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Physics / Engineering

Sample Projects

Sample CURE Research Projects

(Projects change regularly)

1. High-Precision Astrometry of Occultation Asteroids

Mentor: William Owen Jr. (JPL)

CURE students will learn how to plan and obtain astrometric (position) observations of selected minor planets using the 0.6-m telescope at JPL's Table Mountain Observatory. They will participate in the subsequent analysis and reduction of their data, and they will be credited in all measurements that are transmitted to the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center. Their results will thus be available worldwide so that astronomers can update the orbits of the asteroids which the students observed.

The observing program will place particular emphasis on those asteroids which are shortly to pass in front of ("occult") stars as seen from some places on the earth. The observations are thus used to update the location of the ground track for these events. In each of the past two years several dozen asteroid occultations have been observed thanks to such late updates.

CURE student tasks: Properties of asteroids, planning, observations, and data analysis.

CURE interns
  • Amanda McAuley, Fall 09 -
  • Jennifer Shitanishi, Fall 09 - Spring 10
  • Tzitlaly Barajas, Fall 09 -
  • James Foster, Fall 09 -
  • Karen Garcia, Summer 2010 -
  • Tino Truong, Fall 2010 -
  • Sarah Estabrook, Summer 2012
  • Brandon Day, Summer 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Summer 2013
  • Anson Einy, Summer 2013
  • Gilberto Castaneda, Spring 2014, Summer 2014
  • Mark Shiffer, Spring 2014-Spring 2016
  • Alex Carr, Spring 2016-Summer 2017
  • Christopher LaBorde, Summer 2016
  • Jason Dial, Summer 2017
2. Space Physics Instrumentation

Mentor: Neil Murphy (JPL)

Work on the development of space physics instrumentation. We are developing two instrument types: A solar remote sensing instrument to measure velocity and magnetic fields on the sun and an in-situ magnetometer for making precise and accurate magnetic field measurements from future space missions.

Reference: Murphy, N., et al, Chromospheric observations in the Helium 1083nm line - A new instrument, ESA SP-592, 2005.

CURE student tasks: Hands-on laboratory work, spectroscopy, vacuum work, interface programming. Some background in physics, solar physics or instrumentation would help, but there are a wide range of activities that a student could contribute to.

CURE interns
  • Ivan Bernal, Summer 2009 - Summer 2010
  • Stephanie Zajac, Summer 2009 - Spring 2010
  • Raquel Nuno, Summer 2010
  • Jacquelyn Harrington, Summer 2010
  • Rossen Chemelekov/Kelvin Konevsky, Summer 2012
  • Logan Rudd - Spring 2014, summer 2014
  • Gerardo Hernandez - Spring 2014, Summer 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015
  • Luis Diaz, Summer 2015
  • Nabil Hentabli, Summer 2016
  • Lionel Elkins, Summer 2016-Summer 2017
  • Joshua Nishida. Summer 2017
3. Pythonizing Dust Model Code for Circumstellar Debris

Mentor: Farisa Morales (JPL)

Infrared space telescopes observations have greatly enriched our understanding of disks of dust around main sequence stars that are associated with planetary systems and their formation. The observed particles have short lifetimes against various dissipation mechanisms in comparison to the age of their parent stars; therefore, the dust must be replenished through processes such as the evaporation of comets or grinding down of asteroids in each system. By studying these debris disks, it is possible to probe the underlying planetary systems.

CURE student tasks: This project consists of pythonizing (converting IDL code into python) and enhancing an existing dust modeling pipeline/code to be used for the analysis of hundreds of debris disks around mature stars, and for which space telescope data is in hand. Suggested and/or Required college level physics, calculus, and some python programming.

CURE interns
  • Justin Sparks, Summer 2017
  • Marcos Martinez, Summer 2017
4. Quick reference library for Advanced Concepts Team

Mentor: Dr. Michael Mercury (JPL)

JPL's A-Team is a group of engineers, scientists, visual storytellers and conversation facilitators who rapidly explore and generate ideas for the next great space mission.

