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

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", May 16, 2016, Advisor: Professor Cowsik

Satyanarayana Kumar Mallavarapu
"Superfluidity and vortices in dense quark matter", May 4, 2016, Advisor: Professor Alford

Pierre Haenecour
"Stardust in primitive astromaterials:  Insights into the building blocks and early history of the Solar System",  April 20, 2016, Advisors: Professor Floss and Professor Jolliff

Ryan Murphy
"Identifying the Origin of Galactic Cosmic Rays with the SuperTIGER Instrument", October 19, 2015, Advisor: Professor Israel

Jun Han
"Effects of Quark Matter on the Structural and Observational Properties of Compact Objects", June 8, 2015, Advisor: Professor Alford

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", April 17, 2015, Advisor: Professor Jolliff

Heng "Henry" Chen
"Zn and Cu isotopic fractionation during planetary processes and the isotopic composition of the bulk silicate Earth", December 5, 2014, Advisors: Professors Jolliff and Moynier

Evan Groopman
"NanoSIMS, TEM, and XANES Studies of Presolar Grains", November 14, 2014, Advisor:  Professor Bernatowicz

Qingzhen Guo
"X-Ray Polarimetry with X-Calibu", September 11, 2014, Advisor:  Professor H. Krawczynski

Daniel Hunter
"Phase-Space Distributions of Galactic Dark Matter Halos and Implications for Detection", May 13, 2014, Advisor:  Professor Ferrer

Dimitrios Manolidis
"Neutron Star Models in Alternative Theories of Gravity", May 8, 2014, Advisor:  Professor Will

Abigail Fraeman
"Materials and surface processes at Gale Crater and the moons of Mars derived from high spatial and spectral resolution orbital datasets", April 28, 2014, Advisor:  Professor Arvidson

Stephen M. Seddio
"The diversity, relationships, petrogenesis, and geochronology of evolved lunar lithologies", November 21, 2013, Advisor:  Professor Korotev

Benjamin Burch
"Galactic Dark Matter", August 27, 2013, Advisor:  Professor Cowsik

Laleh Sadeghian
"Star Clusters and Dark Matter as Probes of the Spacetime Geometry of Massive Black Holes", May 6, 2013, Advisors:  Professor Will and Professor Ferrer

Saeed Mirshekari
"Gravitational Waves and Inspiralling Compact Binaries in Alternative Theories of Gravity", May 6, 2013, Advisor:  Professor Will

Yang "Steve" Liu
"Spectral identification and analyses of hydrous mineral deposits: Implications for the aqueous history of Aram Chaos and Melas Chasma, Mars", 2013, Advisor: Professor Arvidson

Randal Paniello
"Volatilization of extraterrestrial materials as determined by zinc isotopic analysis", 2013, Advisor:  Professor Moynier

Kun Wang
"Iron isotope cosmochemistry", 2013, Advisor: Professor Moynier

Sarah E. Thibadeau
"Time-Dependent Studies of High-Energy Radiation from Blazars", September 19, 2012, Advisor:  Professor H. Krawczynski

Steven McArthur
"Investigation of Energy-Dependent Morphology in Pulsar Wind Nebulae", August 20, 2012, Advisor: Professor Buckley

Kelly A. Lave
"The Interstellar Transport of Galactic Cosmic Rays", May 3, 2012, Advisor: Professor Israel

Simin Mahmoodifar
"Probing the Phases of Cold Ultra-Dense Matter Using Neutron Star Physics", April 20, 2012, Advisor: Professor Alford

Jerrad Martin
"Optimization Studies for the Cobra Neutrinoless Double-Beta Decay Experiment and Results From a Prototype", April 20, 2012, Advisor: Professor H. Krawczynski

Christopher Orth
"Geodynamic interpretations of global topography and gravity on Venus and Mars", 2012, Advisor: Professor Solomatov

Amy Shaw
"Characterization of martian surfaces using mechanical and spectrophotometric models", 2012, Advisor: Professor Arvidson

