Optical SETI Internship Program in Panama Is Now Accepting Applications

English

Are you a student looking for a summer internship in cutting-edge research in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)? Applications are now being accepted for this summer’s program at the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama, in cooperation with METI International, a nonprofit research and educational organization devoted to the search for life beyond Earth. Enhanced training in science communication will be provided in partnership with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science’s Young Scientist Program.

This is an unpaid summer internship program for either an undergraduate or graduate student as part of the ongoing development and use of the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory. For additional information please visit the Boquete Observatory website (www.optical-seti.org) and the METI International website (www.meti.org/optical-seti).

The internship is available from May 10, 2016 until September 10, 2016. The internship period is negotiable, but should be for a minimum of 6 weeks and a maximum of 3 months. The priority deadline for submitting applications is May 1, 2016.

Since 2010 the observatory has been conducting searches for extrasolar laser signals. The detection methods have evolved over the years such that the 20” primary telescope now achieves sensitivities normally expected of much larger telescopes. Planned detector development will improve on this further. As an example of recent research, the Boquete Observatory conducted a series of observations of the Kepler star KIC 8462852 – noted for its peculiar behavior. A paper based on these observations has been submitted for publication and is summarized in our press release. The Boquete Observatory is in the midst of a search for laser signals from red dwarf stars, having so far examined about 1500 of these dim, long-lived stars out to 300 light-years.

Dyson Sphere

Figure caption: Summer interns will use the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama to look for brief but powerful laser pulses from extraterrestrial civilizations. In late 2015 the observatory searched for signals from the anomalous Kepler star KIC 8462852, which some astronomers had suggested may be orbited by an alien megastructure. No laser signals from vicinity of the star were detected. Illustration credit: Danielle Futselaar/METI International.

The intern will be involved with:

  • the design and fabrication of an improved optical SETI photometer, including
  • specialized circuit boards and optical, mechanical assemblies,
  • telescope control system and signal detection hardware, software upgrades,
  • SETI searches as weather permits,
  • gaining knowledge and experience in astronomical principles.

            Note: The summer program occurs during the rainy season in Panama. The mornings are normally sunny, but it rains 1 to 3 hours each afternoon. During the rainy season, the evening skies are most often cloudy and there will be limited opportunities for SETI searches.

Facilities: A small electronics development room is on site. The lab has older, but adequate equipment for the tasks involved. There is also an area for mechanical fabrication and assembly including welding, and bench tools.

Science communication and the ethics of science: This internship is offered in partnership with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science’s Young Scientist Program (http://www.bmsis.org/ysp/), which will provide training in science communication as well as the relationship between science, ethics, and society. The intern at the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory will attend virtual seminars and be part of an email communication network that includes students in the Young Scientist Program who are conducting research at other sites.

Intern’s Qualifications:

There can be a lot of flexibility regarding the intern’s capabilities. Ideally, he/she would be capable of analog/digital circuit design and modeling, breadboard testing, the design of finished circuit boards and some software development (including plug-ins). Supervision and guidance will be according to the intern’s experience. Some educational background in astronomy will be helpful. Applicants must be proficient in English. Spanish language background can be useful, but is not necessary.

Because there is very limited access to machine shops, nearly all of the mechanical components will be fabricated using primitive tools (a good opportunity to express one’s self).

The intern should be in good health or have easily managed health issues.

Location and Description of Accommodations: The observatory is located near Boquete, Panama at 4,400 ft. on a slope of Mt. Volcan, a long dormant volcano. The weather is year-round spring-like with daytime temperatures generally in the 70s. It is an area of low crime. Boquete is about 35 miles south of the Costa Rica/Panama border.

The City of David is 35 miles west of Boquete and has twice daily flights to Panama City.

The student will stay in the home of Joan and Ben Schuetz and will have complete privacy in the second story suite. The observatory is on the property.

The suite has a study desk, terrace, large screen TV, king sized bed, full bathroom, large closet, Internet WiFi and the intern may use Skype for communicating with family, etc. During the high season (Nov. thru April) the suite is used as a Bed and Breakfast facility and the accommodations may be seen at: www.boqueteguesthouse.com , guest room #2.

Two meals a day will be provided and the intern can make sandwiches or snacks as he/she wishes.

Special dietary requirements will be the financial responsibility of the intern.

The intern will have free access to the laundry as needed.

Excellent medical services are readily and inexpensively available, but U.S. health insurance is not accepted. Students must carry health insurance that would cover evacuation home and all medical expenses.

The student will not receive a stipend from METI International, the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory, or the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science.

Discretionary Activities: Boquete town is frequented by youthful backpackers. There will be ample time and opportunity to acquire new, interesting friends. Outdoor interests include many hiking trails, hot springs, waterfalls and beaches. The funky island town of Bocas del Toro is a 4 hour bus ride plus ½ hour water taxi ride away. Pacific side beaches are about an hour away. See: www.boquetetravelguide.com for additional information. Public ground transportation in Panama is very inexpensive.

Intern’s Responsibilities: The intern will be responsible for all travel expenses from his/her home to the David, Panama airport or bus station. The Intern will be responsible for maintaining their living quarters in a clean and neat manner and taking care of their own laundry. He/she will need funds for taxis (~$3 total to Boquete and return or otherwise accompany Joan or Ben on any of the frequent trips to Boquete), entertainment and special foods/drinks. On an irregular basis, the intern’s assistance with kitchen duties will be appreciated.

Summary: We look forward to making the summer months interesting, enjoyable and of mutual benefit for all. The opportunity to work in a very specialized field and with a retired professional with 40 years experience in educational, NASA related and industrial settings can be a valuable experience to the intern. The intern will also have the opportunity to experience Latin American culture and visit interesting places.

Next Steps for the prospective candidate

Interested students should complete the application form and provide several thoughtfully crafted paragraphs answering each of the following questions (up to one page for each question).

  1. Why are you interested in this internship?
  2. How has your background helped prepare you for this internship?
  3. What were the motivating factors that helped you choose your general area of study or that you look forward to exercising in the future?

Along with your application and the above answers, please include at least one letter of recommendation from a teacher or other meaningful character reference.

Download application form (Microsoft word)

Please send all application materials as email attachments to:

Ben Schuetz,
Director of the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory
kg4lra@yahoo.com

Please send any questions about the internship to the same email address.