The Etelman Observatory, as part of the UVI Physics Department, offer several research internship opportunities to UVI students. On this page you will find a sample of research projects in the major three areas of interest of UVI Physics faculty, but also links to possible research projects in other mainland institutions (e.g. NASA).

At UVI/Etelman

  • X-ray Laboratory (Dr. Morris)

The Physics department is expanding with the new X-ray laboratory on the third floor of the CAB building. Dr. Morris leads a group for the implementation of such facilities starting with the installation and testing of a vacuum chamber. In agreement with NASA this chamber will enable testing of electrical and mechanical component for space-flight readiness and other applications (e.g. semi-conductors). Students will work with Dr. Morris in this development, acquiring technical skills and also data acquisition skills suitable for different career paths.

  • Simulating Wolf-Rayet Winds with Gamma-Burst Afterglow Guides (Dr. Orange and Dr. Gendre) 

    Significant gaps remain in our understanding of the formation and acceleration of plasmas making up stellar winds. Wolf-Rayet (WR) stars, characterized by high mass loss rates and fast outflows, are of distinct interest given their current status as a progenitor for the most luminous events in the universe, i.e., gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). Student researchers involved in this project will work with Dr. Orange and Dr. Gendre to develop a stellar wind simulation code to study families of WR termination shock and ISM pressure solutions, as constrained by GRB literature. 

  • Virgin Island Robotic Telescope data analysis (Dr. Cucchiara)

The Virgin Island Robotic Telescope is acquiring data on a large variety of astronomical sources, from  galaxies, to supernovae, and gamma-ray bursts. This incredible resources and amount of data require continue data processing improvement and quality assessment. Dr. Cucchiara, in synergy with other faculty, will lead this effort of developing and testing the data processing of VIRT data. Students will learn top-notch programming skills (e.g. python programming language) and the versatility of applying such knowledge to not just VIRT data, but also data from other telescopes and facilities all around the World.

  • GRB host galaxies spectroscopic studies (Dr. Cucchiara)

Gamma-ray Bursts (GRB) are thought to be produced by the most powerful explosions in the Universe, some of which occurred at the beginning of the history of the Universe. Data from satellites and optical/near infrared telescopes have been acquired for more than 200 GRBs. This project involves the analysis and interpretation of data obtained from the galaxies where these GRBs have occurred to understand the initial condition of the explosion, the properties of their environment and the comparison with other "local" galaxies. Students will learn about these phenomena, the physics involved in the GRB explosion and their host galaxies, but also they will use programming skill suitable both for astrophysical research and other applications.

  • Gamma-ray burst early afterglows (Dr. Staff)


The "Three stages model" for long gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) involves a 
hyper-accreting quark star as the engine for the prompt gamma-ray emission. 
If the quark star survives the accretion phase, it will be spinning down due 
to magnetic braking, which can lead to a plateau phase seen in the X-ray
afterglow of some GRBs.  The energetics of the prompt emission can be used     
to constrain the accretion rate onto the quark star, the opening angle of
the flow creating the gamma-rays, and put a lower limit on the magnetic
field strength of the quark star.  The duration of the plateau puts an upper
limit on the magnetic field strength of the quark star.  This model has been
successfully applied to a few GRBs, but there are many more, and this
project would involve applying the model to some of these GRBs to find the  
accretion rate, magnetic field strength, and opening angle of the flow.
  • Developing Critical Management Provisions for a USVI Microclimate Monitoring Program (Dr. Orange) 

This project will focus on constructing, implementing, and documenting the analytics that will substantiate the techniques necessary for the long-term consistent operation of a network of USVI remote weather sensing stations. Students involved in this project will, particularly, work on identifying data stream anomalies indicative of hardware malfunctions and/or failures, and implementing the subsequent instrumentation maintenance. They will additionally assist Dr. Orange in the development of data stream quality control algorithms that semi-autonomously identify anomalies and predict suspect hardware components. 

