In mid-August 2021, the Advancing Space Sciences through Undergraduate Research Experience (ASSURE) hosted an outdoor (in person!) poster session at the Space Sciences Lab (SSL) to wrap up an exciting summer internship program. Along with several additional SSL undergraduates, the ten participants of the ASSURE program presented their research projects and results to the general SSL community.
The ASSURE program, which is an NSF funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) site, provides a first research experience for undergraduates who are either first generation, attending community college, or who hold identities underrepresented in the space sciences—and especially for those for whom obtaining a research opportunity may be a challenge. All of the 2021 students came from California community colleges, were in their first or second year of undergraduate studies and hailed from a wide array of backgrounds. Many will be transferring to four-year institutions after this summer!
For ten weeks over the summer, each student worked with their mentor on a unique scientific project. Topics spanned our solar system from the very surface of the Sun all the way out to Saturn, and ranged from analyzing Mars spacecraft engineering data to explaining peculiar plasma phenomena in the Earth’s magnetosphere. Along the way, students had a crash course in Python programming, attended numerous professional development seminars and workshops hosted by the ASSURE team, gave oral presentations to each other and the lab, and met various SSL researchers through Friday morning Zoom coffee hours.
The COVID-19 pandemic meant the program was conducted primarily virtually, with students working from home for most of the summer. In spite of these challenges, the cohort of interns and mentors rose to the challenge admirably, establishing virtual communication channels with each other, forming a sense of community and supporting each other, all the while making amazing progress on their research projects.
The whole team was delighted when, with support from Director Beckwith, the opportunity arose to host the last week of the program in person in Berkeley. All ten ASSURE students were able to travel to SSL for the week where a jam-packed and hugely rewarding final five days ensued. While adding finishing touches to their research projects and preparing professional standard scientific posters to summarize their work, the ASSURE students toured SSL, heard from external speakers and went on a field trip to look behind the scenes at the Chabot Space and Science Center.
On a sunny and thankfully wind-free Friday at the end of the week, the students (with huge thanks to Robert Lettieri!) all successfully printed out their posters and set them up outside the Addition building. All through the afternoon, many SSL researchers, students and staff visited and talked with the students about their research and summer experience. In many cases, students were able to meet and talk to the very people who built or wrote the software of the spacecraft and instruments they spent the whole summer working on! The posters and research presented enthusiastically by the students were truly impressive, and showed how much progress they had made in spite of the challenges of the virtual program. The ASSURE team couldn’t have been more proud of them!
The team is looking forward to getting started with the 2022 program. Check back at the ASSURE webpage where this year’s research posters will be posted shortly. Next year’s application will be posted on this page this coming winter, so please share this with any students you think may be interested!
The ASSURE 2021 Team is Matthew Fillingim, Trevor Bowen, Claire Gasque and Sam Badman. We are hugely grateful for the support from prior ASSURE staff (Claire Raftery, Laura Peticolas, and Darcy Barron), our mentor team (Abby Azari, Brian Harding, Solène Lejosne, Juan Carlos Martínez Oliveros, Tony Mercer, Aimee Norton, Mitsuo Oka, Ali Rahmati, Pascal Saint-Hilaire, Ivan Vasko, Shaosui Xu, Roger Roglans and Tim Quinn), SSL director Steve Beckwith, the SSL education team (especially Karin Hauck, Dan Zevin and Igor Ruderman) and innumerable contributions from various individuals across SSL and beyond, without whom this program would not have been possible. A special shout out to Savannah Perez-Piel and Paula Nordstrom Miranda who provided a vital role in curating a sense of undergraduate community at SSL over the summer, and mentors Abby Azari and Tony Mercer who did much of the heavy lifting for the introductory Python programming at the start of the program. We also want to acknowledge support from Fernando Pérez for the use of JupyterHub, a cloud based Python coding environment that enabled virtual training and collaboration in programming early in the program. The 2021 ASSURE program is funded by the National Science Foundation under grant number 2050736.