The Carnegie Earth and Planets Laboratory (EPL) Summer Undergraduate Research Internship is a full-time, paid 10-week research internship and professional development program based on the EPL campus in Washington, DC.
EPL is a division of the Carnegie Institution for Science, a non-profit, non-degree-granting research institution where people conduct cutting-edge investigations about Earth and its place in our Universe. Our internship offers authentic, collaborative scientific research experiences across the range of disciplines pursued on our campus—including astronomy, geochemistry, geophysics, material science, and planetary science—for a diverse cohort of 6-8 undergraduate students from local colleges and universities.
We anticipate information about our 2023 program to be posted by December 2022. If you are interested in applying, please check back then. If you have specific questions at this point that are not answered in our FAQ, please contact Dr. Dionysis Fouatoukos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer interns will participate in a professional development program covering important topics and skills like scientific programming, presenting at conferences, effective science communication, building a positive identity as a scientist, and career opportunities in STEM (including applying to graduate school). Summer interns will also have the opportunity to join in departmental intellectual activities, including reading groups and seminars where they will interact with our interdisciplinary group of researchers and in the social and cultural activities of the department and the vibrant city in which we are situated.
The entire program is grounded in best practices of mentoring and is intended to provide inclusive and flexible support to interns during the summer and in their future careers.
If you have questions about our program, please read the FAQ below. Any further questions can be directed to the program director, Dr. Dionysis Fouatoukos (email@example.com.) You can read more about former EPL interns here.
Summer 2022 Projects
Description: What are the compositions of rocky exoplanets? To try to measure the composition of exoplanetary systems, we can look at dust created when small bodies (exo-comets, exo-asteroids) around other stars collide and/or evaporate. We will measure the amounts of silicates, carbon molecules, and ices in disks by applying new models of how dust grains emit and scatter light to data collected from ground and space telescopes. The work will require learning some python programming, plotting, and statistics as well as astronomy. It should result in work that can be presented at a conference and included in a publication.
Description: We will investigate alteration processes affecting the isotopic and elemental composition of water and insoluble organic matter (IOM) in meteorites.A series of hydrothermal experiments will be conducted to study the IOM's chemical and structural modifications during interaction with aqueous solutions of varying pH at temperatures ranging from 150 - 450 oC. We will analyze the H, C, N, and O elemental and isotopic composition of the altered organic matter to understand how the elemental/isotopic composition and structure of IOM in chondrites was modified by metamorphism and aqueous alteration in the chondrite parent bodies.
Subfield: Cosmochemistry & Geochemistry
Description: How do scientists characterize the composition of planetary materials? We use a wide variety of analytical capabilities including scanning electron microscopy (SEM), focused ion beam microscopy (FIB), electron microprobe analysis (EMPA), inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), thermal ionization mass spectrometry (TIMS), secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS, Nano-SIMS), and ion exchange chromatography. During this internship, you will learn how to use each of the above listed capabilities in order to fully characterize a geological sample and a meteorite. You will learn the techniques for preparing samples for each analysis tool, how to accurately measure your sample with the instrument, and how to analyze the data you collect from each instrument. You will learn and use python programming to allow you to plot and analyze your data. You will then present your findings in a poster session. At the end of the internship, you will be able to determine which instruments are best suited for each type of analysis, and how the data from these instruments can help us answer fundamental questions about the formation of the Earth and other solar system bodies.
This project requires in-person participation. The ideal candidate will have completed one year of college-level chemistry (can include geochemistry) or physics.
- Sample Preparation: cutting, powdering, epoxy mounting, polishing, and coating of samples
- Ion Exchange Chromatography: chemical purification of specific elements for analysis
- Python Programming: data analysis and visualization
- Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM): Micro-to-nanoscale electron imaging
- Energy Dispersive X-Ray Spectroscopy (EDS): Chemical information
- Focused Ion Beam Microscopy (FIB): Micro-to-nanoscale ion beam milling and imaging
- Electron Microprobe Analysis (EMPA): Trace element chemical information
- Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS): Element concentration, isotopes
- Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometry (TIMS): Isotopic information
- Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS): In-situ elemental and isotopic analysis
Mentor: Shaunna Morrison
Subfield: Planetary Science, Meteorites, Data Management, Data Science
Description: Chondritic meteorites are the most primitive materials available – offering the
opportunity to explore the very early stages of the solar system formation and evolution. Meteorite classification is evolving with new meteorite discoveries, analyses, and our understanding of relationships between materials. The major classification of chondrites consists of 3 levels of hierarchy – class, clan, and group. These units are based on chemical composition, such as major chemistry and isotopes variation (primarily oxygen), mineral composition, and modal abundance, as well as textural features. These attributes reveal the genesis of meteorites, including their parent bodies and the conditions of different regions of the early solar system. Although more than 50,000 chondrites have been discovered and identified, there are still 91 meteorites classified as “ungrouped chondrites”1.These chondrites have anomalies in their attributes such that they don’t immediately fit into one of the established groups. Likely, they represent other parent bodies of ordinary or less ordinary chondrites or source regions of the primordial solar nebula. Some of them are unique samples, while others show some similarities to each other and/or to established groups of chondrites.