  • Addressing the Utility of Geographically Standardized Logic When Analyzing Historical Climate Records (Dr. Orange) 

Typically, historical climate studies rely on automated data-processing tools, which eliminate the user's final binary decision on deciding whether to remove or keep suspect time series and/or spatial perspectives, as well as adhere to a rigid spatiotemporally standardized logic. Student researchers on this project will work with Dr. Orange on analyzing ground truth climate inventory-binary decision matrices obtained from diverse errant entry handling assumptions. Specifically, they will utilize these data to decipher the limiting logic that best mitigates scenarios of small upstream anomalies leading to large downstream inaccuracies in tropical studies of extreme climate variability. 

  • Weather Forecasting (Dr. Smith)

We wish to provide high resolution weather forecasting for the local Virgin Islands using the WRF model running on UVI's 120-core parallel computing cluster.  Students will be involved in creating high resolution geogrid topography files for the local islands, developing appropriate nesting, testing microphysics options for our tropical environment, developing a suit of graphics packages for producing forecast maps, and creating a website for the output. The ultimate goal is to produce, updated every 24 hours,  a reliable 48 hour forecast of temperature, rain, and wind at a minimum 1.0 km resolution for St. Thomas, St. Croix and the surrounding islands.

  • Long-term Monitoring of Solar Atmospheric Magnetic Energy Coupling Across Broad Plasma Conditions & Spectrum Regimes (Dr. Orange & Dr. David Chesny of OrangeWave Innovative Science, LLC) 

Investigations of solar variability and its magnetic energy coupling are paramount to solving many key solar and stellar physics problems. Particularly in relation to understanding the temporal variability of magnetic energy redistribution and heating processes. A component of this project will involve yearly maintenance to Dr. Orange's existing solar physics feature database (SPFD), as well as opportunities for student researchers to explore the SPFD's insight into radiative to magnetic energy coupling across broad plasma conditions and magnetic field geometries, assess the feasibility of solar activity cycle epoch recognition models developed by Dr. Orange, and/or carry out comparative analyses against typical proxies of the solar activity cycle. 

  • The Nature of Solar Atmospheric Bright Points - Spectroscopic & Narrowband Surveying (Dr. Orange & Dr. David Chesny of OrangeWave Innovative Science, LLC, and Ulric Baptiste of UVI) 

Small-scale solar atmospheric transients, e.g., Bright Points (BPs), occurring over the entire solar disc are recognized as viable structures for increasing our understanding of magnetic reconnection, plasma acceleration, and heating processes. Student researchers on this project will use an existing database of approximately 370 BPs to study the nature of magnetic energy coupling to spectra line diagnostics, e.g., plasma flows, turbulence, and mass redistribution processes. These analyses will then be used to decipher the linkage of astrophysically interesting magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) processes with plasma dynamics and properties, and further develop, constrain, and test Dr. Orange's coronal heating model. 

  • A Multi-Scaled Comparative Study of Non-Ideal Solar Atmospheric Processes (Dr. David Chesny & Dr. Orange of OrangeWave Innovative Science, LLC) 

Solar non-potential fields are locations of highly stressed magnetized plasma environments, and represent prime locations for eruptive events contributing to coronal heating, solar wind formation, and coronal mass ejections. Students participating in this project will first work with Dr. Chesny and Dr. Orange on the construction of a first-of-its-kind database that details non-potential solar atmospheric magnetic fields across a wide range of plasma conditions and temporal scales. Later efforts of the project will involve using this database in concert with enmasse analyses and modeling efforts to (1) characterize the morphological and radiative similarities and contrasts of non-potential magnetic features across diverse broad plasma conditions and diverse large-scale magnetic field geometries, and (2) elucidate the triggering (formation) mechanisms of non-ideal behavior and eruptions, and decipher the limiting behavior of non-erupting events, respectively. 

  • Developing Critical Management Provisions for a USVI Microclimate Monitoring Program (Dr. Orange) 

This project will focus on constructing, implementing, and documenting the analytics that will substantiate the techniques necessary for the long-term consistent operation of a network of USVI remote weather sensing stations. Students involved in this project will, particularly, work on identifying data stream anomalies indicative of hardware malfunctions and/or failures, and implementing the subsequent instrumentation maintenance. They will additionally assist Dr. Orange in the development of data stream quality control algorithms that semi-autonomously identify anomalies and predict suspect hardware components. 

