Announcing 2023 Summer Internships for Leicester Undergraduates

Applications are open for the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE2023) scheme for 3rd and 4th year Leicester undergraduates.

The SURE programme provides paid opportunities for talented undergraduates to get a flavour of the cutting-edge research being undertaken within the School of Physics and Astronomy.

We will host 5-6 Leicester undergraduates (3rd or 4th year students) for paid internships, working on Central Campus or at Space Park Leicester. Internships will be for a maximum of six weeks (35 hrs/week), and can be undertaken at any point between June 1st and August 31st, subject to negotiation with the proposed supervisor team. You will be expected to present the results of your internship to the School at the end of August, and to provide documentation/reports to your supervisors as appropriate.

We particularly encourage applications from students who have not benefitted from internships in the past, and are yet to secure a graduate position, for whom an internship will likely be of greatest benefit for their longterm career ambitions.

Application Process

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

  • A one-page curriculum vitae as a PDF attachment. ***Note, you will not be penalised if the CV spills over onto a second page.
  • A completed application form [DOCX, available via Blackboard, you must be logged in to view the page], which includes your top-three selected projects from the list below, any preferred dates for the internship between June 1st and August 31st, and a personal statement (no more than one side of A4) explaining how your existing skills and experience make you the perfect person to undertake your three selected projects.
  • A nominated referee – this person will only be contacted if you are shortlisted for a post for a standard Unitemps reference.

The submission deadline is Friday March 10th at 2pm – 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 by early April 2023. The criteria for selection include:

  • Progress and grades during your degree to date.
  • Suitability for the chosen research project, including computational/experimental skills as appropriate.
  • Context of the application – e.g., how this may benefit future career ambitions, underrepresented groups, topical decisions for PhD research or employment, etc.

Please address any queries to

Project Descriptions

Please continue to check back as more projects are added to the list below.

BRI23: Electron Microprobe Studies of Planetary Materials

Supervisor Team: Professor John Bridges, Dr Leon Hicks

Categories: Experimental

Location: Space Park Leicester

Planetary materials research at the University of Leicester involves analysis, with a wide range of microscopy-based analytical techniques, of meteorites and material returned from missions to asteroids and comets, the Moon, and ultimately Mars. Every year we hold an RAS-funded planetary materials SURE internship to help develop some aspect of our research.

This year the student will be trained in the use of the Advanced Microscopy Facility electron microscopes and in particular a Zeiss microprobe (housed in the GGE School) which is fitted with a new wavelength dispersive wds X-ray spectrometer. This wds system can potentially provide highly accurate compositional analyses of planetary materials. This internship will involve understanding the theory, calibration and analyses of selected planetary materials to help build our capability with this instrumental technique. It is suitable for s student interested in an interdisciplinary type of space science project.

BUN23: A new experimental facility to investigate particle-induced X-ray emissions at Mercury

Supervisor Team: Professor Emma Bunce, Dr Simon Lindsay and Dr Adrian Martindale

Categories: Experimental

Location: Space Park Leicester

The BepiColombo mission is now over half way through its 7.5 year journey through interplanetary space to reach its final destination: the planet Mercury. The ambitious joint European Space Agency (ESA) and Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) mission consists of two spacecraft – one to study the planet itself (ESA MPO) and one to study the local space environment (JAXA MMO). The ESA spacecraft will orbit close to Mercury and focus on studying the planet, its surface, and atmosphere. ESA MPO carries the University of Leicester built Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer (MIXS), designed principally to study the composition of the surface through measurement of fluorescent X-rays (excited by the Sun). In addition, MPO will also be able to study the direct impact of particles on the Mercury surface, through observations of the X-rays that this interaction produces.

The team at Leicester have created two ground reference laboratory facilities capable of replicating both the composition and the particle-induced X-ray emission (PIXE) elements of the science return respectively. The student will have the opportunity to work with the project team in Space Park Leicester to research the particle-induced X-ray emission at Mercury, provide direct support to the commissioning phase of our new PIXE laboratory facility, and to thus help us plan observations in the early phase of the mission. This project will be a fantastic opportunity for a student to be involved in shaping the critical early science return from this ground-breaking planetary science mission, and is suitable for students interested in planetary science, space missions and experimental work.

EYL23: Radio analysis of the host galaxies of astrophysical transients

Supervision team: Dr Rob Eyles-Ferris and Dr Rhaana Starling

Categories: Data Analysis

Location: Campus

This project uses a state-of-the-art low-frequency radio survey to search for galaxies hosting extreme transient astrophysical events. Tidal disruption events (TDEs) are a devastating end to a star’s existence as they approach a supermassive black hole and are torn apart by the extreme gravity. As the debris falls onto the black hole, it is heated and emits across the electromagnetic spectrum. In extreme case, the debris arrives so quickly at the black hole that relativistic jets are induced. Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are short bursts of emission at radio wavelengths. They have more mysterious origins but could be the result of mergers of neutron stars and black holes; superluminous supernovae; or flares from magnetars.

