Summer Research and Outreach Fellow

Program Overview

We are pleased to be running this program again in the 2021 summer. Please review the information and consider applying. The deadline to apply is Feb 11. Applications must be made through MyCareer. See the bottom of the page for more information.

Particle astrophysics is the study of the fundamental properties of the most basic building blocks of nature, and their influence on the evolution of structure in the Universe. The questions being addressed in this field are considered, world-wide, to be among the most important in physics today. Led by many of the scientists who developed the renowned Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) that grew into SNOLAB in Sudbury, Ontario, and theorists progressing models from the fundamental properties of dark matter to the imprint of dark matter on cosmological scales, Canada and Queen’s University have become a world leader in this field.

In this optic, Queen’s University applied for and was granted a major award from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) to create the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute, or the McDonald Institute (hereafter MI). This award has enabled Queen’s University and partner institutions to significantly build on their capacity to deliver a world-leading scientific research program in particle astrophysics as well as related fields, such as geochemistry, chemistry, material science, and engineering, while engaging industry partners, students, and the public.

The work performed at SNO and SNOLAB has led to a number of prestigious awards for both the team and the Director (Dr. Arthur B. McDonald) including the recent co-shares of the Nobel Prize in Physics 2015 and the 2016 Breakthrough Prize. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in research intensity in the field of particle astrophysics. Queen’s University aspires for MI to maximize the scientific, innovative, and long-term economic output of SNOLAB by providing resources focused on the highest priority areas within the particle astrophysics community. MI will enable unprecedented opportunities to shape the development of particle astrophysics in Canada, promote scientific excellence, provide unparalleled training opportunities, and engage youth and the general public through targeted outreach programs. This engagement will also ensure a sustained influx of scientific and diverse talent to astroparticle physics and the broader sciences, maintaining Canada as a world-leader in astroparticle physics. The proposed summer position(s) sit within this focus of training and engagement of younger Canadians and early career researchers.


Significance of Project to Science, Society, and Queen's

The present generation of experiments are predicated on new theoretical models, and improvements in the fields of geochemistry, engineering, and material science, and their corresponding technologies. During the seven-year CFREF funding period several of these experiments are leading or will lead the world in sensitivity to weakly interacting particles. These experiments have the capability for the first direct observation of dark matter particles or neutrinoless double beta decay. The direct detection of dark matter particles could tell us the completely unknown nature of this form of matter that comprises 84% of the mass in our Universe. The observation of neutrinoless double beta decay can determine the neutrino mass and the nature of this fundamental particle, thereby contributing to an understanding of the creation of matter in the early Universe. Other constraints on dark matter come from improving theoretic models and their implications in astronomical and cosmological contexts. This area of physics is a top priority worldwide, and discoveries of this magnitude would sustain Canada as a global leader in this area of scientific research. Positioning and maintaining Canada as a leader in this area requires sustained support of science in the Canadian public, training of younger scientists, and exposure of astroparticle physics and science generally to young and aspiring researchers.


Job Description

Reporting to the Education & Outreach (E&O) Officer, each McDonald Institute Summer Research and Outreach Fellow (MI Fellow) will be responsible for both research, and research tools for training middle and high school students. 50% of the Fellow(s)’s time will be in progressing a research project of their choice with an MI faculty, with the intent to produce or contribute to a scientific paper. Their other 50% of time will be co-developing and implementing a summer school for a cohort of three-to-six middle and high school students. The students in the cohort are the McDonald Institute Summer Scholars (MI Scholars). Each MI Fellow works with their research supervisor and E&O Officer to give the MI Scholars a hands-on introduction to science as a practice and profession, including skills training (computing, theory, experimental design, data entry, report writing), and a scaled-down, entry-level version of the research project the MI Fellow is pursuing. The summer would conclude with each of the MI Scholars presenting to the department and interested public on their work over the term of the summer camp. This would be followed by each MI Fellow presenting their research project to the department and interested public. By having multiple MI Fellows, as in past years, they each have a group of three-to-six MI Scholars, and the groups focus on different science content. Thus, four Fellows are needed to accommodate the large and broad interest in science of Kingston kids, allowing for up to 24 Kingston youth to attend our summer camp. Further, more Fellows lead to more collaboration between them as they prepare their respective camp content, using their peers as a resource to facilitate their learning and growth. Both SWEP Fellows from last year in this role said that the program was significantly more successful due to this peer learning opportunity.


Desired Qualifications:

The skills listed below are a wish list, thus we respect individuals will use this role as a way to develop these skills and demonstrate their growth throughout the job.

