REU Projects 2011

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Among the many dynamic, ongoing projects at the SETI Institute, I present this list of the REU projects (Research Experience for Undergraduates) for the summer 2011. Check this page for group photos and updates.

Interns

Bjorn Mellem

Bjorn Mellem

School: St. Olaf College (Minnesota)

Mentor: Dr. Adrian Brown

Project: Bjorn is currently writing a program that transforms data from the Global Climate Model of Mars into images. The objective is to simplify the process of reviewing the data with maps of the north pole of Mars. Specifically, they are reviewing the asymmetrical disappearance of carbon dioxide around the north pole.

Sam Bonin

Sam Bonin

School: University of New Mexico

Mentor: Dr. William Barott

Project: Sam is using data from the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) to study variability in astrophysical MASERs. The acronym stands for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Maser emission is observed in several different astrophysical sources, such as the envelopes surrounding evolved stars, molecular clouds (star-forming regions), supernova remnants, and active galactic nuclei (AGN), to list a few.

Tracy Mandel

Tracy Mandel

School: Cornell (New York)

Mentor: Dr. Lori Fenton

Project: Tracy is studying how albedo- the ratio of surface reflected radiation to the incident radiation- is affected by dust storms on the surface of Mars. Using data from the Mars Global Surveyor taken in 2001, Tracy is modeling a before and after comparison of the albedo on Mars following a giant dust storm.

Shannon Hicks

Shannon Hicks

School: SUNY Stony Brook (New York)

Mentors: Robert French and Dr. Mark Showalter

Project: Shannon uses Cassini images of Saturn's rings to create radial profiles of the "F" ring, the outermost discrete ring. It is unique because it exhibits an inhomogeneity that is not well understood.

Wyatt Meldman-Floch

Wyatt Meldman-Floch

School: College of William and Mary (Virginia)

Mentors: Dr. Laurance Doyle and Dr. Robert Slawson

Project: Wyatt is currently using data from the Kepler project of eclipsing binary stars, and condensing them into user-friendly charts and graphs. A binary system indirectly reveals tons of information about the primary star and its companion, including mass, density, and radius.

Oana Coman

Oana Coman

School: University of Maryland

Mentor: Dr. Cynthia Phillips

Project: Oana is studying Io, the innermost of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter. She is looking for geological changes- specifically volcanic activity- on the moon's surface between the time frame of the Galileo and New Horizons surveys.

Meridel Phillips

Meridel Phillips

School: University of Rochester (New York)

Mentor: Dr. Peter Jenniskens

Project: Meridel is working on the CAMS project. Four cameras are placed at different locations in Northern California. She cross-references the data from these cameras with meteor shower databases to in hopes of confirming existing showers or even discovering new ones. Within a month of working, Meridel helped to confirm the April Rho Cygnids meteor shower!

Ross Cawthon

Ross Cawthon

School: Carleton College (Minnesota)

Mentor: Dr. Jean Chiar

Project: Ross is looking at data of the Pipe Nebula from the European Southern Observatory. Analyzing the spectra of stars behind the dust cloud and isolating the absorption lines, Ross maps out the cloud's composition and tries to determine the potential of planet formation.

Nicolas Chastrette

Nicolas Chastrette

School: University Paris Diderof Paris 7 (France- I apologize about the poor English translation)

Mentor: Dr. Cristina Dalle Ore

Project: Nick is using data from the Cassini survey to create a mosaic of Mimas, the smallest and innermost of Saturn's major moons. He is mapping the distribution of material on the surface and comparing it to known spectra.

Josh Fixelle

Joshua Fixelle

School: Penn State

Mentor: Dr. Gerry Harp

Project: Josh is working with data from the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) and is responsible for novel observations and results that are used to aid telescope sensitivity and new observing techniques.

Jennifer Cooper

Jennifer Cooper

School: Cornell (New York)

Mentor: Dr. Cristina Dalle Ore

Project: Jennifer uses Spitzer spectroscopy to attempt to make new classifications of Trans-Neptunian Objects. (TNOs) She codes and clusters these objects in IDL in an effort to make a more comprehensive map of these objects.

Conroy Baltzell

Conroy Baltzell

School: Carnegie Mellon (Pennsylvania)

Mentor: Dr. Friedemann Freund

Project: Conroy is studying a database from the USGS (United States Geological Survey) of earthquakes- location, time, depth, and magnitude- to determine if a strong correlation exists between the earthquakes and the spikes in the ionosphere of the earth's atmosphere.

Laura Hosmer

Laura Hosmer

School: University of Missouri

Mentor: Dr. Cristina Dalle Ore

Project: Laura is using VIMS (Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectroscopy) data from the Cassini survey. She creates mosaics of various satellites of Saturn from the spectroscopic data cubes of VIMS, and analyzes them for remote chemical composition of the satellites.

Roger Shek

Roger Shek

School: University of Hawaii

Mentor: Dr. Richard Quinn

Project: Roger is using a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer and looking at samples of perchlorates- the salts derived from perchloric acid.

