NSF NOIRLab's REU Chile Program

NSF NOIRLab’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Chile program features multiple elements designed to foster careers in STEM. Undergraduate students will have the opportunity to work closely with a NOIRLab research mentor on a research topic in forefront astrophysics and experience professional astronomy observing first hand. They will also be able to participate in a professional development program and Chile-specific astronomy-related enrichment activities designed to enhance their understanding of and appreciation for the local and cultural context in which astronomy operates. By incorporating these multiple dimensions in the program, we aim to connect with diverse students and help foster a lifelong interest in STEM and STEM-related careers. Our students will not only gain experience with front-line techniques of modern astrophysics, but also develop critical thinking, data analysis, teamwork, science communication, and other professional skills that are applicable to a wide array of careers in STEM.

The program will initially be offered in the 2025 Chilean summer (January – March). Students will be based in La Serena and will be provided with a stipend and housing on the NOIRLab campus.

More information about the program:

A Tendril of Stars

Milky Way above Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile.
Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/B. Tafreshi


Program Elements

Individual Research Projects: Each student will be paired with a mentor from NOIRLab’s scientific staff to investigate a well-defined scientific question in the mentor’s area of research. Through their project work, students will gain experience in the questions, methods, and analysis techniques of professional astrophysics and, ideally, follow their project to a suitable endpoint that can be reported at a professional astronomy meeting. To reach this point within the ten-week term of the program, students will primarily begin with science-ready data: reduced images, spectra, and/or time-series observations obtained with many of the world’s leading astronomical facilities.

Example research projects

Introduction to Coding: The program will provide basic training in coding in Python in order to facilitate timely progress on student research projects and to enable students with different backgrounds and preparation to participate effectively. Carried out in approximately one-hour daily sessions over the first two weeks (depending on student needs), the training will focus on the skills students will need to carry out their projects and share their results. These skills are likely to include: visualizing, plotting, and fitting data, and making attractive plots suitable for presentations, reports, and publications. 

Observing Experience: As students will primarily work with science-ready data in their research projects, our program will also include complementary activities that provide direct, first-hand experience of the observational resources and techniques used in acquiring data (telescopes, instruments, observing processes and methods), e.g., daytime visits to Chilean observatories on Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón, eavesdropping on observing at the International Gemini Observatory, and a group observing project on the SMARTS 0.9-meter Telescope

Panorama of Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory

Panorama of Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. REU students will visit CTIO and have a chance to experience observing with a CTIO telescope. Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/B. Tafreshi

Cerro Pachón Panorama

Aerial panorama of Cerro Pachón in Chile, with the Vera C. Rubin Observatory visible in the middle. REU students will visit these facilities. Credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/T. Matsopoulos

Chile-specific Astronomy-related Enrichment Activities: Enrichment activities, designed to enhance students’ understanding of and appreciation for the local and cultural context in which astronomy operates, will introduce students to cultural astronomy (archaeoastronomy), sky brightness and light pollution measurements, and astro-tourism, and offer them the opportunity to engage with Chilean students in a research journal club. 

Collecting Data for Globe at Night

Quantifying sky brightness and light pollution are an important component of present-day site protection efforts. REU students will have the opportunity to learn how to make such measurements. Credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/R. Sparks & P. Marenfeld

Professional Development Program: Weekly practical professional development activities will help students succeed and thrive in a career in STEM. The topics covered may include:

  • Imposter Syndrome.
  • Responsible and ethical conduct of research.
  • How to give an effective scientific presentation tailored to different audiences; how to write an abstract; how to create an effective poster.
  • Opportunities and career paths in STEM (industry, education, research, communications) including observatory operations, instrumentation, software development, and data science.
  • What is graduate school like? What is it like to be a postdoc? How to choose a graduate program. How to apply to graduate school successfully.
  • Strategies for successful job interviews.
  • How to write a personal statement, how to write a fellowship application.
  • Sustainability in astronomy.

Updated on June 21, 2024, 10:10 am