Available Projects – Summer 2017

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

  • March 1, 2017 – Applications open
  • April 15, 2017 – Applications close
  • May 1, 2017 – Decisions communicated to applicants
  • June 1, 2017 – YSP begins
  • September 30, 2017 – 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
  • 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
  • Along with your completed application form, please submit an unofficial copy of your collegiate transcript to apply@bmsis.org
  • Please have two letters of recommendation sent to to apply@bmsis.org

Young Scientist Research Projects

BMSIS Investigator Project Title Description Location Special Skills
Dr. Milena Popovic
Exploring the RNA World Hypothesis RNA World hypothesis refers to an early time in the history of life, during which ribonucleic acid (RNA) is thought to have had a much larger role in biology than it does today, by acting as both, the dominant catalyst, as well as the molecule of heredity. Our laboratory primarily uses in vitro evolution of RNA and associated biochemical, biophysical and bioinformatics techniques to study functional capacity of RNA. The student will work on a project that will advance our understanding of the origin and early evolution of life. We have previously shown that pH has a particularly strong effect on evolution of RNA catalysis by selecting for RNA nucleases. Currently, we are exploring the impact of environmental factors, as well as intrinsic properties of RNA (such as length) on RNA evolution through in vitro evolution of ligase activity. The student will join the ongoing project by performing characterization of evolved ribozymes. Students who have completed chemistry, biology and biochemistry (ideally, but not required) courses and labs are encouraged to apply.
Financial assistance is available for this position. Applicant must be already authorized to legally work in the United States at the time of application. Travel funding to/from San Francisco, CA is not provided.
[position filled] Completed General Chemistry and Biochemistry (ideally, but not required) courses and labs / Skilled in biochemistry lab techniques
Dr. Betul Kacar
Utilizing contemporary biology to reconstruct ancient biosignatures One 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 Cambridge, MA is not provided.
[position filled] Background in molecular and cell biology / basic programming in any language / skills and experience with sterile laboratory techniques
Dr. Laurie Barge
Hydrothermal Vents on Early Earth The student will join an ongoing project about amino acid synthesis and concentration on catalytic mineral surfaces in early Earth hydrothermal vents. Reactions of synthetic prebiotic minerals and organic precursors are carried out at JPL and sampled for analysis with liquid 1H Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy. The student will be responsible for analysis of NMR data using Mnova software, including baseline correction, correctly identifying peaks, and calculating peak areas. The purpose of the project is to identify the suite of amino acids and other organics that are synthesized in prebiotic vent environments as well as the suite of products that is most likely to be concentrated, as a function of the geochemical gradients in the system. The project is remote, but frequent communication will be required with other students in the group who are carrying out the reactions in lab, including a Skype Mnova training session.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
[position filled] Participate in telecons during Pacific time business hours. / Able to draw an amino acid structure. / Experience with NMR a plus but not required. / Must not be located in or have citizenship on JPL’s restricted countries list.
Dr. Dimitra Atri
Radiation and its effects on astronaut health in long-term space missions Astronauts 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.
[position filled] Basic programming knowledge in any language
Dr. Andro Rios
Organic Chemistry of Meteoritic Compounds Carbonaceous 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, isolation and purification of non-commercially available small molecules that can be used as analytical standards for meteoritic analyses and reaction studies. 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. Applicant must be already authorized to legally work in the United States at the time of application. Travel funding to/from San Francisco, CA is not provided.
[position filled] Completed General Chemistry and labs / Completed Organic chemistry and labs / Skilled in chemistry lab techniques
Dr. Andro Rios
Science Outreach Activity Development This is a project for students who are interested in helping the BMSIS mentor find and/or refine engaging (5-10 minutes) hands-on science activities that can be used in multiple venues such as booths at STEM Expo/Fairs, seminars, public lectures and classroom visits, etc. We will be focusing on science topics that emphasize the chemistry of Astrobiology themes.  While brand new ideas for creative and engaging activities will always be encouraged, the project will be focused mostly on research to identify existing hand-on activities that fit our intended themes. The best candidate activity/activities identified will be planned and developed for future outreach events near the BMSIS mentor’s geographical location. However any opportunities for the student to pilot the activity at their location, if possible, will also be discussed.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position. Any materials that will be needed for outreach will be acquired at the BMSIS mentor’s location.
[position filled] Interest in science communication and education / Additional experience in hosting science outreach activities at any level is helpful
Dr. Jacob Haqq-Misra
nullDr. Eddie Schwieterman