Addressing the Utility of Geographically Standardized Logic When Analyzing Historical Climate Records (Dr. Orange)

Typically, historical climate studies rely on automated data-processing tools, which eliminate the user's final binary decision on deciding whether to remove or keep suspect time series and/or spatial perspectives, as well as adhere to a rigid spatiotemporally standardized logic. Student researchers on this project will work with Dr. Orange on analyzing ground truth climate inventory-binary decision matrices obtained from diverse errant entry handling assumptions. Specifically, they will utilize these data to decipher the limiting logic that best mitigates scenarios of small upstream anomalies leading to large downstream inaccuracies in tropical studies of extreme climate variability. 

  • Development of a Transport Code for a Plasma Generation Device & 3D Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (Dr. David Chesny & Dr. N. Brice Orange of OrangeWave Innovative Science, LLC) 

Magnetic reconnection is a fundamental astrophysical process that converts stored magnetic energy into plasma kinetic energy. Dr. Chesny, Dr. Orange, and other OWIS scientists recently presented the first evidence to the feasibility of a new class of laboratory systems that can explore the nature of three-dimensional reconnection mechanisms and current sheet formation. Student researchers of this project will work with Dr. Chesny and Dr. Orange on the development of a robust particle-in-cell (PIC) and magnetohydrodynamics software framework, that will be used to further optimize the design of, and constrain off-nominal performance modes in, their frontier-expanding plasma science laboratory system. 

  • Study of the floding risk in Iowa (Dr. Cucchiara and U. Wisconsin-Madison)

Title: "Investigation and Attribution of Changing Flood Behavior in the Midwestern United States"

Several recent studies have pointed to changing flood risks in the Midwestern United States. The seasonality of flooding has shifted from the spring to the summer and the mean annual flood magnitude has decreased while the severity of rare events such as the 100-year flood has increased. Solid understanding of the underlying drivers of these changes has proven elusive, however and has led to considerable disagreement among researchers. Proposed explanations include increasing intensity of short-duration summertime rainfall, reduced snow cover and earlier snow and soil thaw, changes in land surface evapotranspiration, and the effects of urbanization and agricultural management practices. A number of studies have taken broad looks at such changes across the region. In this research, we will instead focus on a particular watershed, the Turkey River in northeastern Iowa, where the flood hydroclimatology shows an abrupt shift around the year 1990. This study will combine various quantitative trend analyses of land use, temperature, rainfall, river flow, and atmospheric properties, as well as hydrologic simulations and empirical analyses aimed at better understanding which features of flood risk unique to Turkey River are and which might be generalizable to other locations. Interested students will assist with data processing, analysis, and interpretation and aid with the preparation of an academic publication and conference presentations.

  • Radio Astronomy projects on supernovae/GRBs (Dr. Cucchiara and Alessandra Corsi @Texas Tech U.) 

TITLE:  Identifying radio counterparts to celestial fireworks with the Karl G. Jansky Very large Array

ABSTRACT: Current studies of some of the most spectacular celestial fireworks, such as core-collapse supernovae and gamma-ray bursts, rely on observations and data taken over a large range of frequencies, including the radio. Thanks to the improved sensitivity of the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), we are now in a position to study radio counterparts of cosmic explosions at GHz frequencies, and to provide sub-arsecond localizations. Using images of the radio sky collected with the VLA, you will work on the development of an automated pipeline aimed at extracting from each image information which is key to enabling the discovery of new radio transients, namely, noise distribution, detection threshold, flux measurement and localization accuracy. This pipeline will be tested on VLA images collected during the follow-up of gamma-ray bursts and / or core-collapse supernovae.

At NASA Centers

  • Fermi satellite group (NASA-GSFC)
  • Swift satellite group
  • Gamma-ray group (Cube-SAT project)

Other Possibilities

  • Supernovae studies at Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI, Baltimore)
  • Galaxy evolution studies (STScI, Baltimore)
  • Technology advancement in near-infrared and ultraviolet spectroscopy (STScI, Baltimore)

Other resources

  • NASA OSSI internship program (OSSI)
  • Space Telescope Science Institute (SASP)
  • Big10 Summer research opportunity (SROP)
  • NSF REU (research experience for undergraduate students) 
  • Banneker Institute (Astronomy internship for underrepresented students) - Harvard