The A-team would like to have a catalog that summarizes all instruments/sensors previously flown in space. The participant would look through archives and learn about every instrument JPL has every launched. This includes those that look at the distant stars, and those that look at the planets in our solar system. The participant will have to learn about the A-Team processes to know what information will be useful and how to display it, and they will have to learn about all of the different types of instruments space explorers have in their toolkit.

CURE intern
  • Masha Petrowizky (Summer 2015)

5. Multi-Agent Control and Computer Vision

Mentor: Dr. Michael Wolf (JPL)

JPL leads a variety of maritime robotics projects. In this project, we are designing systems for a fleet of fast-moving surface boats, known as autonomous (or unmanned) surface vehicles (ASVs or USVs). In particular, JPL’s development focuses on the perception and control systems. Perception hardware and software enable the robotic boat to “see” its environment, especially other boats; we typically employ camera-based (EO/IR) perception from two sensor systems—a forward-looking stereo vision system and a long-range monocular 360-degree system. The control systems enable the boat to coordinate with other members of the fleet (e.g., task allocation and formation control) and to navigate safely while adhering to the maritime “rules of the road” (known as COLREGS).

Project Description

The student will assist in development and testing algorithms for the mutli-agent cooperative control and/or vision-based perception systems for an autonomous surface vehicle (ASV).

This may include prototyping computer vision or control algorithms, building multi-agent simulation environments, and managing experiments to evaluate the performance of existing algorithms. The student will work with data logged from the ASV during its on-water mission testing for evaluation and advancement of the software. The student will contribute to a JPL team of autonomy and computer vision experts.

M. T. Wolf, C. Assad, Y. Kuwata, A. Howard, H. Aghazarian, D. Zhu, T. Lu, A. Trebi-Ollennu, and T. Huntsberger, “360-degree visual detection and target tracking on an autonomous surface vehicle”, Journal of Field Robotics, vol. 27, Nov. 2010

T. Huntsberger, H. Aghazarian, A. Howard, and D. Trotz, “Stereo vision–based navigation for autonomous surface vessels”, Journal of Field Robotics, vol. 28, Jan. 2011.

Y. Kuwata, M. T. Wolf, D. Zarzhitsky, and T. L. Huntsberger, "Safe Maritime Autonomous Navigation with COLREGS, Using Velocity Obstacles," IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering, 39(1): 110-119, 2014.

T. Huntsberger, P. Pirjanian, A. Trebi-Ollennu, H.D. Nayar, H. Aghazarian, A. Ganino, M. Garrett, S.S. Joshi, and P.S. Schenker, "CAMPOUT: A Control Architecture for Tightly Coupled Coordination of Multi-Robot Systems for Planetary Surface Exploration," IEEE Trans. Systems, Man & Cybernetics, Part A: Systems and Humans, Special Issue on Collective Intelligence, 33(5): 550-559, 2003.

A. Stroupe, A. Okon, M. Robinson, T. Huntsberger, H. Aghazarian, and E. Baumgartner, "Sustainable Cooperative Robotic Technologies for Human and Robotic Outpost Infrastructure Construction and Maintenance," Autonomous Robots, 20(2): 113-123, 2006.


Strong software skills, with experience in MATLAB, C/C++, and Linux preferable. Experience in simulation, computer vision, or multi-agent systems desired if applying for roles in those respective areas. No previous experience or specific software skills required for roles in managing and annotating data sets and running experiments.

CURE interns
  • Kenneth Jones (Summer 2015)
  • Jose Padilla (Summer 2015)
6. Europa Lander Sample Excavation Testing

The Europa Lander is a mission currently slated for launch in the 2023 timeframe. After landing on the moon of Jupiter, the vehicle would acquire up to five cryogenic (90 K) ice samples from a depth of at least 10 cm. These would be analyzed for signs of biologic activity and assessed for potential habitable sub-ice environments.

In order to inform the design of a flight sample excavation and collection system, the first iteration of designs have been identified. The goal of the program is collect data for each respective tool which will form the basis of an eventual flight design in 2017-2018.

CURE student tasks: Regular shift test reports on excavator and collector performance. Data generated will be used to develop new cutting tool prototypes

Desired Skills: LabView, Microsoft Access (or other database experience), Test experience

CURE interns
  • Lina Yi, Spring 2017, Summer 2017