Target Selection for SETI Renewed interest in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) includes the $100 million Breakthrough Listen initiative, ongoing nightly surveys with the Allen Telescope Array, and other ground-based efforts by groups worldwide. Recent theoretical constraints on planetary habitability also provide metrics for selecting the best places to search. This project seeks to develop a contemporary list of targets for SETI to investigate. We will draw upon previously published catalogs, cross-reference against databases of existing searches, and develop methods for applying theoretical constraints on habitability.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
[position filled] Basic programming skills in any language (JavaScript/JSON and Python a plus) / basic astronomy knowledge
Afshin Khan
Environmental Modeling of Martian Habitats This project seeks a student interested in performing some environmental/mathematical modelling using freely available software like Vensim and figuring out the oxygen output required to sustain humans in closed habitats on Mars. This can then be utilized to figure out the flux interactions and be compared to oxygen required in another closed environment, like tunnels on Mars. Finally the data can be useful in providing some solutions towards how to produce oxygen naturally in closed environments, i.e. via plants, algae and photosynthesizing microbes.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
[position filled] Basic programming skills in any language
Gina Riggio
Sciworthy Editor This position seeks a student interested in science writing to join the Sciworthy initiative as an editor. The ideal applicant will write several articles per month on Sciworthy.com and edit articles from other writers, with care to adhere to the inclusive, layperson friendly tone of the site’s editorial style. Each written piece should cover a recently published paper in at least two of these subjects: Life Sciences, Astrobiology, Physical Sciences. The student editor will also assist with website promotion on social media and develop a script for an explainer video to complement one of their own articles.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
[position filled] Strong writing, prior editing experience a plus
Dr. Sanjoy Som
Modeling the Nitrogen Cycle Nitrogen cycling plays an important role at many different scales. On a planetary scale, nitrogen cycling over geological time can contribute to fluctuations in air pressure. On smaller and faster scales, nitrogen cycling can contribute to understanding nutrient delivery in industrial systems such as aquaponics installations. This project seeks a student interested in biogeochemical cycles. The successful applicant will first develop a carbon-cycle model using Vensim to gain familiarity with the software and the necessary physics of dynamical system modeling before applying those skills to nitrogen in aquaponics.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
[position filled] calculus, redox chemistry, earth science fundamentals, strong interest in sustainability. Able to meet online weekly. Prior programming experience not necessary.
Julia DeMarines
& Zeke Campbell (Artist)
Science Communication: Chemical Elements Seeking four students for a science communication project. This project will be researching different chemical elements and communicating science facts and historical accounts in a digestible, easy to understand way for the production of an artistic chemistry book. Interns will also present their work in the form of blogs on Astrobiology Magazine’s PaleBlueBlog and possibly a podcast.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
[position filled] Chemistry and science history coursework / experience or strong interest in science communication
Julia DeMarines
& Zeke Campbell (Artist)
Science Art: Chemical Elements This project seeks visual artists working in non-digital mediums who are interested in illustrating up to five elements of the periodic table. Your artwork will accompany fresh research, comprising an explosively rich artistic chemistry book appealing to children and adults alike. Artists will have their name published in the book, as well as a URL to their website. And, if possible, we will be organizing two resultant exhibitions of the work. One in Davis, CA and a second in Seattle, WA. The deadline for completion is September 30, 2017. Digital touchups are allowed, but artists must work in strictly analog mediums. No geographic requirements, as all communication can be conducted via email.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
[position filled] Please submit a link to your portfolio or attach five works representative of your style with your application
Rafael Loureiro
OMNICROP OMNICROP uses a database composed of labeled data such as light quality and quantity, general climate characteristics and soil quality from successful farming sites. This data is then used to sort and select the most successful crops for a particular set of circumstances. This process can provide either earthbound farmers or off-world colonists with the a-priori information needed to start successful, productive food production while preventing costly and time-consuming mistakes that derive from on-site experimentation or be directly linked to self-managing cultivation chambers. This project is an open source model where any user can input data and obtain results. Frequent reuse will assist the models to “learn” and continually re-calibrate itself providing increasingly accurate results over time. If selected, the candidate will assist with organizing the labeled data and on programming the model as well as be given full liberty to come up with new ideas on how to integrate the model’s premise on building cheap self-managing cultivation chambers using IoT.
Financial assistance is unavailable for this position.
[position filled] Basic programming skills in any language (Python is a plus)/ Basic knowledge of botany or horticulture/ Availability for weekly online meetings