Student Involvement



One of the greatest strengths of the McDonnell Center is the vast scope of research opportunities available to the graduate students. From the very beginning of joining the program at Washington University, the students are encouraged to join a research group.


Undergraduate students that may be considering graduate school are encouraged to participate in the Summer Intern Program. Faculty members of the McDonnell Center guide the student on a specific project during the summer. The hours and summer term are flexible and the scope of research topics is very broad.

Recent research topics have included:

  • Stimulating Charge Collection in Small-Pixel CZT Detectors - Jason Tang (H. Krawczynski)
  • The Effects of Earth's Normal Modes on a Torsion Balance Testing Einstein's Equivalence Principle - Cesiley King (R. Cowsik)
  • Data Processing and Analysis for the Snap-shot Digital Array Scanned Interferometer - Jeffrey Wang (W. Smith)

If you are interested in applying for a summer intern position, please contact McDonnell Center faculty members or the Director.

Recent Dissertation Topics

Steven P. Harris 

Transport in Neutron Star Mergers, 2020, Advisor: Professor Alford


Scott Beeler – McDonnell Center Fellow

Controls on the Formation and Morphogenesis of Microbialites, 2019, Advisor: Professor Bradley


Michael Bouchard

Quantifying Lithochemical Diversity of Martial Materials Using Hierarchical Clustering and a Similarity Index for Classification, 2019, Advisor: Professor Arvidson


Roger Bryant – McDonnell Center Fellow

Environmental Controls on Sulfur Isotope Ratios in Sedimentary Sulfide Minerals, 2019, Advisor: Professor Fike


Brendan Haas

Correlated SEM, FIB, and TEM Studies of Material Collected by the NASA Stardust Spacecraft, 2019, Advisors: Professors Floss and Ogliore


Timothy Hahn, Jr.

Applications of Big Data Analytics in Planetary Science: Novel Methods for Investigation and Classification of Planetary Materials, 2019, Advisor: Professor Jolliff


Maneesh Jeyakumar

A Test of the Equivalence Principle using a Long-Period Torsion Balance, 2019, Advisor: Professor Cowsik


Augusto Medeiros Da Rosa

Adiabatic Dark Matter Density Cusps Around Supermassive Black Holes And Dark Matter Detection, 2019, Advisor: Professor Ferrer


Yiyang Zhang

Astrophysical Observables of Cosmic First Order Phase Transitions, 2019, Professor Ferrer


Banafsheh Beheshtipour

Simulation of black hole inner accretion disk-corona and optimization of the hard X-ray polarimeter, X-Calibur, 2018, Advisor: Professor H. Krawczynski 


Kathryn Powell 

Spectral and stratigraphic mapping of layered sulfate deposits on Mars using advanced CRISM data processing techniques, 2018, Advisor: Professor Arvidson 


Ecaterina Coman 

Effects of regolith properties on UV/VIS spectra and implications for lunar remote sensing, 2017, Advisor: Professor Jolliff 


Valerie Fox 

Aqueous alteration of Endeavour and Gale Craters, Mars, using orbital remote sensing and rover-based measurements, 2017, Advisor: Professor Arvidson 


Josiah Benjamin Lewis 

Stellar and interstellar origins of meteoritic nanodiamonds, 2017, Advisors: Professors Ogliore and Floss 


Sarah (Valencia) North 

The Evolution of Igneous Rocks on the Moon: Insights from Lunar Meteorites and Apollo 12, 2017, Advisor: Professor Jolliff 


Michael Abercrombie
Development of a Long-Period Torsion Balance for Tests of Einstein's Equivalence Principle and a Search for Normal Mode Torsional Oscillations of the Earth, 2016, Advisor: Professor Cowsik


Rashied Baradaran Amini 

Modern assessment of the high-energy background environment at small atmospheric depths using the X-Calibur X-ray polarimeter and its implications, 2016, Advisor: Professor H. Krawczynski 


Avery Michael Archer 

Modern assessment of the high-energy background environment at small atmospheric depths using the X-Calibur X-ray polarimeter and its implications, 2016, Advisor: Professor Buckley 


Wenlei Chen 

Probing intergalactic magnetic fields from [gamma]-ray observations, 2016, Advisor: Professor Buckley 


Pierre Haenecour
Stardust in primitive astromaterials:  Insights into the building blocks and early history of the Solar System, 2016, Advisors: Professors Floss and Jolliff


Janie Katherine Hoormann 

Using simulations of black holes to study general relativity and the properties of inner accretion flow, 2016, Advisor: Professor H. Krawczynski 


Satyanarayana Kumar Mallavarapu
Superfluidity and vortices in dense quark matter, 2016, Advisor: Professor Alford


Wing Chi (Teresa) Wong 

Plate Tectonics Initiation on Earth-Like Planets: Insights from Numerical and Theoretical Analysis of Convection-Induced Lithospheric Failure, 2016, Advisor: Professor Solomatov 


