NC Space Grant/NC Museum of Natural Sciences Internship - Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Lab


Project Objective: The Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Lab is a publically visible research laboratory where museum visitors can see astronomers at work, visualizations of their research, current space mission and science highlights, and state-of-the-art “fly throughs” of the solar system, and beyond. The Astronomy/Astrophysics Intern will work in the lab with Dr. Smith on a combination of research and outreach related to creating visualizations for the general public. Research opportunities will center on Dr. Smith’s high-resolution telescopic observations of young stellar objects observed with the Very Large Telescope [VLT] and/or Keck telescope. The specific dataset used for the summer project will be selected by Dr. Smith and the intern after discussion of goals and skill level. The intern will work in a unique laboratory setting, and gain valuable experience on communicating research products to the general public.

Award Level: $6,000 (10-week internship)

Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must have a 3.0 GPA and be majors in one of the following (Astronomy/Astrophysics, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Computer Science, and related fields). This position targets undergraduate majors.

Internship Project Description

Major Tasks to be Performed:  1) Use computer (IDL) codes to process molecular spectra observed toward young stellar objects in the Galaxy; 2) Conduct online searches to expand the currently minimal set of imagery and video; 3) Synthesize imagery and video into coherent presentations for a general museum audience; 4) translate data products from ongoing research related to astrochemistry, solar system formation, galactic morphology/evolution, and other planetary/astrophysics conducted by lab scientists into presentations that are visible and meaningful to a public audience; 5) As needed, assist in curation duties related to the meteorite collection and explore the connection of meteorites to forming planetary systems.

Final Product or Outcome Anticipated: 1) Significant and reasonable progress on the data set chosen for the project, with potential for publication in a scientific journal; 2) Visualizations related to the research that will be displayed to the general public through the glass walls of the lab; 3) Research poster that must be completed BEFORE the end of the internship. This will be presented at the NC Space Grant SPACE Conference in Spring 2019 (final dates TBD).

Knowledge gained by Intern: The successful intern will learn a combination of aspects of working on research in a science museum. This may include: an extensive amount on how spectra are analyzed a broad perspective of current astrophysics, working on new research with state-of-the-art astronomical data; working on meteorite research and how samples are curated; learn how to integrate complex and varied scientific information for a diverse museum audience, incorporating visitor-centered research findings into their work, and how to be successful communicators in a museum (ie, "informal education”) setting.

SPECIFIC job duties: Dr. Smith and the intern will set up the desired combination of spectroscopy, outreach, and possibly work with the meteorite collection. A poster will be created on the final project. Specific duties may include one or more of the following: 1) Use IDL codes to process spectra; 2) Conduct literature searches for papers related to the research; 3) work with the meteorite collection on curation duties and/or projects on new sample(s); 4) Search various space mission-oriented websites (e.g. NASA, JPL, etc.) for freely available, high-resolution videos and images of current developments related to astronomy and astronomy research.

Describe how periodic and final evaluations will be conducted: Evaluations will be based on regular meetings between the intern and Dr. Smith, and discussions of progress. This will be a collaborative and iterative process.

Resources available to intern: Computers and workspace, all necessary software and reduced data products will be available. The lab is Mac-based, but interns can use their own laptop if they wish.


To Apply for the NCSG/NCMNS Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Lab Internship, click HERE.

Applicants must click new user registration button to begin application
(Letter of recommendation must be submitted by faculty research mentor by March 26, 2018). Interviews will occur in late March 2018, with announcement by early April 2018.

Awardee Requirements:

Selected intern must:

  • Submit a final research report to NC Space Grant;
  • Present a poster at the NC Space Grant SPACE Conference in Spring 2019.
  • Share their research experiences in public forums or educational settings. Presentations that encourage interest in aerospace careers and research to high school students are of particular interest to NC Space Grant;
  • Provide a photo and biographical information upon selection;
  • Inform the Consortium of changes of address; and
  • Respond to academic and employment follow-up surveys administered by NC Space Grant as required by NASA.

Contact: Project supervisor:  Dr. Rachel Smith (Head, Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Lab/Curator of Meteorites) Email: Phone: 919.707.8239


North Carolina Space Grant is a NASA
sponosored program administered by
North Carolina State University.