Research Opportunities

You don’t have to be a graduate student to do research in AeroAstro — we have a range of research opportunities in which you can work, sometimes as early as your first year at MIT. As a participant in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), you can work with faculty as a junior colleague in every phase of their research: developing plans, writing proposals, conducting research, analyzing data, presenting research results. You may find yourself working on a project sponsored by the FAA, NASA, or a private aerospace company. UROPs are a great way to explore aerospace research, prepare for graduate school and future careers, connect with faculty and apply classroom learning to real-world research.

UROPs take place during the academic year and over the summer. Projects may last for an entire semester; some continue for a year or more. UROP students receive academic credit, pay, or are volunteers, depending on the project. A UROP may not be pursued for both pay and credit within a term. Ineligible for UROPs are special students, students on leave from MIT, and students who have completed their degree program (unless they stay registered to finish a double major).

If you’re interested in particular research areas, you should:

If you have general UROP questions or concerns, contact UROP coordinator Marie Stuppard.

Current AeroAstro Research Opportunities

View current AeroAstro undergraduate research opportunities below. Submit an opportunity (Note: Touchstone login required.)

Affiliated Lab/Research Group: Aerospace Plasma Group (APG)
Faculty Supervisor: Professor Guerra-Garcia

Damage from lightning is one of the leading causes for repairs and maintenance of wind turbines, a leading form of renewable energy. The Aerospace Plasma Group is looking for UROPs to contribute to research on electrical breakdown and the effects on Wind turbines. The project will involve design (Mechanical CAD, Electrical High Voltage) and machining of a wind tunnel testing rig, and conducting wind tunnel testing to understand the underlying physics of how lightning forms on wind turbine blades and how it can be mitigated. Depending on the students’ interests and prior experience, involvement in this project can include design and build work of experimental setups, wind tunnel testing, and/or image post-processing and data analysis. This will be an in-person position. SuperUROPS are encouraged to apply.

  • Project duration: Tuesday, September 21, 2021 to Friday, December 31, 2022
  • Students who may apply: First Years, Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors
  • Compensation: For Credit or For Pay

For more information or to apply, contact: Benjamin Charles Martell, martellb@mit.edu.

Affiliated Lab/Research Group: Human Systems Laboratory

MOXIE, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, is one of the payloads that is on the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. MOXIE was developed by MIT and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to demonstrate, for the first time, In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) on another planet by extracting O2 from CO2 in the Martian atmosphere using solid oxide electrolysis (SOE). In order to inform and control its system, MOXIE has a set of temperature, pressure, and composition sensors that measure its internal gas flows. The four composition sensors are commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and include an oxygen sensor (0 – 100%) and a carbon dioxide sensor (0 – 5%) for the output gas stream from the SOE anode (expected to be pure oxygen) and another carbon dioxide sensor (0 – 100%) and a carbon monoxide sensor (0 – 100%) for the cathode (a mixture of CO2 and CO). Except for the luminescence oxygen sensor, all of these composition sensors are Non-Dispersive Infrared Radiation (NDIR) sensors produced for Earth-ambient-conditions. A series of tests under a range of pressures and compositions have been conducted in order to properly calibrate and characterize (C&C) the sensors to understand their behavior on Mars. The UROP work will involve data analysis of laboratory-collected experimental data for the composition sensors. Matlab data analysis skills needed. 

*This opportunity is open to all, but preference for Juniors/Seniors (or students with good Matlab data analysis experience)

  • Project duration: Fall 2021 (with possible extension to IAP)
  • Students who may apply: First Years, Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors
  • Compensation: For Credit or For Pay

For more information or to apply, contact: Maya Nasr, mayanasr@mit.edu.

Affiliated Lab/Research Group: Human Systems Laboratory

Antarctica has already experienced a 3°C rise in air temperature and is melting at an ever-increasing pace. Yet there exists no daily high-resolution satellite imagery to monitor, understand, or publicize the melting processes in Antarctica. In our previous research, we have advanced the physical consistency of generative adversarial networks (GANs) to synthesize trustworthy satellite imagery of future coastal floods. This UROP project will extend the method to temporal data and generate a trustworthy synthetic satellite product that visualizes melting Antarctic sea ice.

