Announcing 2021 Summer Internships for Leicester Undergraduates

The Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) scheme has been operating for many years, but COVID restrictions led to cancellation in 2020. Here we announce a new programme for 3rd and 4th year Leicester undergraduates – but please check back for more details!

SURE Logo 2013

The SURE programme provides opportunities for talented undergraduates to get a flavour of the cutting-edge research being undertaken within the School of Physics and Astronomy. Normally, the programme would welcome 5-6 interns (usually 3rd year students on a Masters course) from across the UK, and would be advertised during the winter. The scheme was cancelled for 2020 and 2021 due to the unprecedented COVID-19 situation, but we are happy to announce that a limited virtual programme will run for Leicester undergraduates this summer.

Details of the application process are still being finalised, but we hope to host 5-6 Leicester undergraduates (3rd or 4th year students) for paid virtual internships. Internships will be for a maximum of six weeks (35 hrs/week), and can be undertaken at any point between June and September, subject to negotiation with the proposed supervisor team. We hope that this will add more flexibility to the programme.

Application Process

To make an application, please send an email to with the following:

  • A one-page curriculum vitae as a PDF attachment.
  • A completed application form [DOCX], which includes your top-three selected projects, any preferred dates for the internship between June and September, and a short statement explaining how your existing skills and experience make you the perfect person to undertake your three selected projects.

The submission deadline is May 24th at 2pm – a date selected to avoid the 3rd and 4th year exam periods, but earlier applications are welcome, and please don’t leave it to the last minute. Selections will be made by a panel consisting of the SURE supervisors below, with announcements in early June. Please address any queries to

Please note that access to your own computer for remote working will be essential.

SURE Projects 2021

Please check back for updates, as more will be added.

[YEO21] Mid-latitude ionospheric radio frequency sounding – Tim Yeoman, Planetary Science Group

We have access to a large database of vertical and oblique HF radio frequency soundings made from a mid latitude location. This project will analyse these soundings to identify the vertical critical frequencies of the ionosphere in the E and F region ionosphere, and relate these frequencies to the oblique soundings to infer the structure of the mid latitude ionosphere. The analysis will be done on SPECTRE, and coding will be performed in either the IDL or python languages. Code exists for some of these procedures, but it will require development and extension. The resulting analysis will be written up such that the key information can be passed back to the sounder operators.

[BLA21] Investigating the infrared sky with WISE – Andrew Blain, Astrophysics Group

The WISE all-sky survey provided a survey of the whole sky in 2010 in four bands from 3-8 microns in the infrared, including over 500 million catalogued sources. Since 2014 the mission has continued to survey the sky every six months in the two shortest-wavelength bands, with the goal of finding dangerous earth-crossing asteroids. However, it also provides a useful source of information on time-varying astronomical objects of all kinds, although with some odd features – the survey strategy means most sources are observed for ten seconds every ninety minutes for a day, and then not again for six months. There’s a rich range of possible ways to investigate these data, either seeking new discoveries, or finding variability data on classes of already-known sources, including transients and known variables. There’s a SURE opportunity to get involved in a project that can be sculpted to fit within the summer period.

[BAR21] Observations of the brightness of satellite constellations – Martin Barstow and Matt Burleigh, Astrophysics Group

The aim of the project is to carry out a programme of observations of individual satellites in the current suite of mega-constellations using the University observatory. The programme will include satellites from different constellations, which have different operational altitudes and spacecraft structures, and specifically include satellites where mitigation measures have been taken to determine how effective these are.  The first stage of the project will be to obtain the ephemerides for the satellites and select a group of targets for observation. The Next Generation Transit Survey telescopes will serendipitously observe constellation satellites during normal operations. The NGTS database will be searched for satellite detections and brightness measurements extracted from these images. This will become the focus of the work if COVID restrictions prevent observatory access. We have a close working relationship with the South African Astronomical Observatory. We will use the satellite ephemerides to predict times when observations can be made by the SAAO telescopes and devise a remote observing programme that can be carried out by local telescope operators. Desirable Skills: Experience with the Oadby telescopes and astronomical image analysis.

[STA21] Understanding diversity among the gamma-ray burst population – Rhaana Starling and Kim Page, Astrophysics Group

Gamma-ray bursts are the most energetic events in the Universe, in which particles are accelerated at shock fronts creating gamma-ray and X-ray emission. While the latter stages of a burst can usually be described by synchrotron processes, the early emission is more complex and shows diverse behaviours. This project is to model the X-ray emission of GRBs to understand early-time spectral shapes. You will be guided in how to use X-ray data analysis software. Python/scripting experience is an advantage but not a requirement.  Preferred dates: between 14 June – 9 July. 

[NIX21] Dynamics of accretion on to black holes- Chris Nixon, Astrophysics Group

Accretion on to black holes is a major theme in modern astronomy. This project will advance our understanding of accretion by exploring theoretical models, and exploiting recent breakthroughs to develop new models. Numerical simulations will be performed and the results will be analysed to deduce observational implications. This computational project will utilise the University’s high performance computing (HPC) facility. Desirable skills: The project will make use of or enhance your skills in programming (Fortran or C), bash, linux, and HPC. 

