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.

Student Highlight

Quin Abarr

My graduate research at WashU has focused on X-rays from compact objects, such as black holes and neutron stars. Using a simulation package originated by my advisor, Henric Krawczynski, I’ve been able to simulate the X-ray emission from black holes with warped accretion disks around them. Since we use X-ray emission to measure properties of black holes, such as how fast they are spinning, my goal with this work is to improve the accuracy of these measurements and our knowledge of black hole populations. I was fortunate to be able to present this work at conferences in the winter of 2019.

I have also had the opportunity to work on the experimental side of X-ray astronomy, helping to construct, test, and deploy the X-ray polarimeter X-Calibur. The polarization of X-rays can tell us about the geometry of the source, and so in the winter of 2018 I travelled with a group of other graduate students, engineers, and professors to Antarctica to launch X-Calibur on a stratospheric balloon. During its three day long flight, X-Calibur made the first measurement of the polarization of X-rays from the neutron star GX 301-2.

Aside from the opportunity to visit one of the remote places on Earth, preparing X-Calibur for launch was invaluable to my practical understanding of how experimental astrophysics actually gets done, with the researchers, engineers, ballooning team, and support staff all working together to address all the difficulties, expected and unexpected, of operating a large experiment.

All of these experiences have been made possible by the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences by supporting the astrophysics research done in the Physics department, including the proof of concept for X-Calibur, as well as supporting me on an individual level through a fellowship and travel support.

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

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 

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.

―Pierre HaenecouerAlum