ASSURE Projects Summer 2016

Propagation of whistlers in the Van Allen Radiation Belts
Student: Jordan Blancarte
Forrest Mozer & Oleksiy Agapitov

This is a computer analysis of wave data collected in the Earth's outer radiation belts on the Van Allen Satellites. The waves of interest are called "whistler waves and they are responsible for accelerating electrons to relativistic energies in space.  Their properties, such as propagation direction, obliqueness, amplitude, etc. determine how effective they are in this acceleration. The project will consist of finding ~50 events and doing IDL analyses to determine the wave properties.

What is the nature of the high energy X-ray sources in the Galaxy?
Student: Sophie Cuturilo
John Tomsick & Maica Clavel

Finding sources of high energy X-rays allow us to probe the most extreme conditions in the Universe.  Such sources include accreting black holes and neutron stars, where we find the strongest gravitational and magnetic fields, as well as pulsars and supernova remnants, where particles are accelerated to produce the high energy X-rays.  Over the past decade, the INTEGRAL satellite has been discovering new high energy sources, and part of this project will be to use X-ray and optical observations to understand their nature. Over the past few years, the NuSTAR satellite, with much better sensitivity than INTEGRAL, has been allowing us to find even more high energy X-ray sources, and this project also includes studies to learn about the NuSTAR serendipitous sources.

Distributed databases for SETI
Student: Erick Quintanilla
Eric Korpela  & Jeff Cobb

As the amount of data has grown, databases of SETI results, such as those for SETI@home, have grown to the point where traditional SQL databases are too slow handle queries in a reasonable amount of time. The time has come for the Berkeley SETI projects to transition to a distributed database or cloud-based query engines. This project will involve identifying candidate databases (i.e. crate, BigQuery,..), developing code to export data from existing databases and import a subset into new databases. The final step would be executing candidate identification queries against the new databases to gauge their relative performance.

“Hacking” an SEM: Can we use the built-in programming features in our electron microscope to produce uniform images of non-uniform samples?
Student: Armando Gil
Kees Welten & Alex Bixler

The NASA Genesis Mission flew special collector materials on a satellite from 2002-2004 to collect a sample of the solar wind.  However, a spacecraft malfunction
caused the onboard sample materials to be severely contaminated during the landing in the Utah desert. As part of an ongoing effort to decontaminate the collector materials, they are being scanned with a scanning electron microscope.  This effort is underway currently, but we have identified an opportunity to improve the quality of the data collected.  At present, many small images are acquired and stitched together to form larger images of Genesis collector pieces. The collectors are physically distorted, however, and imaging methods presently used don’t allow imaging parameters to be adjusted between images to correct for this distortion. We propose to work with a student who has some knowledge of the Python programming language to develop a routine to do this optimization. We would use the SEM’s built in programming capabilities (a set of existing Python commands) to make adjustments to the microscope settings between images.  

Mapping the early universe with POLARBEAR
Student: Ashante McLeod-Perez
Darcy Barron & Adrian Lee

POLARBEAR is a telescope in the Atacama desert in its fifth observing season, performing a survey of cosmic microwave background polarization across the Southern sky. The cosmic microwave background is the thermal radiation from the Big Bang, creating an almost uniform signal across the sky, redshifted into microwave wavelengths. These measurements require long exposures in very good weather, and the full survey will take several years, with two new telescopes being installed this year. The observatory is mostly run remotely, due to the harsh conditions at the site. Summer projects would be related to creating tools to improve monitoring, observation uptime, or data quality, and the specific project would depend on the student’s skills and interests. Potential projects include building an IR camera and supporting software to monitor cloud cover, or using existing data to better understand typical observation and weather statistics.  

How well correlated is the Solar Wind between L1 and the Moon?
Student: Shean Crane
Heidi Fuqua & Shahab Fatemi & Andrew Poppe & Greg Delory

This project seeks to answer the project question through analyzing magnetometer data from multiple satellites, two at the Moon (Kaguya and Lunar Prospector) and one at the L1 Lagrange point (ACE). This entails learning satellite mission architecture, downloading and processing magnetic field data time series, identifying measurement orbital locations, performing a correlation analysis to identify time windows within the datasets of high correlation and investigating potential causes. Regions of high correlation will be used for future two point analysis of the lunar interior through isolating induction.

Visualizing the NASA ICON mission in 3D
Student: Ricardo Mendez
Thomas Immel & Nate Miller
The ICON Explorer mission ( will provide several data products for the atmosphere and ionosphere after its launch in 2017. The products, which are different at day and night, could be made available in widely used visualization tools (Google Earth, Worldwide Telescope, etc). This project will support the mission by investigating the capability of these tools for visualization of 1) observatory characteristics and FOVs, 2) data acquisition 3) science modes and 4) representations of the data products. Eventually, the initial work done this summer could lead to the addition of a downloadable visualization packages for mission demonstration or science visualization.


Electric fields in the ionosphere

Student: Amanda Williams


Thomas Immel & Laura Peticolas

The ICON Explorer mission ( is the first mission specifically designed to investigate how Earth's atmosphere generates electric fields in space. These electric fields are the main cause the development of the daytime ionsphere, and are energized by the dynamo forcing of the neutral wind above 100 km. ICON will observe the neutral wind in space from 100 to 300 km altitude, and measure the conductivity of the plasma as well, capturing the two key parameters that go into the generation of electric potentials. Simulations of this process are done regularly using the NCAR TIEGCM. This project will involve breaking down the dynamo calculator from the NCAR model and modifying it so that it could take ICON neutral wind measurements. A number of tests can also be run and reported on that describe the sensitivity of the electric field generation to variations in the wind and conductivity profiles in the model, and eventually in the ICON measurements.


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