URSA - Undergraduate Research at the SETI Institute in Astrobiology

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A Partnership between the SETI Institute and San Jose State University

The Program

The SETI Institute, a non-profit private scientific research institution located in Mountain View, invites you to apply to join URSA (Undergraduate Research at the SETI Institute in Astrobiology), a student internship program. This new research partnership with San Jose State, funds six (6) highly motivated students to perform astrobiology research. You will work with scientists at the SETI Institute and at nearby NASA Ames Research Center on projects spanning the field of astrobiology from planetary geology to observational astronomy to theoretical simulations.

Astrobiology is a highly interdisciplinary field that aims to explain the origin, prevalence, and future of life in the universe, and the SETI Institute is at the forefront of this field. Each student will be paired up with a scientist to perform research during the fall and spring semesters. Students will be expected to work for 10 hours/week on a schedule that is coordinated with each individual mentor. Some projects will be located at the SETI Institute’s Mountain View office and some will be at the NASA Ames Research Center.

Students majoring in scientific and technical fields such as physics, chemistry, biology, geology, meteorology, math, engineering, and computer science are encouraged to apply.

Research areas

Projects will include the following:

  • Open source computer programming for SETI searches
  • Development of new SETI search algorithms
  • Infrared spectroscopy of solar system ices - database development
  • Studies of binary asteroids - database and social media
  • Surface composition of Mars - remote sensing and laboratory work
  • Earthquake prediction and solid state physics - remote sensing and laboratory work
  • Planetary rings - image processing and database development
  • Chemistry and laboratory work - survival of organisms under extreme conditions

Please see URSA Project Descriptions page for detailed descriptions of potential research projects.


Mountain view, CA


The program will run during the Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 academic semesters.

Who should apply

URSA students must

  • be United States Citizens or Permanent Residents (Green Card).
  • be SJSU undergraduates in good academic standing who are enrolled in degree programs offered by the College of Science (physics, chemistry, biology, geology, meteorology, math, and computer science). Undergraduate engineering majors will also be considered.
  • be enrolled in at least 6 but no more than 14 units per semester in 2012-13.
  • enroll in 1 unit of directed study or research with Dr. Kress.
  • have taken Physics 2a/2b or the Physics 50 series, and Chem 1a.
  • specific projects will have additional pre-requisites.

Application Instructions

Please go to URSA Application Instructions page.

2012 Application deadline

Applications open April 6th and close May 1st 11:59pm (PST). Interviews of finalists on May 7-9 at SJSU.

Financial Support

Students will be expected to work for 10 hours/week during each semester, and will be paid $15/hour. Students may work up to 40 hours/week during winter and spring break. Students will be hired as employees of the SETI Institute.

For more information

contact: Dr. Cynthia Phillips Phillips@seti.org 650-810-0230

or Dr. Monika Kress monika.kress@sjsu.edu 408-924-5255 Office: Science building, room 262