Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Taking Measure

Just a Standard Blog

Reaching for the Stars: My Summer Internship Learning About Spectroscopy in Space and on Earth

Isabelle Rivera poses smiling at a computer with two monitors, one showing a spreadsheet and the other multiple file icons.
NIST summer intern Isabelle Rivera learned about spectroscopy and updated a spectra database as part of her NIST internship this summer.
Credit: M. King/NIST

I’m fascinated by the planets and our solar system. It’s one of my favorite topics in school. 

But I’m not just learning about it in textbooks and in class. 

As a summer high school intern at NIST, I got to take a deep dive into one of the ways scientists study space — the absorption and emission of light by matter, known as spectroscopy. 

Spectroscopy is so fascinating to me because it has so many applications in space and is important in characterizing planets. Pretty much the only information we receive from stars and planets is their light, so spectroscopy is key to this type of research.

Rings and other gold jewelry items are displayed in a glass case.
Gemologists use spectroscopy to analyze jewelry. It’s one of many ways spectroscopy is used on Earth — in addition to space research.
Credit: Kwangmoozaa/Shutterstock

As a summer intern at NIST, I learned that not only is spectroscopy used for studying planets, but it’s also used in all kinds of things here on Earth, too. 

Spectroscopy is used to analyze jewelry. The military has used it to check surfaces for contamination and search for explosives. Spectroscopy is also part of pharmaceutical development and drug identification. 

Since I’m too young to be allowed to work in the lab, most of my internship days were spent adding information on NIST’s research into a public database that is available for researchers, known as the Atomic Spectra Database (ASD). The ASD is the main source of this data used by researchers around the world. 

Atomic spectra are generated by many different objects, from common light bulbs to advanced energy reactors to the most distant and brightest objects in the universe. Atomic spectra are produced for any energy of light, from low-energy radio waves to very high-energy gamma rays. 

Scientists researching clean energy, lighting, pharmaceuticals and more rely on the ASD for accurate atomic data. It was very rewarding to be a part of that process of making this important research available to everyone. 

Becoming a SHIP Student

I learned about NIST’s Summer High School Intern Program (SHIP) because my mom was a NIST intern when she was in college, and she worked here early in her career. 

Since I love science, it seemed like an ideal fit. 

In addition to my work, all of the SHIP students got to tour some of the fascinating NIST facilities. I enjoyed visiting the “net-zero house” on NIST’s campus that gives electricity back to the grid and learning about how it’s used in NIST research. 

Half a dozen high school students stand listening to a presentation in a room with scientific equipment.
Isabelle Rivera (third from right) and fellow SHIP students toured the NIST net-zero house as part of their internship program this summer.
Credit: B. Hayes/NIST

My mentor, Rodrigo Ibacache, took me into the lab a few times and showed me how the hands-on research works. It was exciting and just grew my interest even further in pursuing this as a career! 

I also loved having the campus experience that NIST offers. I loved walking around and seeing the different buildings and labs, including the museum in NIST’s main building. It makes me look forward to going to college soon! 

Exploring a Future in Science 

A year ago, I didn’t know much about spectroscopy. There are probably many other types of science I don’t know much about and could potentially explore for a career. 

I will be a senior in high school this year. I’m planning to go to college to study science, most likely planetary science. I’d love to study exoplanets, or planets outside the solar system. Or it’s possible I may find a whole new area of science that captures my interest. 

Getting to know the researchers here at NIST — and seeing their passion for their work — reinforced to me how much I want to make scientific research my career. I can’t wait to keep learning and exploring my interest in this field, and I look forward to taking what I’ve learned back to school with me this year. 

About the author

Isabelle Rivera

Isabelle Rivera is a senior attending the Science, Mathematics, and Computer Science Magnet Program within Montgomery Blair High School in Maryland. She plans to pursue planetary science in college and would like to study planetary habitability professionally.

Related posts


Thank you for this great opportunity.
I'm a Liberian, still a student at the high school level,
I want a help to achieve the bright future of my dream, but lack of support and the education system with us is every low in Education accept. Help!

Чудово, Ізабель, дещо чув про роботу групи атомної спектроскопії, але такої захоплюючої грунтовної розповіді чути не приходилося.

Google Translate translation of this comment:

Great, Isabelle, I've heard a bit about the work of the atomic spectroscopy group, but never heard such a fascinating thorough account.

Add new comment

Enter the characters shown in the image.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Please be respectful when posting comments. We will post all comments without editing as long as they are appropriate for a public, family friendly website, are on topic and do not contain profanity, personal attacks, misleading or false information/accusations or promote specific commercial products, services or organizations. Comments that violate our comment policy or include links to non-government organizations/web pages will not be posted.