Mentor-proposed projects

(last updated 2020-02)

This page has some ideas for projects proposed by mentors. This list is not at all a limit on what you can do. Students and mentors can propose projects to each other and will decide together. This is just meant to give students some ideas of things they could work on.

More information about the mentors is at

Nicole Lloyd-Ronning

  • Model properties of populations of neutron star mergers (birth sites, kick velocities, delay times to merger, etc.), as well as host galaxy mass distribution properties, to determine the offset distribution of neutron star mergers. Compare this to the observations and see if we can constrain the birth conditions of merger systems and/or their host galaxies.
  • Mine a large database for distinct multi-wavelength observational signatures between radio loud and radio quiet long gamma-ray bursts. Explore models of their potential progenitor systems (e.g. binary vs. non-binary systems), and their observational consequences.

Mohit Dubey

  • Wildfire Modeling, I have a project in the works that can be further developed.
  • Machine Learning and Audio (can be a basic intro to ML and apply to some audio problems).
  • Simulating the Origins of Life, implementing ideas based on the book “Energy Flow in Biology” by Morowitz.

Jason Schaefer

  • Gain deep understanding of computer networking, security, privacy and relation to society by installing the free/open-source router OpenWRT and creating a network from scratch with it, including standard services such as DHCP, DNS, NAT, VLAN, Firewall and 802.11abgn (wireless). This setup would then become the Institute’s network.
  • Dive deep in to operating systems by creating a high-end extremely productive server system running Debian GNU/Linux and making it into a collaboration platform with both user and programmer/scientific services like Nextcloud, Jenkins, Gitlab. Make this integrate with desktop, laptop and phones seamlessly. Then explore the issues of corporate control of people’s data.
  • Create a network as outlined above and then write programs using the Python networking libraries to probe the network and automatically create graphs of the network layout and all its services.

jason at schaeferconsulting dot com

David Palmer

  • Make a device that points out stars, planets, and bright satellites including the space station as they pass over. (Two motors and a pointer for the mechanics. A sufficient computer to drive the motors and to present a web interface over WiFi.)
  • Analyze data from spacecraft to detect the frequencies of the Crab and other pulsars.
  • Make an optical beacon that can be detected and identified with a video camera. One micro controller could drive a dozen or two LEDs to arms, legs, head etc. with each LED blinking its own code. Multiple cameras pick up the signal to do 3D reconstruction.

dmopalmer at gmail dot com

Ashley Teufel

Background information for projects:

I am a computational biologist and have an ecological and a molecular biology project in mind that I think would be really fun to work on with a student. If you haven’t taken biology yet or if it’s just been awhile this is basically the only biology you need to know to work on these projects:

1) The central dogma of biology:
DNA codes for RNA that codes for proteins.
as a follow up to that:
Ribosomes translate RNA to proteins.
Proteins then do just about everything in the cell.

2) Species interact with one another.
For example, a population of foxes eats a population of rabbits. After the foxes have eaten too many of the rabbits, the foxes start to run out of food and die off. The reduced number of foxes allows the population of rabbits to increase. The increased amount of food for the foxes allows the population of foxes to increase and the cycle continues.

Potential project ideas:

  • Ride the Ribosome – Create a roller coaster style game using any free game engine of ribosomes traveling along an RNA sequence. The speed at which a ribosome can travel along an RNA sequence is based on the sequence’s composition. Sequences are made up of combinations of slower and faster parts. By being able to physically visualize the process we could gain insight into why some portions of the sequence are fast and why some are slower.
  • Uncovering species interactions from ecological data – Using systems of differential equations the dynamics of species interaction, such as a predator-prey system, can be simulated over time. Using data from those simulations, we will apply a machine learning approach to discover if the parameters used to simulate the data can be recovered, and how much data is necessary to recover the parameters. This project would help inform how often and how many samples need to be collected in ecological field research in order to detect how species interact.

ateufel at santafe dot edu

Ed Fenimore

  • Astrophysical objects discovered at Los ALamos have helped transform our understanding of the universe. Through Monte Carlo computer simulations and analysis, predict how different classes of astrophysical objects would appear in satellite data and understand why those objects are now believed to be the birth of black holes near the edge of the visible universe.

efenimore at lanl dot gov

Joann Mudge

  • Build a platform that middle or high school students could use to explore speciation as they alter parameters such as the landscape, mutation rate, and selection factors. This will allow the students to experience how geographic isolation, genetic drift and natural selection affect speciation.
  • Model cell division and cell counts across time. This could include modeling across gestation in different animals or in the human fetal brain as it develops (
  • Gene editing can be used to rewrite DNA. It can be taken one step further to make the changes become self-replicating in a process called a “gene drive”. Model a gene drive with alterable parameters to be able to see how fast the altered genes could spread through populations and how realistic containment efforts are. This could be built as a platform that middle and high school students could explore in order to better understand gene drives and to become better prepared for ethical discussions on gene drives.
  • Model the Pleistocene Park experiment ( This is an experiment to mitigate climate change by applying lessons from the Pleistocene when Mammoths and Woolly Rhinoceroses roamed in the Artic. By restoring large grazers to the Artic we can reverse the shift from grasslands to our modern to create a “Northern Serengeti” with important climate cooling effects to our modern Arctic ecosystems.

jm at ncgr dot org