  • Must have completed at least one year of a physics, engineering physics, astronomy, computer science, mathematics, geology, or chemistry major. Alternatively, those pursuing an education degree could qualify with sufficient courses in some of the above sciences.
  • An interest in physics, astronomy, and science research, outreach, and/or education.
  • Strong written and oral communication skills.
  • Ability to work independently with strong skills in setting priorities and time management.
  • Ability to work as part of a team, work well with others, and accept guidance.
  • Serve as an ambassador in a manner that provides a positive reflection of the McDonald Institute’s vision, goals, and mission.
  • Capacity to mentor, assist, and support younger students.
  • Support efforts to advance equity, diversity, and inclusivity in a learning environment.

Learning Plan

Each MI Fellow will have the unique opportunity to experience research from a scientific pursuit, and a pedagogical lens through which they will be mentoring MI Scholars in what will likely be their first experience in research. This position also allows for clear impact on the Kingston community by sharing many of the skills developed above with an even younger generation. In addition to working with a team of world-leading physicists that includes the co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics, Dr. Arthur B. McDonald, the successful candidate may have the opportunity to visit exclusive research facilities such as SNOLAB during their stay with MI. They will be supported by an administrative team, will report to MI’s Education & Outreach Officer, and will have regular contact with MI’s Scientific Director, Dr. Tony Noble. Finally, there would be financial support available to have the MI Fellow attend a conference to present their work, likely in the Fall or Winter.


Research Projects

Here we will list available research projects. This list will continue to be added to until January 8th.  Please indicate in your application which research project you would like to pursue, and a small discussion of why it interests you.

