USRI Internships


The Western Undergraduate Summer Research Internships (USRI) program provides undergraduate students with engaged research experiences and opportunities to learn new research methods and techniques alongside faculty mentors.

Western Space has one USRI opportunity available! 

If you are looking for a summer internship opportunity, please complete this form. An award committe will select the winner of the award. Application deadline: April 20th, 2022. 

This is a paid summer internship opportunity for Indigenous undergraduate students of various disciplinary backgrounds to gain hands-on research experience guided by a faculty member over ten weeks, from May to August 2022.

The winner of the USRI award can choose one of the following projects to work on: 

Space Resources & Outerspace Law with Dr. Elizabeth Steyn 

There has been a growing interest in the potential that space resources hold for human use. Technological advances that would enable space mining, such as asteroid mining, have been rapidly expanding. It is incumbent on us to ensure that there is a responsible approach to the exploration, exploitation and appropriation of outer space resources. While issues surrounding the ownership of space resources remain unclear in space law for the moment, the growing practical feasibility of space mining requires us to consider key questions about it. One such key question is, what does dealing with space resources in a respectful manner entail? For aeons, Indigenous peoples in Canada and elsewhere have looked to the sky for guidance, both in their spiritual and daily dealings. It also provides them with an important sense of cultural connectedness and rootedness. Sky observations form part of Indigenous storytelling and ritual in many Indigenous communities and celestial objects such as the sun and the moon hold a special place in their wisdom traditions. Indigenous communities therefore need to be part of conversations about space resources. We are looking for a summer intern to help bridge this gap – to navigate the difficult relationship between science and community: to gather information and data  pursuant to Indigenous research methodology protocols by respectfully collaborating with Indigenous Elders and community members. This will help us address important questions around space mining, such as those relating to ethics, participatory justice, intergenerational equity, cultural heritage and way of life.

Intern Required Qualifications: Undergraduate student from any major with an interest in community-based research. 

Physics and Astronomy with Dr. Els Peeters and Dr. Jan Cami: The James Webb Space Telescope: Radiative feedback from massive star

We have recently witnessed the successful launch and deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Hailed as the bigger and vastly more sensitive successor to the HST, JWST will similarly inspire the general public and have researchers develop the most innovative approaches to process and analyze observations of unprecedented quality to study the Universe near and far.

JWST observations will be dominated by infrared (IR) emission from large carbonaceous molecules (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs). This emission encodes a large amount of information about the physical and chemical environments in which they reside and is a powerful messenger to study astrophysical processes such as star and planet formation and galaxy evolution. The best observations to date of astronomical PAH sources yield spectra averaged over regions with vastly different properties, thus greatly confusing their interpretation. JWST’s incredible spatial resolution and sensitivity will disentangle these regions and allow us unprecedented views on PAH characteristics on small spatial scales.

The first few hundred hours of science time with JWST will be used to carry out 13 so-called Early Release Science (ERS) programs. The ERS programs represent a new category of scientific investigation, with two key pillars: their scientific merit on the one hand, and the delivery of so-called Highly- Processed Data Products and Science Enabling Products (SEPs) on the other hand - tools that will help other researchers to create better observing proposals, help to analyze, interpret, and disseminate the resulting data, and thus increase the scientific return of the entire mission. I am leading one of the 13 successful ERS programs: ID 1288 “Stellar Feedback of massive stars" ( We will observe a very popular astronomical object, the Orion Bar.

Two summer projects are available: 1) the student will participate in the development of these science enabling products (i.e. the scientific development, programming, and testing) and 2) the student will study infrared observations obtained with the Spitzer Space Telescope and analyze variations in the spectral features of PAHs to help us understand future JWST observations.

Intern Required Qualifications: The ideal candidate has a background in physics, astronomy, math or computer science, and extensive programming experience in Python. Experience with data analysis or collaborative software development (e.g. using github) is an asset, and we also expect the interns to be team players.

Electrical Engineering with Dr. Jayshri Sabarinathan 

Hyperspectral camera development for remote sensing from micro-satellites – involves embedded systems and circuit hardware expertise/interest and optical imaging instrumentation development; industry partners are involved in project. 

Intern Required Qualifications: 1-2 students preferably Electrical Engineering or related area with interest/expertise in building circuit hardware and/or optical imaging instrumentation. The hardware will be early prototypes of space compatible instrumentation that for either satellites or lunar rover operation.

Space Science & Software Engineering with Dr. Kenneth A. McIsaac

The problem we have chosen to explore is the formation of polygons in Martian terrain. Polygons normally form in permafrost via thermal contraction cracking.

Polygons are of interest to planetary scientists because they indicate the likely presence of  subsurface water. Current techniques for polygon analysis require a human scientist to look at thousands of pictures. The entire Martian surface has been photographed by orbital spacecraft, so there is a wealth of data available, but the only way to investigate the entire surface is for a human to look at each picture.  In our proof-of-concept project, we will explore techniques to automate this process. Scientific objectives include classifying polygon terrain as distinct from other surface formations, identifying the sizes and densities of polygon terrain, and (if possible) classifying polygons by shape (number of sides, number of edges, regularity, etc). We have a planetary scientist on the research team who will identify science goals. The proposed summer research project is to attempt an analysis using traditional classification approaches, such as the support-vector-machine (SVM) and random forest classifiers using manually engineered features.

The student will be responsible for the traditional computer vision approach to polygon analysis. The student will develop feature filters to identify edges, corners and other features in the polygon scenes then use SVM and random forest classifiers to attempt to identify the presence, size and distribution of polygonal features in the terrain.

Intern Required Qualifications: The ideal candidate should have an established record that bridges space science and software engineering.  First priority will be given to applicants with concurrent registration in a space science program as well as a software engineering program (or equivalent).

Medicine-Engineering with Dr. Adam Sirek and Dr. Ana Luisa Trejos 

Novel technologies to monitor, support and maintain crew health are critical to human exploration in cis-lunar space. A major focus of monitoring crew health and performance will be decisions and technologies surrounding what measures will be important and how they will be collected. Vital signs are a commonly collected and important value for decision making by clinicians. While commonplace terrestrially, collecting vital signs in microgravity or variable gravity continues to be a challenge. Discussions about what vital signs are needed, on what frequency and how to collect them remain a topic of discussion in the biomedical engineering field.

For this project, intern(s) [1 med, 1 eng] will perform a tech watch style survey of available wearable bio-monitoring devices and propose a series of appropriate devices for potential cis-lunar missions. Furthermore, in the final report, the team will discuss the timescales and methods in which vitals will be collected and used by the crew medical officer and terrestrial based flight surgeons.

Engineering Intern Required Qualifications: Mechatronics (ideal), Mechanical or Electrical Engineering student who has completed at least 2nd year. A dual degree with BME would be a significant plus.

Med Intern Required Qualifications: UGME or PGME (medical student or resident)