Ryan Clegg-Watkins
Physical and compositional properties of the lunar surface from photometric studies of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Narrow Angle Camera images of spacecraft landing sites and soils of extreme compositions, 2015, Advisor: Professor Jolliff


Evan Edward Groopman 

Correlated NanoSIMS, TEM, and XANES studies of presolar grains, 2015, Advisor: Professor Bernatowicz 


Sophia Han
Effects of Quark Matter on the Structural and Observational Properties of Compact Stars, 2015, Advisor: Professor Alford


Ryan Murphy
Identifying the Origin of Galactic Cosmic Rays with the SuperTIGER Instrument, 2015, Advisor: Professor Israel


Michael Zanetti 

Investigating the Complexity of Impact Crater Ejecta Using Results from the Field, Laboratory, and Remote-Sensing, 2015, Advisor: Professor Jolliff 

Student Highlight

Pierre Haenecour

From Visiting Scholar to Postdoc: My Journey with the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences

My favorite quote from the movie Forrest Gump “Life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get” probably best reflects my interaction with the McDonnell Center for Space Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL).   

It all started in 2008: I was a first-year Master’s student in Geology/Geochemistry at the Free University of Brussels (Brussels, Belgium), and I met one of my parent’s neighbors, Prof. Ghislaine Crozaz, who is an Emerita Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at WUSTL, and Prof. Robert M. Walker, her late husband and former director of the McDonnell Center for Space Sciences (MCSS). Our first interaction happened randomly when we met one day in the elevator and started chatting about the research that I was doing for my Master’s degree. I then started to meet regularly with Ghislaine Crozaz to discuss science, and she would share her experience with me, tell me stories about the “4th Floor” (the Laboratory for Spaces Sciences), and give me advice. Through our discussions, I learned how the MCSS was created to hire new professors and to forge new interdisciplinary research collaborations between different departments at WUSTL, as well as fostering international collaborations.

During the first year of my Master’s, I asked her for advice about possible places where I could apply to do a six-week internship in the summer of 2009. I had already applied to a summer field camp in Hawaii, but, after hearing stories about the history of the 4th floor and the MCSS, and all the great work that was done there, Ghislaine Crozaz suggested that I could maybe do my summer internship at WUSTL. She then introduced me to Prof. Christine Floss (Research Professor in Physics) and Prof. Bradley L. Jolliff (Scott Rudolph Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences) to discuss research collaboration opportunities that would complement the work that I was doing for my Master’s thesis on Pb and Zn isotopes in Archean terrestrial komatiites from Theo’s flow (Ontario, Canada). I visited WUSTL for six weeks in August-September 2009 as a MCSS visiting scholar working with Brad Jolliff on in-situ major element measurements and with Christine Floss on in-situ trace elements measurements in individual minerals (e.g., olivine, pyroxene and plagioclase) in the komatiites. During my internship at WUSTL, I was also able to interact with other professors, researchers and graduate students on the 4th floor and in the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences.

Before my summer in St. Louis, I had not thought about staying in academia and pursuing a PhD. However, interacting with so many people in both the Physics Department and the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences at WUSTL during my internship made me realize how fun scientific research can be. It was really inspiring to work with both Christine Floss and Brad Jolliff, and get their insights on my Master’s thesis project. On my last day in St Louis, I remember Christine asking me if I would be interested to come back to WUSTL for my Ph.D, and I will also never forget Dr. Frank Stadermann asking me on the way out of Christine’s office something along the lines of: “So when will you be coming back?”.

I graduated with my M.S. degree from the Free University of Brussels in June 2010 and I knew that I wanted to work with Christine Floss for my PhD. I started the process to apply for graduate school in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at WUSTL, and moved to St. Louis in January 2011 to start graduate school.

Working as a graduate student on the 4th floor, I had direct hands-on experience with state-of-the-art scientific instruments, such as the NanoSIMS 50. As one of the few research groups that participated in the discovery of stardust (or presolar grains), it was a unique opportunity for me to work on presolar silicate grains on the 4th floor. Indeed, I had the opportunity to interact and work with researchers, such as Dr. Ernst Zinner and Dr. Sachiko Amari, that were directly involved in the original discovery of presolar grains. I had many occasions to participate in events and distinguished lectures organized by the MCSS, from NASA astronauts to renowned planetary scientists and PIs (principle investigators) of NASA space missions. After my graduation in May 2016, I stayed at WUSTL for seven months as a McDonnell Center Postdoctoral Fellow. During these few months, I studied the distribution of presolar grains in Antarctic micrometeorites.

I am currently a postdoctoral research associate in the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona working with Prof. Tom Zega and the NASA Earths in Other Solar Systems (EOS) team ( on the characterization and coordinated in-situ study of primitive organic matter in meteorites and interplanetary dust particles.

Throughout my time at WashU, the McDonnell Center for Space Sciences has not only provided me with financial support, it has also been a crucial asset to help me develop my academic career and give the opportunity to interact with students and researchers in other WU departments or from other universities, as well as to forge new research collaborations.

Applications for graduate school are submitted to the Department of Physics or the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.