Boulder Solar Alliance REU kicks off summer 2024 program


Boulder Solar Alliance REU kicks off summer 2024 program

The 2024 Boulder Solar Alliance cohort working on the final activity of bootcamp, in which students learned about the fundamentals of solar and space physics and programming skills. Credit: LASP
The 2024 Boulder Solar Alliance cohort working on the final activity of bootcamp, in which students learned about the fundamentals of solar and space physics and programming skills. Credit: LASP

The Boulder Solar Alliance Research Experience for Undergraduates (BSA REU) program is excited to welcome its 2024 summer cohort to Boulder! The program, funded by the National Science Foundation, offers students from a wide variety of backgrounds and home institutions the opportunity to participate in solar and space physics research guided by professional mentors. 

The BSA REU is managed by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) and involves eight solar-science institutes in the region. Joining the BSA REU cohort are students from the Partners Across the Sky REU program, which is an NSF-funded partnership between Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and CU Boulder, which seeks to open pathways to astronomy research for Native American students.

The students will spend the next 10 weeks learning techniques and skills that they will be able to use throughout their career. This year’s cohort is excited to begin the program! Learn more below about the new students, their professional research projects, and what they are looking forward to this summer in Boulder.

Spencer Biske: Spencer is from Columbia, Illinois, and is an incoming fourth year student majoring in physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. As an intern at LASP this summer, Spencer will be working with Dr. Quan Gan and Dr. Xiaohua Fang on the coupling of Mars’ thermosphere-ionosphere and waves in its lower atmosphere. He became interested in the math behind nonlinear dynamics and is excited to see how it connects with space weather this summer. He loves to camp and hike in the mountains around Santa Barbara and is particularly excited to spend time in the Rockies this summer.

Alexandros Cooke-Politikos: Alex is double majoring in physics and computer science at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. Originally from Avon, Connecticut, Alex spends his time rock climbing, playing video games, and playing the piano. This summer, he hopes to take up biking and hiking, and is looking forward to meeting new people and spending time outside. He will be working with Dr. Sergey Shuvalov at LASP studying Martian atmospheric escape. He plans to go to graduate school in astrophysics, and is excited to begin his research.

Simon Correra: Simon is a chemistry major and astrophysics minor at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. His project will draw on his particular interest in planetary science to study impacts on the dynamics of hydrogen isotopes on Venus under the guidance of Dr. Eryn Cangi at LASP. He is interested in conducting research as his future career and is excited for the hands-on experience he will get this summer.

Sumner Cotton: Sumner is a mathematics major at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, where he is a NCAA cross country ski racer. When not training for the season, he spends his time playing piano. He is from Steamboat, Colorado, and grew up in Boulder, so he is excited to get back to running and biking in the mountains nearby. Despite being a math major, he has wanted to participate in physics research, and found this program to be the perfect opportunity to do so. This summer he will be working with Dr. Sushanta Tripathy at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) investigating subsurface flow in the sun.

Eric Dunnington: Eric, originally from York, Maine, is entering his third year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, as a physics major. Up to now, he has found a particular interest in studying exoplanets and galaxies, so is excited to get to know solar and space physics a bit better. At the National Solar Observatory (NSO) this summer, he will be studying the effects of the Sun’s magnetic field on solar weather in active regions under Dr. João M. da Silva Santos. He is eager to take up hiking again in Boulder once he arrives.

Benjamin Goldman: Ben is a student at Columbia University studying Astrophysics. This summer he will be working with Dr. Xiaohua Fang at LASP, designing a machine learning model of Mars’ magnetosphere based on probe data. When not in school or working, Ben enjoys running, biking, and practicing guitar.

Nadia Gonzales: Nadia is an upcoming fourth year physics and astronomy double major at the University of Texas at Austin. Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Nadia spends most of her time watching movies, baking, and painting. She finds studying solar wind and its interactions with the planets in our solar system particularly fascinating and will be working on a project with Dr. Robin Ramstad and Dr. Yaxue Dong related to this at LASP this summer.

Ethan Grant: Ethan grew up in San Diego, California, and attends school there at Palomar College, where he is an incoming third year student majoring in computer science. Working with mentor Dr. Shannon Curry at LASP this summer, he will be finding solar storms with MAVEN data. He likes to powerlift, fish, and watch movies, and is a big fan of Star Wars, Marvel, and DC superheroes. He hopes to spend more time outdoors this summer and is excited to check out all the cool local places.

Elizabeth Hamilton: Ellie is entering her fourth year at Towson University (Towson, Maryland) where she is an astrophysics major. She has a particular interest in planetary science and will be spending her summer in Fiske Planetarium working on occultations with Dr. John Keller. In her free time, she loves to paint and write, and is hoping to do some hiking and climbing with new friends while in the Boulder area.

Ainsley Helgerson: Originally from Oakes, North Dakota, Ainsley just finished up her third year at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, where she is a double major in space physics and astronomy & astrophysics. This summer, she will be working at the NSF-NCAR High Altitude Observatory (HAO) and is especially looking forward to her research project and visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. She has a wide array of hobbies, including reading, gardening, and longboarding, and gets particularly excited about all things heliophysics!

Randy Iker: Randy is a rising sophomore at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, pursuing a degree in computer engineering. He holds an intense interest in gravity thanks to his mentor at Fort Lewis but will be working at LASP this summer studying the magnetosphere under science researcher Lauren Blum and graduate student Tyler Bishop. In his free time, he dances and paints, and is excited to take advantage of the live music scene Boulder has to offer.

Caleb Johnson: Caleb is finishing up his Associate of Engineering Science degree at Red Rocks Community College near Boulder. He is originally from East Texas, but grew up in Golden, Colorado, and is interested in attending CU Boulder for his bachelor’s degree. He will be working on a CubeSat project at LASP with graduate student Maggie Zheng and is excited to further his research experience. He likes anime, video games, working out, and wants to become an astronaut someday.

