Summer Research and Outreach Fellow

Program Overview

We are accumulating research projects for Summer 2024. The application period is open and closes February 13th. Projects will continue to be added until January 19th.

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.

This year, the Summer of Science program is being co-supported by the Carbon to Metal Coating Institute at Queen’s University (C2MCI). The C2MCI is an interdisciplinary research, innovation and education institute led by Scientific Director, Dr. Cathleen Crudden. The C2MCI was established through a highly competitive $24 Million grant from the New Frontiers Research Fund-Transformation (NFRF-T) Program. Academic members of the C2MCI are recognized as leaders in research spanning the disciplines of chemistry, condensed matter physics, radiation physics, engineering, corrosion science, nanomaterials, radiation oncology and clinical medicine.

The C2MCI’s research focuses on the development of coating materials that will have a profound influence at length scales from macro to nano. On the macro scale, they develop molecular primer approaches that enhance the stability and lifespan of metals used for aerospace(aircrafts) transportation and energy infrastructure. At the micro scale, they develop novel manufacturing processes to enable new methods of constructing microelectronic devices. On the nano scale, they develop precision nanomedicines for cancer treatment. To achieve C2MCI’s research goals, the institute has built and continues to expand on a global interdisciplinary academic research team. Their current active faculty membership (43) is composed of chemists, physicists, medical researchers, materials scientists, engineers, oncologists, art historians, theorists, and experimentalists, with clinical and industrial collaborators from Canada, Japan, USA, Finland, Germany, and UK.


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 four-to-eight 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 if appropriate, 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 group, and those interested from the department and public on their work over the term of the summer camp. This would be followed by each MI Fellow presenting their research project at either a conference or to those interested from the department. By having multiple MI Fellows, as in past years, they each have a group of four-to-eight MI Scholars, and the groups focus on different science content. 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. SWEP Fellows from past years in this role have 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 opportunities to meet with both MI’s Scientific Director, Dr. Tony Noble, and Director of External Relations, Edward Thomas. 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

Please indicate in your application which research project(s) (maximum of 2, ranked) you would like to pursue, and a small discussion of why it interests you.

  1. Evolution of galaxy scaling relations in cosmological simulations, with Dr. N. Arora & K. Spekkens:
    Related Topics: Astronomy, Physics, Computer Science
    Comparisons between cosmological simulations and observations of galaxies enable a refined understanding of galaxy formation and evolution. Typically, successful simulations have mostly been constrained to match the slope, and sometimes scatter, of scaling relations between galaxy parameters in the local Universe (z ∼ 0). To better understand theories of galaxy formation and evolution and better constrain cosmological models (such as interaction of dark matter with luminous matter in the Universe), we propose to compare simulations and observations of galaxies using scaling relations at various key cosmic times. The goal of the project will be to study the evolution of correlations between galaxy properties from cosmological simulations. The project will include multi-wavelength views of simulated galaxies as if they were seem through a telescope. Using these mock observations as a function of cosmic time, we will be able to quantify how galaxy properties and their correlation change for a given cosmological theory. Finally, comparing the result of the mock data with actual observations of galaxies will inform us where our theories deviate from reality!
  2. Exploring the world of metal surfaces and analysis of their protective organic coatings, with Dr. Cathleen Crudden, Scientific Director Carbon to Metal Coating Institute (C2MCI):
    Related topics: Chemistry, Material Science, Cancer research, Microelectronics, Education & Outreach
    From automobiles, to bridges, to airplanes, to green energy infrastructure, to electrical wiring, to cell phone circuitry and precision therapeutics it is difficult to imagine modern life devoid of metals. However, since most metals are unstable in oxygen rich environments, all metal infrastructure requires costly inspection, repair, and corrosion mitigation efforts. The aim of the C2MCI is to develop coating materials that will enhance the stability of metals used for transportation and energy infrastructure (macro theme), microelectronics technology (micro theme) and precision therapeutics for cancer diagnosis and treatment (nano theme). This position is suitable for a student with broad interest in pursuing graduate research across the fields of chemistry, biochemistry, and materials science. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to work with graduate students in multiple labs to gain a broad perspective of laboratory procedures and analytical techniques related to our research themes.
  3. How Low Can We Go: Ultra-trace detection of Te, Se, Ge, and Mo using laser ablation triple quadrupole inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, with Dr. M Leybourne:
    Related Topics: geology & geophysics
    The student will work in the Queen’s Facility for Isotope Research in the Department of Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering. The goal of the research is to push detection limits of metalloids that are significant in ore deposit research, understanding the evolution of life on this planet and elsewhere, and in astroparticle physics. The work will involve ultra-trace detection of Te, Se, Ge, and Mo in glasses formed from cooling magmas in submarine volcanoes, by blasting the glasses with a laser and measuring the resultant liberated isotopes via mass spectrometry. The samples are from a volcanic arc system that runs between New Zealand to Tonga (the Kermadec-Tofua arc system) – these volcanoes host numerous magmatic-hydrothermal black smoker systems with chemosynthetic (rather than photosynthetic) life forms. There is really very little understanding as to how 128Te, 130Te, 82Se, 76Ge, and 100Mo vary in these rocks as a function of sediment contributions into the mantle via subduction of the oceanic crust. The student will learn state-of-the-art analytical techniques and work to publish the results in the peer-reviewed literature.
  4. Let’s be real: adding imperfection to the detector simulation for HELIX, with Dr. N. Park:
    Related Topics: Particle physics, Astronomy, Instrumentation
    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. The Sound of Silence: Hearing Dark Matter with the PICO Experiment, with D. S. Sekula:
    Related Topics: Physics, Education & Outreach, Engineering
    The student will work at SNOLAB with the PICO dark matter bubble chamber experiment, including access to data and engagement with detector hardware. The goal is to use the audio and visual information to construct a viable outreach tool that can engage scientists and the general public using sound as the key exploratory medium. The PICO experiment employs a superheated liquid target with an adjustable threshold. When energy is deposited above the threshold, even by the slightest of interactions, a bubble forms. This bubble is captured using cameras, audio, and pressure-sensing hardware. It is established that a dark-matter-like interaction will sound different than a more common subatomic particle interaction, such as that caused by common alpha radiation. The student will explore the audio, learn to identify differences between kinds of interactions, learn to improve the audio experience, explore new ways of identifying and representing those interactions, and ultimately work to create a visually appealing explorer tool for the PICO data.
  6. Analysis and Modelling of Astrometric Measurements from Gaia, Data Release 3, with Dr. L. Widrow:
    Related Topics: Astronomy, Physics, Computer Science
    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 Third Data Release, made public in 2022 has full phase space information for over 34 million stars, which improves on DR2 by a factor of 7. The summer fellow will used Python-based tools to analyze Gaia data with the aim of modelling the dynamics of the Galaxy’s stellar disk. The position may involve a mix of machine learning, numerical simulations, and theoretical astrophysics.

How to Apply

The deadline to apply is February 13th. Typically, students should apply through MyCareer and apply by reference position 141905. In your application materials, you must highlight which project(s) (up to 2, please rank your preference) you would like to work with and why, and highlight any teaching experience you have.

However, we will be hiring several students under this position, some of which will be funded external to SWEP. Students who are ineligible for SWEP positions (e.g., students graduating this year and/or students at other institutes beyond Queen’s) can also apply, but must apply with the same package, but sent directly to Students eligible for SWEP positions (ie., Queen’s students who be continuing in the fall) must apply through MyCareer as detailed above.