Preferred, but not necessary qualifications:
– Experience working with satellite data, e.g., Sen-1/2, Planet, MODIS
– Geospatial data processing, e.g., python rasterio, Google Earth Engine, ArcGIS, etc.
– General understanding of numerical methods for solving differential equations
– Cryospheric dynamics, e.g., ability to understand the MAR model
– Understanding of generative deep learning models, e.g., VAEs, GANs, normalizing flows, diffusion models
– Programming experience with machine learning libraries, e.g., pytorch, tensorflow
– Passion for climate issues
– Collaborative spirit

We strongly value an environment of inclusion, support, and collaboration and highly encourage students from historically excluded groups to apply. The research will be with our team at the Human Systems Laboratory, Dept. of AeroAstro, and Prof. Dava Newman. If you’re interested please feel free to email me until 09/17 with a CV and two paragraphs about your interest, experience, and long-term goals at lutjens [at ] mit [dot] edu.
Happy to hear from you,
Björn Lütjens

  • Project duration: Friday, September 17, 2021 to Friday, February 4, 2022
  • Students who may apply: First Years, Sophomores, Juniors, Seniors
  • Compensation: For Credit or For Pay

For more information or to apply, contact: Björn Lütjens, lutjens@mit.edu

Affiliated Lab/Research Group: Human Systems Laboratory

Climate models can be unwieldy beasts of computing. Simulating a year of climate can take up to two weeks on a 5000 GPU node supercomputer and if being powered by fossil fuels emit two railcars worth of coal.

The computational expense of climate models makes them difficult to use for exploring policy decisions, planning climate-resilient infrastructures, or quantifying uncertainties. A lightweight global climate model that can run on a tablet could revolutionize the way we interact with climate predictions.

This research project will advance the physical consistency of novel deep learning-based time-series models, such as neural networks, RNNs, LSTMs, transformers, GANs, or PINNs. The student will research their favorite method and large simulation-based climate datasets (e.g. CMIP6) to build a climate surrogate model, i.e., a trustworthy lightweight copy that can simulate the climate in minutes rather than weeks.
Preferred, but not necessary qualifications:
– General understanding of weather or climate data, e.g., CMIP6
– Familiarity with deep learning libraries, e.g., pytorch, tensorflow.
– Experience of large-scale data processing in python with, e.g., xarray, pandas
– Passion for climate issues
– Collaborative spirit
– Very optional, but fun if there‘s an experience in UI/UX, geospatial data, reduced-order modeling of PDEs, climate policy

We strongly value an environment of inclusion, support, and collaboration and highly encourage students from historically excluded groups to apply. The research will be with our team at the Human Systems Laboratory, Dept. of AeroAstro, and Prof. Dava Newman. If you’re interested please feel free to email me until 09/17 with a CV and two paragraphs about your interest, experience, and long-term goals at lutjens [at ] mit [dot] edu.

Thank you,
Björn Lütjens

  • Project duration: Friday, September 17, 2021 to Friday, February 4, 2022
  • Students who may apply: First Year Sophomore Junior Senior
  • Compensation: For Credit For Pay

For more information or to apply, contact: Björn Lütjens, lutjens@mit.edu

Affiliated Lab/Research Group: Space Propulsion Laboratory

The project is situated in the context of electrospray thruster engineering. Electrospraying is a technique that can be used to eject mass from ionic liquids in a very simplistic, and compact way, potentially enabling CubeSats with high efficiency and specific impulse propulsion.
During its normal operation, spacecraft could face serious charging and particle backscattering problems, if the electrospray beams are not properly neutralized. The most common way of neutralization for ionic liquid electrospray thrusters is the bipolar configuration, where two ion beams of different polarities are fired at the same time next to each other.

This project pretends to analyze how these two different polarity beams interact. The idea is to build an experimental setup to analyze particle fluxes, and all the postprocessing capability and data analysis.

UROPs on this project will get to participate in the design of the experimental setup, including CAD design, component machining, testing, and data processing of the ion plumes.

UROPs will get hands-on experience with space propulsion testing facilities, such as the operation of vacuum chambers, electric circuit design, soldering.

  • Prerequisites: Experience with Matlab, SolidWorks and machining is required. Availability for a minimum of 8-10 h per week.
  • Desirable: Knowledge of electrostatics, some particle motion dynamics, and basic electric circuit design is a plus!
  • Project duration: Wednesday, September 22, 2021 to Monday, December 13, 2021
  • Students who may apply: Junior, Senior
  • Compensation: For Credit or For Pay
  • Faculty supervisor: Paulo Lozano

For more information or to apply, contact: Ximo Gallud Cidoncha, ximogc@mit.edu

Affiliated Lab/Research Group: Space Propulsion Laboratory

Small “CubeSat” satellites have revolutionized low-Earth orbit but the propulsion technology required for deep-space remains elusive at such a small scale. The STEP-1 (Staged Electrospray Pathfinder 1) satellite project in the Space Propulsion Lab (SPL) aims to solve that by combining the well-known efficiency and compactness of electrospray thrusters with a staging system to allow long, large delta-V, missions in CubeSat form factors.
UROPs on this project get the opportunity to design and perform hands-on prototyping and test of satellite subsystems. This includes SolidWorks modeling, 3D printing and machining, PCB/electronics design, mission/system analysis, and performing experiments in the lab. The project will continue until at least the end of 2023, so long-term interest is especially desirable and could mean something you make will literally go to space before long.
STEP-1 is an ambitious project with a tight timeline, so it is key that the mentality and goals of students are well aligned with the project. UROPs are expected to be able to spend at least 10h per week on the project. No specific prior experience is required, we will discuss options on a case-by-case basis.