The Carnegie internship will provide an opportunity to explore the uniqueness of these meteorites by using data science techniques, primarily cluster analysis, and to examine their relationships amongst one another and with the existing classification scheme.
The intern will have the opportunity to:
- Gain a basic understanding of chondritic material and their classification.
- Learn practical skills in collecting, cleaning, and compiling chemical, mineralogical, and textural data.
- Considering that most of the similarities of meteorites and their group\class\clan are based on relationships of 2-3 elements\isotopes, this project will employ more variables and advanced analytical techniques to provide a more robust understanding of the relationships between these ungrouped samples and the classified chondrites.
- The intern will work with the 4D Initiative group (Morrison, Hazen, Ostroverkhova, and Prabhu) to use basic programming skills for visualization and analysis of collected data.
Data science techniques are still very new tools for Earth and Planetary Science. The uniqueness and multivariate nature of this approach will allow the intern to present results at a conference, such as LPSC, Meteoritical Society Conference, and other professional meetings. Furthermore, this work will likely contribute to two larger projects that will result in peer- reviewed publications: (1) the presentation and description of new collected, augmented, and compiled chondritic meteorite dataset; (2) an exhaustive data-driven examination the classification and relationships of all chondritic meteorites.
1Meteoritical Bulletin Database, accessed November 27, 2021
Description: We will investigate the kinetic isotope fractionations of N and H associated with the chemolithoautotrophic metabolism of a novel piezophilic deep-sea bacterium. During the course of the internship, we will analyze the H, C, and N chemical and isotope composition of microbial biomass towards understanding the kinetics of microbially-mediated isotope fractionations for growth induced by isotope labelled (D, 15N, 13C) substrates.
Subfield: Geophysics; Mineral physics; Condensed matter physics
Description: Earth’s core is a massive ball of metal located 3000 km beneath our feet. We want to better understand the way heat and material move inside Earth’s core and how it affects the other layers (mantle, crust, even ionosphere). For example, Earth has a powerful magnetic field that shields life at the surface from harmful radiation, yet we still do not really understand how or when it formed, largely because basic facts about Earth’s core remain highly uncertain, including its temperature.
The best way to infer the temperature of Earth's core relies on a simple idea. The liquid outer core, which is mostly iron, freezes onto the solid inner core as the Earth cools, meaning the temperature at the liquid-solid interface is the freezing temperature, or equivalently the melting temperature, of the mostly iron liquid material. Hence, the starting point for understanding the core’s temperature is to accurately determine the melting temperature of iron when subjected to the enormous pressure that exists at the inner core-outer core boundary: 3.3 million atmospheres.
For decades, experimentalists have been trying to improve the accuracy of measurements of the melting temperatures of iron and its alloys at pressures up to 3.3 million atmospheres. We contribute to this effort with a new technique in which we send short pulses of electricity through extremely thin strips of metal and watch how the metal's surface lights up as its temperature rises to thousands of kelvin. The temperature plateaus due to the absorption of latent when the metal melts, providing us a criterion to identify melting. We think this melting criterion will be revolutionary for our field. However, we have lots of work to do to show that the technique we use is reproducible, general, precise, and accurate.
We seek a student researcher to help us answer several related questions about melting plateaus during pulsed heating experiments. (1) When a measured plateau has a gentle slope in plots of temperature-vs-time, which location on the slope is the melting temperature of the metal? (2) How reproducible, precise, and accurate are measurements of melting temperature for platinum, tungsten, and other elemental metals at ambient pressure? (3) What can we infer from melting plateaus of binary alloys (e.g. tungsten-rhenium)? (4) How can we improve the accuracy of melting temperature measurements using the plateau method, or variations on the plateau method?
A typical week will likely involve ~1 day to read scientific publications and online databases to determine which samples to melt, ~0.5 days to prepare the samples, ~0.5 days to melt the samples while collecting electrical and optical data, and ~3 days to analyze the data.The student will gain python coding skills, data analysis skills, and laboratory skills in electronics and optics (e.g. soldering, debugging electrical circuits with multimeters and oscilloscopes, aligning optics).
The expected outcome of this project is (1) a scientific conference poster at a condensed matter physics meeting (e.g. APS March Meeting) or a geophysics meeting (e.g. AGU Fall Meeting), and (2) co-authorship on a paper in Review of Scientific Instruments. This project requires in person work.