The 2024 Boulder Solar Alliance REU cohort listening to lectures during their first week of the program. Credit: LASP
The 2024 Boulder Solar Alliance REU cohort listening to lectures during their first week of the program. Credit: LASP

Aiza Kenzhebekova: Aiza is an incoming fourth-year astrophysics major at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado, and is excited to get a feel for research and be close to home at the same time. This summer she will be analyzing eclipse data at the National Solar Observatory mentored by Dr. Kevin Reardon. She loves to listen to audiobooks and podcasts, and since she plays a lot of sports, she is looking forward to playing pick-up soccer or hockey while in Boulder this summer.

Colton Koenig: At the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, Colton is entering his fourth year as a computational and applied mathematics major. Though he’s from Littleton, Colorado, he’s not that familiar with Boulder, and is excited to learn his way around the city and meet new people in the program. He loves to play guitar, watch movies, and read. At NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) this summer, he will be working under Dr. Astrid Maute to compare real-time WAM-IPE Neutral Wind with satellite measurements.

Phoebe Mahlin: Phoebe is an incoming senior at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in physics and astronomy. This summer she will be working at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) with Dr. Lisa Upton and Dr. Bibhuti Jha. This is her first research project, and she is eager to begin, since she plans to apply to graduate school. She loves to run and crochet and is excited to transition into trail running and hiking once she gets to Boulder.

Sophia Marrone: Sophia grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and stayed in Pennsylvania to attend Gettysburg College, where she is going into her fourth year as a physics major. She has been in cold weather for the past five months, and she plans to take advantage of Boulder’s warm weather by hiking and running outside. She has a few very crafty hobbies, like painting and crocheting, and wants to learn more about bracelet- and clothes-making this summer. She will be working at LASP under Dr. Deepak Kumar Karan and Dr. Saurav Aryal and is excited to explore a new area of research.

Wilson Moyer: As a mechanical and aerospace engineering major going into his second year at Princeton University (Princeton, New Jersey), Wilson will be working with Dr. Sam Califf at NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) on magnetic mapping. He is originally from Golden, Colorado, and is looking forward to interning while also being close to his family. He loves to bike, read, and hike, and looks forward to enjoying these hobbies in Boulder this summer.

Ellianna Nestlerode: Originally from Issaquah, Washington, Ellianna attends the University of Washington where she is entering her third year as a physics and astronomy double major. Though her interests lie in quantum mechanics, her project will analyze data from the recent solar eclipse and use image processing techniques to create a movie of the event at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) under Dr. Sarah Kovac. She is considering the astrophysics program at CU Boulder for her graduate studies and can’t wait to get to know the area and continue her hobby of hiking here in Boulder.

Reign Pagaran: University of Colorado Boulder student Reign will be analyzing data from NASA’s JUNO probe to characterize and understand what we know about the magnetosphere and ionosphere of Jupiter’s moon Callisto. Studying mechanical engineering, Reign enjoys playing improv piano, hiking, and racking up hours in Kerbal Space Program outside of school.

Emma Porter: Emma is from Nashville, Tennessee, and goes to school at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho. She is a physics major with an astronomy emphasis and will be working at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) this summer under Dr. Alin Paraschiv and Dr. Tom Schad modeling solar coronal magnetic fields. Since Idaho is so cold, she’s especially excited to take advantage of the warm weather in Boulder by hiking and spending time outside. She also likes to play the ukulele, draw, and play Minecraft.

Finnian Rogers: Finn is a fourth-year physics major at the South Dakota School of Mines. This summer, he will be working at NCAR’s High Altitude Observatory taking photographs of the Sun with an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope to study the process of Solar Imaging Processing. Outside of work and school, Finn enjoys drawing and spending time with his dog.

Emily Simpson: Emily Simpson is a double major in planetary science and astronomy & astrophysics at Florida Tech in Melbourne, Florida, where she will be graduating this fall. This summer she will be working at LASP with Dr. Vincent Dols on a project involving numerical simulations of the interaction of Jupiter’s magnetospheric plasma with the atmosphere of its moon, Europa. On top of reading, doing art, and crocheting, she especially loves planetary science and learning about our solar system, and is very excited to begin her research project.

Mateo Valera: As a physics major with a concentration in astrophysics at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, Georgia, Mat is going into his fourth year and hopes to attend graduate school after graduation. Under mentor Dr. John Keller at the Fiske Planetarium, Mat will be doing tool and asset development for eclipse and occultation full-dome visualizations. Mat is originally from Maryland, and this will be his first time leaving the East Coast, so he is especially excited to take up hiking here in Boulder.

Julia Zamora: Studying engineering physics at Colorado School of Mines, Julia is no stranger to the Rocky Mountains, and enjoys rock climbing, mountain biking, and camping. This summer she will be designing an atmospheric probe in the form of a balloon and glider system to reach Earth’s stratosphere and gather data to better understand Earth’s radiation belt dynamics.

-By Emma Opper, LASP Communications Intern & Willow Reed, Senior Communications Specialist

Founded a decade before NASA, the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder is on a mission to transform human understanding of the cosmos by pioneering new technologies and approaches to space science. The institute is at the forefront of solar, planetary, and space physics research, climate and space-weather monitoring, and the search for evidence of habitable worlds. LASP is also deeply committed to inspiring and educating the next generation of space explorers. From the first exploratory rocket measurements of Earth’s upper atmosphere to trailblazing observations of every planet in the solar system, LASP continues to build on its remarkable history with a nearly $1 billion portfolio of new research and engineering programs, backed by superb data analysis, reliable mission operations, and skilled administrative support.

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