Available Projects – Summer 2018

Applications for the 2019 Online Young Scientist Program will be open from March 1 to April 15. Updated project descriptions will be posted by March 1.

BMSIS provides opportunities for college students 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 research. This report may be used in a variety of applications, including (but not limited to): undergraduate project/thesis, conference proceedings, peer-reviewed journal, magazine/newspaper article, writing samples for job applications. BMSIS Young Scientists will be expected to present the results of their research either internally (to a larger audience of BMSIS scientists using virtual communication tools) or externally (to a larger audience of scientists at an academic conference).

BMSIS Young Scientists will also be paired with a communication mentor to help develop their skills in science communication. The Young Scientist Program includes required modules in science communication as well as ethics and society with guidance from their research and communication 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.


  • Currently seeking a degree at a 4-year university or a community college (with high school or equivalent complete)
  • At least 18 years of age
  • Able to dedicate at least 5 hrs per week during normal business hours 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 2018 YSP

  • March 1, 2018 – Applications open
  • April 15, 2018 – Applications close
  • May 1, 2018 – Decisions communicated to applicants
  • June 1, 2018 – YSP begins
  • September 30, 2018 – YSP ends

Application Requirements

  • Contact one or more BMSIS scientists expressing specific interests about listed projects (see list below) by sending inquiries to apply@bmsis.org. Please include a thoughtful message of introduction.
  • atisfy 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
  • Submit an unofficial copy of your collegiate transcript to apply@bmsis.org
  • Gave two letters of recommendation sent to apply@bmsis.org
  • Write a 300 word statement of interest in the project you are applying for, sent to apply@bmsis.org
BMSIS InvestigatorProject TitleDescriptionLocationSpecial Skills
Dr. Betul Kacar
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.
Financial assistance is available for this position. To receive compensation, applicant must be already authorized to legally work in the United States at the time of application. Travel funding to/from Tucson, AZ is not provided.
Tucson, AZBackground in molecular and cell biology / basic programming in any language / skills and experience with sterile laboratory techniques
Dr. Jim Cleaves
In Silico and Chemoinformatic Exploration of Life’s Choice of MoleculesWhy does life use the organic molecules it does to construct itself? Organic chemistry allows for millions of small molecule possibilities, nevertheless biochemistry uses a very small subset of only about 500 small molecules to construct all know organisms. Would this likely be true for alien biochemistries, or are there other molecule sets that life could use? This project aims to explore the fundamental nature of biochemistry using chemoinformatics techniques, which may also help identify novel drug-like compounds.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
onlineFamiliarity with general chemistry/organic chemistry/biochemistry. Basic programming skills in any language.
Dr. Milena Popovic
The role of RNA in origin and early evolution of lifeThe student will work on a project that will advance our understanding of the origin and early evolution of life. RNA World hypothesis refers to an early time in the history of life, during which ribonucleic acid (RNA) is believed to have had a much larger role in biology than it does today, by acting as both, the dominant molecule of heredity and catalysis. In vitro evolution is used to assess the potential of RNA to sustain early life. Our laboratory uses in vitro evolution of RNA, bioinformatic, biochemical, and biophysical techniques to study functional capacity of RNA. We have previously shown that soluble ferrous iron has an impact on evolution of RNA catalysts. Mineral surfaces impact on function of RNA. Recently, we investigated the impact of iron-bearing minerals on binding of short RNA oligomers. We want to determine how this interaction is impacted by the sequence identity of RNA. The student will join an ongoing project by performing an investigation of RNA populations using biochemical and bioinformatic tools.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position. Travel funding to/from San Francisco 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. Andro Rios
