanding the Limits of Life in the Universe Using Evolutionary Game Theory and Agent-Based SimulationsComputer simulations and complex systems paradigms can help us understand fundamental limits and constraints to the evolution of life, such as the interplay between competition and cooperation with respect to resources (i.e., energy or information). In this project, we explore the insights from evolutionary game theory and other fundamental economic laws (i.e., cost-benefit) in a specific class of computer simulations named agent-based models, where we develop and explore scenarios of extinction and sustainability in populations of simple artificial organisms. We inform these models with experimental data, but the aim is to extend them beyond our current understanding of the collective behavior of life on Earth.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineSome computer programming (R or NetLogo or Python); some complex
systems or information theory; some economics or
social sciences; mathematics
Dr. Milena Popovic
null
milena@bmsis.org
Functional potential of biomolecular complexesBottom-up approaches of the origin of life investigations broadly interrogate the functional potential of biomolecular systems. We want to construct a number of complex biomolecular systems and investigate the emergence of life-like properties. The successful candidate will perform in vitro evolution, biochemical and biophysical assays.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position. Travel funding to/from San Francisco, CA is not provided.
San Francisco Bay Area (NASA Ames)Completed General Chemistry and Biochemistry (ideally, but not required) courses and labs. Skilled in biochemistry lab techniques.
Dr. Milena Popovic
null
milena@bmsis.org
Interaction of iron-bearing minerals with RNAInteractions between mineral surfaces and organic molecules are thought to have played key roles in the emergence of life. Iron-bearing mineral surfaces catalyze a variety of chemical reactions. Bioinorganic structures essential to metabolism in modern biology bear a striking resemblance to some of these iron minerals. Mineral surfaces have also been shown to adsorb, concentrate, protect, and oligomerize ribonucleic acids (RNA). However, little is known about the sequence and structure dependence of RNA-mineral binding. In order to test the sequence and structural dependence of RNA binding to iron-bearing minerals, we performed in vitro selection experiments involving RNA oligomers of 20 nucleotides in length and fully randomized sequence in the presence of redox-active minerals. The selected populations were sequenced using high-throughput sequencing. The student researcher will be involved in the bioinformatics analysis of the sequenced populations.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position. Travel funding to/from San Francisco, CA is not provided.
San Francisco Bay Area (NASA Ames)Completed General Chemistry and Biochemistry courses (ideally, but not required).
Dr. Andro Rios
null
andro@bmsis.org

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, does, leaves behind, and importantly, what to look for when it doesn’t look like us. Our ability to recognize signs of life will mature with advances in science and this information should be readily accessible to the global community. The accessibility of this state of knowledge is one of the reasons for the recent establishment of the Center for Life Detection Science managed by NASA Ames. The Center is still in its development stages and thus presents a unique opportunity for the intern. The intern will get to participate behind the scenes with scientists working to develop on-line components that will be at the heart of the Center. Such tasks and research will include helping populate a critical web-based tool called the Knowledge Base that will aim to contain scientific information behind the most promising biosignatures that will be used for future missions in the search for life. All science and science education majors with a strong interest in using their knowledge for astrobiology topics are encouraged to apply. Multiple positions available.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineSophomore or higher standing in any major of science
Dr. Graham Lau
null
grahamlau@bmsis.org
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 Young Scientists who work on this project will develop these skills while writing about science by creating short jargon-free pieces for the BMSIS website as well as for other potential online publications. Accepted individuals will also receive training in the use of social media for science communication and will lead a month-long science-themed social media campaign during the summer of 2020 using the Blue Marble Space social media accounts.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
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.
Dr. Sara Walker
null
saraimari@bmsis.org
The Search for TechnosignaturesThe search for technosignatures in the atmospheres of exoplanets provides a promising target for developing new techniques for the search for life beyond Earth. Most exoplanet atmospheric biosignatures that can be detected by current instruments have some degree of ambiguity and variance in interpretation. Our group is developing new statistical methods, apply network theory and complex systems science, to the characterization of exoplanet atmospheres, their disquilibria, and whether or not they exhibit signatures of life. This project will extend this approach specifically to the role of complex or technologically produced molecules in driving statistical properties of planetary atmospheres. The goal is to develop new frameworks for robustly concluding the presence of intelligent life on another world.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
Arizona State UniversityExperience with mathematics, programming, or complex systems
Dr. Afshin Khan
null
afshin@bmsis.org

Dr. Parag Vaishampayan
null
parag@bmsis.org
Development of Biocontrol approaches for growing plants in ISS and future human habitatsGrowing and maintaining healthy plants under stressful conditions of the International Space Station (ISS) and future human habitats is a significant challenge. This project aims to review the current work done towards growing plants in the extraterrestrial environment (International Space Station and simulated regolith) and identify potential technological knowledge gaps.

The overall objective of this project is to propose a plant microbiome system using bio-control and growth-promoting agents to grow healthy and pathogens-free plants in ISS and future human habitats.
Students will perform an extensive and thorough assessment of published literature on plant-associated microbes (phytomicrobiome). We will identify potential new microbial biocontrol agents, not studied yet, using the whole genome sequence data.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlinePrior research experience in biosciences. Some bioinformatics experience is an advantage. Must have access to a University research network. Must have the enthusiasm to explore, learn, and communicate.
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
Dr. Sanjoy Som
null
sanjoy@bmsis.org
Biologically relevant chemistry from brines reacting with rockThis project will investigate computationally the process of serpentinization with brines. Serpentinization is the process of water reacting with rocks that are rich in the mineral olivine (peridotites) and is thus not limited to terrestrial occurrences. Serpentine has been discovered on Mars and is likely a process occurring on Saturn's moon Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa. With NASA's renewed interest in these Ocean Worlds for astrobiology, we will be using chemical energy released by the reaction of water and rock to investigate the potential habitability of these moons.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineFamiliarity with introductory
geology and with the Unix terminal and programming with python a plus,
but not a requirement. The Unix terminal is freely available on
Windows 10, Mac OS and Linux operating systems.
Dr. Sanjoy Som
null
sanjoy@bmsis.org
Carbon budget estimation of a real companyThis project will continue existing efforts at Blue Marble Space to
quantify its carbon footprint.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlineTasks will require data collection, web
form development, carbon production estimates and web display
development.
Dr. Jacob Haqq-Misra
null
jacob@bmsis.org
Approaches to sovereignty in the human settlement of MarsThis project will systematically examine policy solutions for Mars settlement that draw upon historical precedent on Earth while remaining consistent with international agreements that apply to space. This work will support the preparation of a scholarly book about the space settlement of Mars currently being written by Dr. Haqq-Misra. The student will also be encouraged to develop a standalone written report suitable for publication in a journal or news outlet.

Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
OnlinePolitical science/history/policy major with an interest in space, or astronomy/planetary science major with an interest in policy.

Good writing skills, strong reading comprehension, online and library research abilities, self-directed learner.