SAAO summer internships 2021


Duration: ~8 weeks, starting mid-January 2021
Payment: R6000 – R8000 per month depending on qualification. 
Eligibility: see individual project descriptions below, must be SA citizen or permanent resident
Location: see individual project descriptions below – could be Cape Town (Observatory), Sutherland or remote work.
Asking questions: is encouraged! Please get in touch with the researchers offering the projects if you have any questions.

How to Apply

Send the following to with the subject line Summer 2021 by 18 December 2020:

  • your academic transcripts
  • a short motivation (~½ – 1 A4 page) explaining why you’d like to work at SAAO. Please list which project(s) you’d like to work on, in order of preference.

Summer Projects

PROJECT 1: Optical spectroscopy of a Be X-ray binary in a supernova remnant

Contact person: Vanessa McBride
We have reduced optical spectra of an interesting Be X-ray binary in a supernova remnant taken with the SALT telescope. You will create plots of the spectra of both the Be X-ray binary and the supernovae remnant and will identify spectral lines, and make some measurements from these lines. You will need a working knowledge of Python and matplotlib (Python plotting package). Suitable for second year undergraduate up to honours student.

PROJECT 2: Development of a vacuum table for the high-precision manufacture of radiation shields for CERN

Contact person: Pieter Swanefelder
The project will entail some mecha-tronics development of a vacuum table to assist with the capturing of parts during high-precision machining on a 5-axis CNC machine. The material required is a polymer with radiation characteristics suitable for use as shields to be used on an energy experiment at the CERN particle accelerator.
The student will assist with the design and construction of this equipment.
An undergraduate or Master’s student in the field of electrical or mecha-tronic engineering is ideal.

PROJECT 3: Deriving optical light curves and searching for periods in new X-ray binaries

Contact person: David Buckley
During 2020 we have observed several newly discovered close binary stars which emit X-rays from a compact accreting object, typically a fast spinning (10-100s sec) white dwarf or neutron star. The project involves reducing CCD images to determine their light curves and then using period finding techniques to produce power spectra and hopefully determining the spin and orbital periods and looking for other features, like quasi-periodic oscillations (QPOs). Existing computer code is available for these tasks, but the project could involve using other techniques. Some experience with Python would be an advantage, but not mandatory.

PROJECT 4: Measuring the motions of gas in galaxies

Contact person: Moses Mogotsi
Studying the gas and star formation of nearby galaxies is extremely important in understanding how galaxies like our own Milky Way change with time. This project will involve analyzing spectral line observations of galaxies to determine how the gas moves and how much star formation there is in these galaxies. You will need some basic programming skills (preferably in Python) and during the project you will perform the analysis using Python and existing software (depending on your Python skill level). The project is aimed for second year undergraduate to Honours level students.

PROJECT 5: Space velocities of X-ray binaries with GAIA

Contact person: Vanessa McBride or David Buckley
The newly released GAIA EDR3 provides us with updated distances and proper motions for almost 1.5 billion stars! We’d like to look at the proper motions of a sample of Be X-ray binaries in our neighbouring galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud. Our aim is to use these new measurements to constrain the kick velocities that were imparted to these Be X-ray binaries during the supernova explosion that formed them. This project will entail looking up data in an online catalogue, plotting histograms, and learning about neutron star kick velocities. Some experience in Python may be useful, but is not required. Suitable for a student who has completed second year, or above.

PROJECT 6: In Search of low-mass companions (planets?) around BL Her variables

Contact Person: Rajeev Manick
Recently we have obtained interesting clues about the presence of low-mass companions and possible hints of the presence of exoplanets around a sample of pulsating stars called BL Her stars. The pulsation of these stars can be used in the pulsation timing method to look for the Light Travel Time Effect (LTTE). This method has been successfully applied to other pulsating variable stars (e.g delta scuti stars) to look for planets or companions around them. In this project we will use the OGLE time series data to analyse the Observed – Calculated (O-C) curve and look for variability that could be linked to the presence of a potential companion(s) or planet(s) in these systems. Some experience in Python may be useful.