Subfield: Materials Science/Chemistry/Physics
Description: Diamond nanothreads are a new class of carbon-based materials synthesized by compressing small molecules to high pressures. Nanothreads have been made from molecules such as benzene, pyridine, and furan. These materials may be considered as “flexible diamonds” as they are one-dimensional chains that combine the flexibility of polymers with a stiff, diamond-like core. By combining the mechanical properties of diamond with the chemical diversity of more conventional polymers, nanothreads exhibit potential for use in a wide range of applications.
This project aims to tackle two important challenges in nanothread science: (1) lowering reaction pressures needed to synthesize nanothreads and (2) discovering novel strategies to create nanothreads with new and unique functionalities. In this project, a student will design and discover new nanothread materials from a variety of molecular precursors. These precursors, including charge-transfer complexes, can be engineered to incorporate different functionalities and to optimize formation conditions at reduced pressures.
This project will involve the synthesis and characterization of molecular co-crystals and the characterization of their behavior at high pressure using a combination of X-ray diffraction and vibrational spectroscopy. A student taking part in this project will gain experience in crystallization techniques, materials characterization/analysis techniques, use of high pressure reaction equipment, and a foundation in concepts associated with materials structure/property relations, synthetic chemistry and materials physics.
The minimum expected outcome of this project is a scientific conference poster, however co-authorship on a peer-reviewed scientific publication is likely. This project requires in-person attendance.
Subfield: Mineral Informatics; Gem mineralogy; Philosophy of Classification
Description: For almost two centuries, mineral “species” have been classified by a combination of a simplified chemical formula based on major elements and an idealized atomic structure. Thus, the mineral beryl is Be3Al2Si3O18 in an elegant hexagonal crystal structure. This approach lumps together many colorful varieties of beryl, including aquamarine, emerald, and pink morganite, into a single mineral species. But is that the best approach to classifying this beautiful and varied mineral?
Recent studies at our laboratory have proposed an alternative approach to mineral classification that relies on the scores of attributes in every mineral specimen: trace and minor elements, isotopes, solid and fluid inclusions, color, size and shape, and many more. We seek to identify mineral “natural kinds,” each of which arises by different chemical, physical, and (in some instances) biological processes. In this proposed study, we will build and analyze a large database of beryl specimens to ask if emerald, aquamarine, and other colored varieties of beryl are distinct kinds. In the process, we will address a question of importance to mineralogy, gemology, and the philosophy of classification.
This project will involve (1) working with colleagues in the US and Canada to build a comprehensive database of beryl properties, based on information from published papers and open-access data archives; (2) analyzing and visualizing these data using data science methods of cluster analysis to determine whether different colored varieties of beryl are part of a compositional continuum, or if they are distinct natural kinds; (3) help to draft a paper for publication as a coauthor; and (4) prepare a PowerPoint presentation and/or poster for submission to a major conference.
Working closely with Carnegie’s data science team, including Robert Hazen, Shaunna Morrison, Anirudh Prabhu, and Jason Williams, as well as beryl experts from other institutions in the US and Canada, the intern will learn powerful methods of database construction, coding, data analysis, and visualization. Some of the work can be accomplished remotely, though we expect the intern to come to Carnegie at least two days per week to attend group meetings, datathons, campus seminars, and other activities.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, the Carnegie internship is not an NSF REU, although we aim for a similar experience as other NSF REU programs.
Students should be pursuing undergraduate study at a local (DC, MD, VA) college or university in astronomy, chemistry, computer science, geology, physics, planetary science, or a related field. We will also accept applications from students who are from DC, MD, or VA and pursuing undergraduate study in one or more of these fields at a non-local college or university. Students are equally encouraged to apply whether or not they have prior research experience.
The online application asks for information about you (name, address, demographic information), your previous research experience, and your motivation for pursuing this internship. There are several short (<= 250 word) prompts. We also ask for the contact information of two references (but they do not need to submit letters), and that you upload a CV or resume and unofficial undergraduate transcripts. Please read over the application first, and draft your response in a separate document before filling out the online form for submission.
Our program does not require US citizenship, but we do focus on students who are based in and reside in the US full-time and require interns to hold visas to study in the US or DACA status. While we appreciate that there are many students worldwide who are enthusiastic about research, we are not able to accommodate students from abroad.
Yes. We consider applications from current seniors, even if you would potentially be attending our program after you graduate. If this applies to you, please include a brief description of your plans in the "other information" part of the application (e.g. I’ve applied to graduate schools, I want to take a year off and work, I have a job lined up at Observatory X / Research Lab Y, etc.).
Our program is primarily intended for students pursuing STEM degrees and careers. We will also consider applications from students pursuing a degree in a related field like engineering or mathematics if there is a clear connection expressed to one of the research subfields on our campus.
Interns are not required to stay at our accommodation at AU, although they are encouraged to, and a daily travel stipend will be offered.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org, and Dr. Johanna Teske will aim to get back to you within a few days.