Jennifer Minteer

Jennifer Minteer

School: Harrisburg University of Science and Technology

Mentor: Dr. Mohiuddin Kabir

Project: Jennifer is aiding the development of a protein-base bio sensor to go on a planetary rover. The advantage of this sensor is that is does not affect the material, but detects changes in it. When a protein binds an analyte, the protein changes in a way that is spectroscopically detectable, and in some cases, displays a signal that can be linked to biological conditions. This sensor is designed to detect these signatures.

Christina Allen

Christina Allen

School: University of Mary (North Dakota)

Mentor: Dr. Oana Marcu

Project: Christina is studying microbes from Chile's Atacama desert- one of the driest and harshest environments on the planet. She is subjecting these samples to extreme humidity and temperature changes in order to study the tools these microbes have and use to survive in their environment. If these organisms can survive in the Atacama desert, maybe similar organisms could survive in the extreme environment of another planet.

Summer Fun

Work is not the only thing these interns are up to. Living in the Mountain View area allows for quite a few extracurricular activities like traveling to San Francisco or Santa Cruz. The interns were also allowed one night of observing on the 1-meter Nickel Reflector telescope at Lick Observatory. While living at NASA AMES Research Center, the interns chose to participate in everything from volleyball tournaments in San Francisco to the NASA summer softball league. This is open to NASA employees as well as interns, and games are hosted at the baseball field at the AMES Research center. There are less-organized activities that the interns join. In anticipation of the last Harry Potter film release on Friday, July 15, many in the group have overtaken the projection screen at SETI Institute and re-watched a few of the most recent Harry Potter films. Yes: many of the interns are Harry Potter fans. Who knew?

Ross and Shannon warm-up before the summer league softball game.
Shannon and Ross meet in the dugout before the game.


Ross in action.
SETI interns take a day trip to the Santa Cruz boardwalk.


SETI interns help themselves to pizza before screening Harry Potter 5.
SETI interns gather for the Friday showing of Harry Potter.


SETI interns reflect on life in the universe, and whether the next snack should be funnel cake.
SETI interns Ross and Josh pose at the Academy of Sciences.


SETI interns do the tourist thing on Fisherman's Wharf.
REU interns hang on the beach in San Francisco.


SETI interns wait for the sun to set to observe at Lick Observatory.
Toasting the Fourth of July, fireworks, and some good fun.


Interns Meridel and Shannon pull an all-nighter to observe the occultaion of the binary asteroid Antiope.
Meridel points to Antiope on the sky.


Bjorn tries his hand on a custom-built organ.
Meridel takes a turn on the massive organ.


The interns listen to an ocean habitat lecture from Don- an environmental activist and salmon conservation enthusiast.
SETI interns pay close attention to Don's watershed conservation talk.


There can be only one! Christina looks defiantly upon fellow climbers who failed to reach the summit before her.
Shannon and Meridel pose for a beautiful beach photo- seconds before getting doused by the incoming tide.


SETI interns watch the waters to spot the elephant seals off the coast on Pigeon Point.
Adventurous hikers take a snack break during the 13-mile trek through Big Basin Redwood forest.


Fascinated interns listen to a geology lecture of coastal erosion and sediment deposits.
A group of "volunteers" awkwardly demonstrate the resilience of the root structure of the redwood forest.


SETI interns experience vertigo looking up the long trunks of the redwood trees.
Conroy attempts to dislodge a key to the tent cabin that inexplicably ended up in a tree.


A few interns pass the time while waiting for the vans to take them to the great redwood forest.
Tracy interrupts her song and hungrily eyes the vegan chocolate that just came off the fire.


Tracy and Oana mingle with other REU program participants at the BASURE conference.
Jen and Christina present a joint talk on their biology research at the BASURE conference.


SETI interns pose with other REU students at the BASURE conference.
A few nervous nellies take turns practicing before giving their two-minute public talks, and wonder what Bjorn's pointing to on the wall.


Sam hangs out at the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, Ca.
Jen Minteer demonstrates a part of the optical illusion at the Mystery Spot.


4 out of 5 interns found the lounging sea lions fascinating. Conroy however took more interest in a passing seagull.
The interns explore the beautiful secrets of the beach off Highway 1.


The interns relax at Pigeon Point after a long day of exploring the California coast.


During their free time, the 17 SETI interns explore the surrounding areas of Mountain View and northern California. From day trips to weekend ventures, the interns find ways to scratch the traveling itch.

The newest photos to join the growing collection were taken at Big Basin State Park- a redwood forest just east of Santa Cruz. The field trip spanned Monday, July 25 to Thursday, July 28. The coastal photos came from the day trips up and down Highway 1- a scenic road that runs along a majority of the coastline in California. Interns camped in the state park and listened to lectures from park docents, geologists, naturalists, and environmental activists. They explore the vibrant and dynamic environment of the California coast. And as always, shenanigans ensue.

Monday August 1, Jen and Christina presented their bio projects at the BASURE conference, a day-long symposium for biology REU programs. Six different programs were represented at the conference, and this was SETI's first invitation.

Wednesday, August 10, the SETI interns gave very successful two-minute review talks of their respective projects to a curious public. Of course, a few of us were nervous about public speaking, so we took some time beforehand to practice.

Over the last weekend the interns had in California, the majority headed for the beach and the board walk of Santa Cruz. Some watched sea lions, hung out on Panther Beach, or went to the Mystery Spot.

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