From a sample or samples of transients, we will develop code to identify correlations with sources in the radio observed LOFAR Two-Metre Sky Survey. Further coded cross-correlations to catalogues across the electromagnetic spectrum will help to determine if these are indeed candidate host galaxies for the transients. The properties of the galaxies will be examined and compared to other galaxy populations to help answer the questions of what properties make a galaxy more likely to host a TDE or FRB and how these events arise.

Proposed dates: Start of June to mid-July.

HAL23: Target Selection for MIXS on Mercury: Lava Plains and Impacts

Supervisor Team: Graeme Hall, Adrian Martindale and John Bridges

Categories: Data Analysis

Location: Space Park Leicester

The Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer MIXS developed at the University of Leicester will provide compositional maps of the Mercury surface during the BepiColombo science mapping phase. In order to help prepare for the surface science aims of MIXS this internship project will identify targets for the MIXS telescope to distinguish between basalt lava plains and ejecta from large impacts.  These target types will provide essential compositional information to better understand the formation and evolution of Mercury, testing different hypotheses for its formation.

This project will be suitable for students interested in an interdisciplinary type of project. It will be based at Space Park and will involve training in use of ArcGIS for planetary science – particularly using Messenger mission based datasets – and work with the MIXS team as it prepares for the BepiColombo science mapping phase in 2026.

HAN23: Characterising Cultural Heritage Artefacts: Chinese Porcelain and Wall Painting Fragments

Supervisor Team: Graeme Hansford and Adrian Martindale

Categories: Data Analysis

Location: Space Park Leicester

A ground-breaking X-ray diffraction technique has been conceived and developed at the University, allowing very high quality diffraction patterns to be obtained with no preparation of the samples at all. This technique has been applied to a variety of cultural heritage artefacts at the UK’s Diamond synchrotron. Maintaining the structural integrity of heritage objects by avoiding sample preparation is paramount in order to preserve them for future generations. Examples for which we have data include highly-prized Chinese porcelain pieces, and fragments of 18th-century wall paintings from a fort and palace complex at Nagaur, India.

During this project you will contribute to knowledge of the materials and production methods employed by identifying specific crystallographic phases within these artefacts. Using comparison of the experimental diffraction patterns to calculated patterns based on published crystal structures you will also reveal degradation mechanisms – some of the wall painting fragments show clear signs of deterioration via the formation of soluble salts on the surface. The project is suitable for students interested in interdisciplinary research and will be based at the Space Park. All necessary contextual information and training will be provided.

Preferred Dates: Avoid July 14-21st.

JOY23: Using AI to study the Martian ionosphere

Supervisor Team: Dr Simon Joyce, Dr Katerina Stergiopoulou, Prof Mark Lester, Dr Beatriz Sanchez-Cano

Categories: Data Analysis

Location: Campus

Mars does not have a global magnetic field and thus its plasma environment and interaction with the solar wind differs significantly than Earth’s. The Martian ionosphere formed by the incident solar radiation on its neutral atmosphere is highly variable and the physical processes therein are yet to be fully described and understood. The ionospheric variability can be attributed to various factors such as the upstream solar wind conditions, the solar cycle, seasonal variations as well as to the crustal magnetic fields, which are magnetic patches sporadically distributed on the surface of the planet. The Mars Express orbiter, which has been proven to be an essential asset in characterising the ionosphere, has been sending back data for 18 years, resulting in thousands of ionograms which trace the altitude and electron density of the ionospheric layer.

Analysis of the data is currently carried out manually on individual ionograms and that is a time consuming process. Machine learning and data mining methods may offer a way to automate the data analysis, so that we can make more wide ranging use of the data set. This project will involve investigating machine learning methods and their practical application to the Mars Express data. The student will gain experience with Python programming and methods for data analysis. The student will also have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the physics of the Martian environment and the scientific background for interpreting the signals seen in the data. Previous experience with Python is not required, but some background in any programming language would be beneficial. 

LER23: Robots in Space

Supervisor Team: Dr Hannah Lerman, Prof. Ian Hutchinson, Dr Melissa McHugh

Categories: Experimental, Computational

Location: Campus

Within the last decade, the sustainability of the Earth’s orbital space environment has become a high priority for many nations, space agencies and commercial ventures. This is particularly relevant given recent debates about the level to which the industrial revolution caused damage to our planet, and there is a keen focus on avoiding similar sustainability/environmental issues in space. As a direct result, space agencies (including UKSA, ESA, and NASA) have announced initiatives and funding opportunities for the development of a space economy based on In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing (IOSM).