Organic Chemistry of Meteoritic CompoundsCarbonaceous chondrite meteorites are important to the field of astrobiology because the molecules they contain provide a record to the organic chemistry that took place in the early Solar System before the emergence of life on Earth. Our lab has previously discovered that molecules of metabolism are formed in meteorites and their abiotic syntheses may be a strong clue to the origin of metabolism. We are currently investigating the reaction pathways of these versatile molecules to understand their plausible role in prebiotic chemistry and the origin of life. A significant part of this research depends on the synthetic preparation of non-commercially available small molecules that can be used as analytical standards for meteoritic analyses and reaction studies. We are looking for one student who can participate either on-line, or, who lives near Ames and can work in our labs. The on-line applicant would ideally help in designing synthetic strategies for target standards. If working at Ames, the student will help carry out the synthetic preparation of these target compounds using both current and new synthetic plans. Students with backgrounds in chemistry, biochemistry or biology and who have completed the typical undergraduate courses in organic chemistry and associated labs are encouraged to apply.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position. Travel funding to/from San Francisco is not provided.
online or San Francisco Bay Area (NASA Ames)Completed General Chemistry and labs. Completed Organic chemistry and labs (one or two semesters). Skilled in chemistry lab techniques (those taught in organic chemistry especially)
Dr. Dimitra Atri
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.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
onlineBasic programming knowledge in any language
Dr. Dimitra Atri
ExoAI: Exploratory data analysis using Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning in Exoplanet Science
Exoplanets or Extra-solar planets are planets beyond the Solar System. Exoplanet Science is the most exciting field in astronomy today and has transformed the fields of planetary science and astrobiology. This project aims to use Machine Learning techniques to analyze and understand exoplanet data from a number of space missions. Basic programming experience in Python is required. Prior experience in Machine Learning or Astronomy is not required. The candidate will be provided with ML tools and is expected to learn them and assist in preliminary data analysis.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
onlineBasic programming knowledge in any language
Dr. Rafael Loureiro
NEBULA (Narrow Band radiation influence in oxygenic photosynthetic organisms’ ecophysiology)Evaluate the influence of narrow-band to intense red (above 750nm) radiation and pulse combinations (e.g. blue light pulses; green light pulses) on microalgae species in order to determine an optimum lighting system for each species with the purpose of achieving maximum production capabilities (i.e. Biomass and side products and effects) in enclosed cultivation facilities for human space colonization, as well as, gathering data for a pattern recognition model for the detection of extraterrestrial bio-signatures that uses spectral characteristics in the form of planetary hemispherical reflectance readings on phylogenetically diverse microorganisms containing a range of pigments. This data will be used to populate and validate a reliable pattern recognition model of likeness of individuals. The process effectively allows the determination of non-Earth based life by the use of spectral readings thus reducing or eliminating the risk and cost of sending probes to evaluate alien life.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
onlineProgramming skills in any language (Python is a plus)/ Basic knowledge of algae ecology-physiology/ Availability for weekly online meetings.
Dr. Sanjoy Som
Crystal Riley
One Flag in SpaceThe One Flag in Space initiative from Blue Marble Space seeks to promote the use of the "Earth from space" image as a symbol of international unity in space exploration. This project seeks a student interested in web-design (front-end and back-end) to create an attractive website to host the over 100 images returned from all over the world as part of this project. The website should be compatible with modern social media tools, and enable users to upload their own image and add information about the image.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
onlineAt least 1 year coding experience in any modern programming language (e.g. C, C++ 11, PHP 5+, Java 6+, Python 2.7+, JavaScript, Go), Understanding of building web applications, Experience with git-based source control, willingness to contribute code with others.
Dr. Jacob Haqq-Misra
Gina Riggio
Applied Ethics of Aquaponics SystemsAquaponics is an emerging area of scientific interest, which involves the combination of hydroponic-based plant growth system and aquaculture methods for raising fish. Scientific issues of optimizing this engineered ecosystem also lead to ethical issues that may affect the design and operation of the system. The purpose of this project is to assess the current state of research in fish welfare and environmental ethics to recommend best practices and identify key outstanding questions. We seek a student interested in developing an approach for assessing ethical issues in applied aquaponics that can be adapted to a variety of designs, species, and technologies.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
onlineBiology major with interest in philosophy, or philosophy major with interest in biology. Strong writing/reading skills, attendance at weekly online meetings.