Maitrayee Bose
"Isotopic and Elemental Compositions of Stardust and Protocolar Dust Grains in Primitive Meteorites", May 4, 2011, Advisors: Professor Bernatowicz and Professor Floss

Ke-Jian Jin
"Critical Phenomena in Gravitational Collapses of Neutron Star Systems", April 22, 2011, Advisor:  Professor Suen

Selby C. Cull
"The water cycle at the Phoenix landing site, Mars", 2010, Advisor:  Professor Arvidson

Kimberly Ann Lichtenberg
"Remote sensing and terramechanics study of Mars using orbital and rover data sets", 2010, Advisor: Professor Arvidson

Kathryn Mairin Hynes
"Microanalytical Investigations of Presolar SiC Grains as Probes of Condensation Conditions in Astrophysical Environments", September 30, 2010, Advisor: Professor Bernatowitz

Kasey Wagoner
"Laboratory Investigations of Short Range", May 4, 2010, Advisor: Professor Cowsik

Jennifer Mabry
"Solar Wind Helium, Neon, and Argon in Genesis Aluminum Collectors", October 8, 2009, Advisors: Professor Hohenberg and Professor Meshik

Mew-Bing Wan
"Properties of Neutron Star Critical Collapses", September 22, 2009, Advisor:  Professor Suen

Frank Gyngard
"Isotopic Studies of Presolar SiC and Oxide Grains as Probes of Stellar Nucleosynthesis and the Chenical Evolution of the Galaxy", September 1, 2009, Advisor:  Professor Bernatowitz

 Sandra Wiseman
“Spectral and Stratigraphic Mapping of Hydrated Sulfate and Phyllosilicate-Bearing Deposits: Implications for the Aqueous History of Sinus Meridiani, Mars”, July 7, 2009, Advisor: Professor Arvidson

Nancy Forsberg Taylor
“Erosion and deposition with Hellas Basin, Mars”, February 2, 2009, Advisor: Professor Arvidson

Manavi Jadhav
"Multi-element isotopic analyses of presolar graphite grains from Orgueil", 2009, Advisors:  Professor Zinner and Professor Podosek

Yun Ke
"Plume formation in strongly temperature-dependent viscosity fluids: application to early Mars", 2009, Advisor:  Professor Solomatov

Brian F. Rauch
“Measurement of the Relative Abundances of the Ultra-Heavy Galactic Cosmic Rays (30<40) with the Trans-Ion Galactic Element Recorder (TIGER) Instrument”, April 28, 2008, Advisor: Professor Israel

Kuen Lee
“Gamma-Ray and Optical Variability of the TeV Blazars”, April 24, 2008, Advisor: Professor Buckley

Matthew L. Braby
“Phenomenological Properties of High Density Quark Matter”, April 24, 2008, Advisor: Professor Alford

James A. Shifflett
“Extensions of the Einstein-Schrodinger Non-Symmetric Theory of Gravity”, April 22, 2008, Advisor: Professor Will

Jing Zeng
“Application of Energy and Angular momentum Balance to Gravitational Radiation Reaction for Binary Systems with Spinning Bodies”, March 31, 2008, Advisor: Professor Will

Han Wang
“Gravitational Radiation Reaction: Spin-Spin Effects in the Inspiral of Coalescing Compact Binaries”, October 24, 2007, Advisor: Professor Will

Randy W. Wolfmeyer
“Validity of Initial Data for Binary Neutron Star Inspiral”, November 30, 2007, Advisor: Professor Suen

Jian Tao
“General Relativistic Numerical Simulations with Adaptive Mesh Refinement: Construction of Tools and Applications to Neutron Star Processes”, December 7, 2007, Advisor: Professor Suen

Pundit Surdas Mohit
“Relaxation, Contraction, and Polar Wander: A Study of the Viscoelastic Evolution of Crustal and Lithospheric Thickness Variations on the Moon, Mars, Mercury and Ganymede“, May 17, 2007, Advisor: Professor Phillips

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.