  1. Searching for Strong Spin-Dependent Dark Matter Interactions Using Astrophysical Systems, PI: Dr. J. Bramante: https://www.physics.queensu.ca/facultysites/bramante/
    Dark matter may predominantly interact with nuclei via spin-dependent interactions. This project will investigate the detection of strong spin-dependent dark matter interactions, and derive new bounds on dark matter, using a number of existing astrophysical experiments and datasets, including the XQC rocket, the 1978 Skylab plastic tracker experiment, and dark matter’s contributions to the total heat flow emanating from the surface of the earth.
  2. Constraining the Diversity of Dark Matter Haloes: PI: Dr. S. Courteau: https://www.physics.queensu.ca/facultysites/courteau/research/
    Some recent numerical simulations of galaxies in LCDM universe have failed to reproduce the diversity of observed galaxy rotation curves, leading to a vast introspection about the assumptions and limitations of galaxy simulations in general. While some numerical models are more successful than others at reproducing specific properties of galaxies, none can reproduce the simultaneous realm of galaxy structures.  Identifying what properties are primarily driven by the dark matter component in galaxies, a holy grail for LCDM studies and modern astrophysics, requires that baryonic signatures be carefully calibrated. While significant efforts are currently being invested in reproducing the full range of galaxy rotation curves, we are exploiting a new spatially resolved diagnostic that holds the power of solving both this problem and separating baryonic and dark matter potentials at all radii.  The SWEP student will take advantage of an impressive suite of galaxy rotation curves and light profiles (largest of its kind to date) to calculate their inner gradients and make direct comparisons with state-of-the-art numerical simulations of galaxies (called NIHAO). The student will then be able to constrain for the first time the ratio of baryons to dark matter at all radii in galaxies by properly calibrating the simulations with observed data.  Access to our unique catalogues of observed and simulated galaxies is finally making this important project possible. The student should be proficient in python programming and may explore data modeling and machine learning applications. A refereed publication based on this work is expected.
  3. Hunt for high-energy particle accelerators in the Universe with multi-messenger data, PI: Dr. N. Park: https://www.queensu.ca/physics/nahee-park
    Recently a high-energy neutrino event triggered an intense campaign of follow-up observations across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio up to gamma rays. The neutrino event was coming from the direction of a distant supermassive black hole classified as a blazar. Multi-messenger observations, the observations that combine information from many different particle messengers, are essential for us to study extremely powerful accelerators such as blazars existing in our Universe. In this project, the summer student will learn to understand neutrino and gamma-ray production from different astrophysical environments. The student will develop automated analysis pipelines to process publicly available X-ray and gamma-ray data in preparation for alerts from interesting events. The student will also develop a multi-messenger database to collect and organize existing multi-messenger data.
  4. Let’s be real: adding imperfection to the detector simulation for HELIX, PI: Dr. N. Park: https://www.queensu.ca/physics/nahee-park
    A better understanding of propagation through our Galaxy is the key to understanding new features of the cosmic-ray flux (such as the unexpected excess of anti-matter) discovered by space-based experiments. HELIX is a long-duration balloon experiment designed to measure cosmic-ray isotopes to improve our understanding of the propagation of these particles. To achieve its scientific goals, HELIX needs to measure the trajectories and velocities of the particles very precisely. The summer student will add real-life imperfections, such as warped scintillator and aerogel surfaces, into the simulation model used to characterize the HELIX detector in order to evaluate the impact of realistic imperfections on the precision of the measurements.
  5. Spotting dark matter decays into neutrinos, PI: Dr. A. Vincent: https://www.queensu.ca/physics/aaron-vincent
    Dark matter is the mysterious substance that holds our galaxy together gravitationally, but we still have no good picture of its fundamental nature. Some theories of dark matter predict that it may slowly decay into standard model particles. Even if this decay rate is too slow to measurably deplete the dark matter abundance in the Universe, these daughter particles could give a telltale sign of what the DM is composed of. In this project, we will examine one particular scenario: what if dark matter decays to neutrinos? This will involve a survey of neutrino telescopes around the globe, and the calculation of expected neutrino fluxes from dark matter at those telescopes, allowing us to place constraints, search for potential signals, and determine how well future telescopes will be able to help reveal the nature of dark matter.
  6. Pursuing inorganic crystalline materials as radiation detectors, PI: Dr. P. Wang: http://queensucmcg.ca/team/cmcg-advisor/
    The advancement of many new technologies is empowered by the availability of specific inorganic crystalline compounds. In the field of astroparticle physics, single crystal materials are extensively used as detectors to study the interactions between cosmic radiation and matters. Our research focuses on the discovery and development of inorganic crystalline materials as radiation detectors. In addition to the technological and commercial values, inorganic crystals exhibit intrinsic, natural beauties stemming from their symmetry and optical properties. We are keen for a student with interest in visual arts who can take the research work and data and showcase it for the general audience.
  7. Analysis and Modelling of Astrometric Measurements from Gaia, Data Release 2, PI: Dr. L. Widrow: https://www.physics.queensu.ca/facultysites/widrow/
    Gaia is a space telescope operated by the European Space Agency that is mapping the positions and velocities of over 1 billion stars in the Milky Way. The summer fellow will used Python-based tools to analyze data made public by ESA last summer with the aim of modelling the dynamics of the Galaxy’s stellar disk. The position may involve a mix of machine learning and numerical simulations.
  8. Encorporating Dark Matter detector data into a Visitor Centre display with Dr. T. Noble: https://www.queensu.ca/physics/aj-noble
    The student will work with the data and materials of the PICO (https://www.snolab.ca/experiment/pico/)and other particle detectors to construct exhibit pieces for the McDonald Institute Visitor Centre (https://mcdonaldinstitute.ca/science-education-astroparticle-physics/visitor-centre/). The exact project will need to be defined once the restrictions due to Covid during the summer are known. If there is access to the lab, one option already quite advanced is to complete the PICO exhibit. For this project some of the hardware has been developed to take real data from the PICO dark matter detector and present the images on a replica detector. However, the complete assembly of the various components into a final exhibit has not been completed due to lack of access. Another option is to work with the new light detection technology, silicon photo-multipliers, where the student would learn about the technology and its response and incorporate the data and technology into a visitor centre display. One exciting idea is to design and create an exhibit that would use these SiPm to track muon cosmic rays through the space in the visitor centre. The student would also develop these resources to be applicable to the summer camp program.
  9. Neutrons Mix & Match Game: Find the optimal combination of filters to create quasi-monoenergetic neutron beams in the 10 – 100 keV range. PI: Levente Balogh: https://me.queensu.ca/People/Balogh/
    The Arthur B. McDonald Institute is building a source of quasi-monoenergetic neutron beams at the proton accelerator of the Kingston-based Reactor Materials Testing Laboratory (RMTL). The primary goal is to perform quenching factor measurements on Dark Matter detectors necessary for their calibration. The neutrons produced by the 7Li(p,n)7Be reaction have a relatively wide energy spectrum which needs to be narrowed. Many materials, such as Fe, Mn, etc., act as neutron filters as they selectively transmit neutrons of particular energies; though, usually substantial transmission happens at multiple energies. Thus, to obtain a quasi-monoenergetic neutron beam, it is necessary to use a combination of filters and/or tune the proton beam energy to modify the pre-filtered neutron spectrum. The goal of the project is to find an optimal combination of filter materials and accelerator settings to produce neutrons with the desired energy while minimizing their energy-spread and maximizing their flux. The work will involve setting up and using simulations, and may include participation at experiments performed at RMTL’s proton accelerator facility.

How to Apply

The deadline to apply is February 11th. Please apply through MyCareer and apply for SWEP position 113723. In your application materials, please highlight which project you would like to work with and why, and highlight any teaching experience you have.

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