[LEA21] Cherenkov Radiation Detector Simulations – Steve Leach, Space Research Centre

We are designing a compact instrument to track Extensive Air Shower (EAS) charged particles originating from cosmic ray interactions. Our novel experimental setup measures shower-particle generated Cherenkov radiation and by comparing photon intensities, and considering detector geometry, we can extrapolate the incident track of the transient charged particle. To optimise our detector geometry, we require the development of a simulation model incorporating the fundamental principles and equations of particle Cherenkov interactions. Subsequent simulations will then be used verify and enhance our ongoing experimental development and trials. Additional work could include generating, and incorporating into your model, EAS simulation data using the CORSIKA package. Requirements: Computer science/Physics/Mathematics/Engineering UG; Proficient coding in Python3 (essential); ; experience of coding simulations (preferred).

[NAY21] 1DISC: A modelling tool for astronomical community – S. Nayakshin and V. Elbakyan, Astrophysics Group

Discs with embedded objects draw a wide observational interest in Astronomy. For example, ALMA has now observed many protoplanetary discs with young planets growing in them. Gravitational waves from merging supermassive and stellar mass blackhole binaries are preceded by their evolution inside massive gas discs. Our group has developed a 1D protoplanetary disc with embedded planets code to be released to wider community later this year. Subsequently, the code is to be generalised to other astrophysical areas. We offer an exciting opportunity for an ambitious coding capable student, whether observationally or theory inclined, to contribute to this tool, and to become a co-author on the resulting paper, provided a sufficiently substantial contribution to the project. The project will introduce the candidate to working in collaboration with both theorists and observers. Desired Skills: Coding (whether simulation or visualisation).

[SAM21] Controlling next generation small spacecraft – Piyal Samara-Ratna, Kristian Howgate, Sam Frampton, Ramy Maselam, Oliver Blake
This opportunity is to support development of a small spacecraft novel space electric propulsion system being developed at the Space Research Centre. Applicants would benefit from having an interest in control engineering and work as part of an established multi-disciplinary engineering and science team. The role is to support testing of the propulsion system and construct a simple analytical performance model of the system. If allowed on-site the applicant will be allowed to support hardware build and testing. If remote support is required then the applicant will be able to support the programme remotely. Desirable skills: Enthusiastic and willing to learn student who experience/interest in data analysis and coding. Basic understanding/interest in small satellite configuration and requirements for spacecraft control. Date range: We have also submitted a UKSA Spin application to add a further 6-7 weeks to the placement, thereby enabling it to be up to a 3 month placement. The start date is flexible.

[LAM21] Measuring the structure of gamma-ray burst jets via their jet break – Gavin P Lamb, Nial R Tanvir
Gamma-ray Bursts (GRBs), the most powerful electromagnetic explosions in the Universe, are followed by multiwavelength afterglows. For a few of these afterglows, we see a change in the rate of decline, which is caused by the edges of the outflow becoming visible. This so-called jet break has been used as evidence that GRBs are not spherical explosions but jetted outflows. The shape of these jet breaks can contain information about the structure of the jets, and by fitting an equation to GRB afterglows with jet breaks, we can measure this shape and compare it with theoretical predictions. We can teach all the required skills e.g. coding for science, plotting, and report writing required for this project. Dates: (tentatively) early-June — mid-July (6 weeks)

[SAN21] What happens to Mars’ ionosphere at solar minimum? – Beatriz Sanchez-Cano & Mark Lester.
Mars ionosphere has a strong variation with the solar cycle, which in turn is affected by a seasonal effect caused by the large ellipticity of its orbit about the Sun. At solar minimum, the ionosphere has shown signs of a drastic different behaviour compared to other phases of the solar cycle. It includes an extreme reduction of ionization in the topside ionosphere, as well as presence of larger induced magnetic fields from the solar wind. Taking the unique opportunity of the long-term measurements of Mars Express that covers two consecutive solar minima, as well as other mission observations such as MAVEN, we propose to investigate the ionosphere of Mars at solar minimum in order to understand how and how much its behaviour differs to other phases of the solar cycle. Desirable Skills: This is an empirical (data analysis) project for which medium coding skills are needed (in any program language). Some basic Matlab skills would be desirable to run the Mars Express data software, although the actual research can be done in any other program language. Important requirement: Great motivation to analyse Mars datasets and have a unique research experience!

[TRE21] Changes to the Hydrological Cycle in Earth’s Future Climate – Tim Trent & Hartmut Boesch
This project utilises climate model simulations produced as part of the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sixth assessment report. The objective of this project is to understand how potential future warming scenarios could affect the hydrological cycle, a key component to sustain life on Earth. By examining how water residency times in the atmosphere change due to differing external forcing will provide new insights into regions most at risk of experiencing drier or wetter climates, e.g. longer periods of drought or more frequent flooding. The student will use Python to perform global time series analysis on hydrological variables between 2015-2100 from an ensemble of climate models, which will allow them to make inferences into regional impacts relative to potential future warming. Desirable skills: Programming – Preferably, Python. However, training can be given if needed.


  • Why are you restricting to 3rd and 4th years? Traditionally the SURE programme was open to 3rd year students from across the UK, but the 2020 group of 3rd years missed out on the opportunity, so we wanted to give them another shot. Our 1st and 2nd year students will hopefully have the opportunity to apply to the regular programme next year.
  • Why only Leicester undergraduates? The need for flexibility, virtual supervision, and the fast turnaround of this new programme has meant that we needed to keep this scheme for internal applicants in 2021.
  • Will I be required to be in Leicester over the summer? Given current restrictions on access to the university campus, we expect that the majority of supervision will be remote via MS Teams. There might be opportunities to meet the supervisory team in person on pre-arranged dates later in the summer.

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