The proposing team in the School of Physics and Astronomy have recently initiated collaborations with an in-orbit servicing start-up company, Growbotics (a new company with a mission to embed sustainable practices into the space economy), as well as other companies with heritage in robotics development. The aim of the collaboration is to examine how the design of scientific instruments (on-board Astrophysics and Earth Observation mission platforms) could be modified in order to enable robotic operation and maintenance, which would enable the instrument to continue to perform over an extended lifetime (with respect to the science goals of the mission). The study will also include an assessment of the feasibility of equipping future scientific spacecraft with robotic manipulators in order to provide the opportunity to assemble not only more complex instruments, but also maintain, refuel and repair them, hence extending their operational life and ‘return on investment’.

This project sets out to examine what a future robotic system could feasibly achieve and how future scientific instrumentation would need to be designed to enable robotic servicing. Activities will include performing trade-offs of different mission concepts for in-orbit servicing, and modelling critical design elements in order to rapidly demonstrate the feasibility of the technologies involved.

MCH23: Gamma Ray Bursts: Detection and Simulation

Supervisor Team: Dr Melissa McHugh, Prof. Ian Hutchinson and Dr Hannah Lerman

Categories: Experimental, Data Analysis

Location: Campus

Several recent and upcoming Astrophysics missions aim to explore the early universe by detecting and analysing Gamma-Ray Bursts within the first billion years of the universe. Gamma-Ray Bursts are the most energetic explosions in the Universe (other than the Big Bang) that occur when a large star becomes a supernova and/or when black-holes and neutron stars collide. Consequently, determining the positions and emission characteristics of these bursts can enable a thorough interrogation of the structure and evolution of the early Universe. Researchers in the School of Physics and Astronomy play key roles in two upcoming high-energy Astrophysics missions (both of which focus on monitoring the sky in order to rapidly detect and characterise the GRBs and soft X-ray transient events at high red shifts): the Einstein Probe mission, an Astrophysics mission led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, due to launch by the end of 2023; and the THESEUS (the Transient High Energy Survey and Early Universe Surveyor) mission, which has been proposed as part of the European Space Agency’s, M7 Phase 0 proposals.

In preparation for these missions, detailed studies are being performed in order to determine the overall feasibility of a particular mission design and its baseline instrument payload. During this phase, it is necessary for the proposing team to demonstrate the capability and overall performance of their particular instrument concept so that its effectiveness can be thoroughly assessed. As such, the team at the University of Leicester has developed a Gamma Ray Burst Detection and Simulation system: a facility and software suite that can be used to simulate the full energy range and number of X-rays that the instrument will be expected to detect during mission operations. In this project, you will be involved in the optimisation and automation of the Gamma Ray Burst Detection and Simulation system, and will contribute to the development of X-ray detection algorithms that will be used to assess the end-to-end performance of the system (with respect to the science goals of the two missions).


  • 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 challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that many missed out on the opportunity, so we wanted to give them another shot. We will endeavour to find a good balance of 3rd and 4th year students, as described on our assessment criteria above. Our 1st and 2nd year students will hopefully have the opportunity to apply to the programme in the years to come.
  • Why only Leicester undergraduates? Following successful pilot programmes in 2021 and 2022, and to focus on supporting Leicester students, we have chosen to keep the programme to internal applicants only.
  • Will I be required to be in Leicester over the summer? Yes, projects will be conducted in person in Summer 2023, although hybrid working arrangements are possible in consultation with the supervisor team. You would therefore be expected to be near campus for the 6-week duration of your internship.
  • How will I be paid? Students will receive an allowance from which they are expected to fund their accommodation, cost of living and travel expenses. We will use the Unitemps system of temporary staff hires. You will be paid monthly in arrears, meaning that your final payment will likely be made in September. Proof of right-to-work in the UK will be required before the internship begins.
  • Do I have to do all six weeks consecutively? No, you are able to charge a maximum of 6*35 = 210 hours for your internship via timesheets submitted to Unitemps. You can agree with your supervisors the best way to organise those hours.
  • How much will I be paid? In previous years students have been paid using Grade 2 Spine Point 5, approximately equivalent to National Minimum Wage, though this is currently under review.
  • Do you offer unpaid internships? Unpaid roles are inaccessible and unavailable to low-income students and families, and we discourage students from taking on such positions. Your work and time are valuable, so you should be reimbursed.
  • Are there other opportunities? Possibly – speak to individual tutors, advisors, and staff to see if funds are available to support internships outside of the SURE programme (e.g., through fellowships). We will advertise any opportunities as soon as we are aware of them.

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