The project is lead by Prof. Paulo Lozano and PhD student Gustav Pettersson. Please send an email with information about yourself, relevant experience, and your interests in this project and goals for the future. Responses on or before Sept 5 are prioritized for selection, but recruitment rolling.

  • Project duration: Monday, September 13, 2021 to Friday, December 10, 2021
  • Students who may apply: First years, Sophomore Junior Senior
  • Compensation: For Credit or For Pay
  • Faculty supervisor: Paulo Lozano

For more information or to apply, contact: Gustav Pettersson, gupet@mit.edu.

Affiliated Lab/Research Group: Space Telecommunications, Astronomy and Radiation Laboratory

One of the chief obstacles to getting small satellites into space is the constraints imposed by the launch vehicle. The vibrational environment of launch leads to structures that are overengineered for orbit. Additionally, if you need to replace a node in a constellation the time constraint to wait for a launch that will inject into the correct orbit can cause you to miss out on important mission time.

These problems can be mitigated by assembling satellites on orbit. We seek to create an on-orbit “locker” of satellite parts and a cartesian robot to assemble satellites on orbit. On-demand, the robot would put together a satellite of one of multiple configurations, test its functionality, maneuver to the correct orbit, and deploy it. This technology could be leveraged in multiple ways, from node replacement in constellations to deployment for simple satellite missions to rapidly deployable emergency response observation satellites.

There are multiple aspects to the problem we are interested in getting help on, from building on existing structural design of a 1U CubeSat to be assembled (including 3D printing and electronic designs), gripper design and implementation, robot programming, and locker systems design (part storage, satellite deployment, etc). If you are interested in joining the project, please specify in your email what you’d want to work on, as well as any relevant experience.

Project is listed to last only one semester, but can continue into IAP and/or spring semester if you are interested.

  • Project duration: Wednesday, September 8, 2021 to Thursday, December 9, 2021
  • Students who may apply: Sophomore Junior Senior
  • Compensation: For Credit or For Pay

For more information or to apply, contact: Mary Dahl, marydahl@mit.edu.

Paid/Credit UROPS

Paid UROP

To obtain a paid UROP, students must submit a proposal for direct UROP or research-sponsored funding by the Institute’s UROP deadline. During the fall and spring terms, most students typically work 12 hours per week and as many as 40 hours per week during IAP and the summer. MIT has an established hourly rate for UROP pay, however, at the discretion of a UROP supervisor and the department, students whose stipend is covered through research funds may earn a higher rate. Students are expected to keep track of their worked hours and submit electronic timesheets on a weekly basis. Students paid through direct UROP funds need to print their weekly timesheets for approval by their direct supervisor and bring a copy to the Course 16 student financial administrator Carol Niemi, Room 33-208. If students decide not to pursue a UROP after it has been approved, it is advisable that they immediately notify the research supervisor, the UROP Office, and Carol Niemi.

In accordance with U.S. immigration law, all student workers (and other MIT employees) are required to provide proof of identity and authorization to work in the United States. Before they can be paid, new student workers must complete Section 1 of the I-9 form electronically in MIT’s online system. The employee/student worker has three business days from hire date to present original supporting documentation in person to the Atlas Service Center.

Credit UROP

Credit UROPs can be performed during the academic year and over the summer. Note that few students enroll in credit UROPs in the summer as tuition charges will be applied.

To do a UROP for credit, students submit a proposal <http://web.mit.edu/urop/apply/index.html> by the Institute’s UROP deadline and register in WebSIS <http://mit.edu/studentserve/websis/> for 16.UR (pass/fail) by Drop Date. An AeroAstro student doing a UROP for credit outside of the department registers for a UROP number in that department (e.g., 2.URG, 6.UR, 8.UR). The number of units a student earns is equal to the number of weekly hours devoted to the project. At the end of each term, AeroAstro UROP supervisors submit a grade and an evaluation of the student’s performance on the project. Credit hours may be adjusted at that time if the supervisor deems that the student has worked fewer or more weekly hours on the project.