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Research Opportunities

 The research opportunities for the 2021 SURF Program are listed below. All opportunities are designed to be completed in a virtual, telework environment. Thus, participants are not required to relocate to the Boulder area and will not receive assistance with relocation. Note: Prospective applicants are required to list their top six preferences in the online questionnaire via

Applied Chemicals and Materials Division

647-1 Constant pH molecular dynamics simulations of biophysical systems
Demian Riccardi, 303-497-4648, dmr3[at]
The pKas of the histidine (HIS) and aspartic acid (ASP) sidechains result in a cost of ~10 kJ/mol for the HIS to ASP proton transfer in bulk solution. Heterogeneous electrostatic environments, found in proteins, greatly modulate this free energy difference. In this project, we will use constant pH molecular dynamics simulations to explore the sidechain ionizability within a biomolecule. The ideal candidate will have a strong interest in biophysical chemistry and some experience with Amber molecular simulations in a Linux environment. 

647-2 Supporting custom equations of state and thermodynamic models in ThermoData Engine software
Vladimir Diky, 303-497-4124 vladimir.diky[at]
Equations of state (EOS) are a powerful way of representation and prediction of thermodynamic properties widely used in chemical engineering. A variety of such equations have been recently developed due to a variety of the problems to solve and large number of researchers involved. Implementation of a new EOS or other thermodynamic model in software is usually labor-intensive and error prone. Certain techniques involving symbolic math are used at Thermodynamics Research Center (TRC, NIST), but there is the need to reassess them, improve, consider and develop alternatives based on the analysis of the types of models, their common features, ways of communication, and the labor needed. Potential candidates should know the basics of thermodynamics and have skills in symbolic math and programming languages such as C++ and Fortran and be able to work independently and learn new concepts.

Public Safety Communications Research Division

671-1 Image and Video Quality Assessment
Scott Ledgerwood and Margaret Pinson, 303-497-5354, sall[at]
The intern will use data collected during the “Enhancing Computer Vision for Public Safety” prize challenge. See the video at First responders depend on camera systems to perform many critical tasks. This internship involves joining an ongoing research project whose goal is to develop a no reference (NR) metric that predicts video quality. The intern will use a software framework developed by PSCR for this research, which is available at The intern will conduct a small experiment under the guidance of a senior researcher. This is cutting edge research, so some conclusions may be disappointing (e.g., identifying strategies that do not work). Regardless, we will learn interesting facts and create useful data that will kick-start a new line of research. Useful skills include algorithm development, signal processing, and MATLAB programming. The project mentor will provide all necessary tools and guidance.

671-2 Prototyping User Interfaces for First Responders
Kate Kapalo and Scott Ledgerwood, 303-497-5354, kak3[at]
Help improve user interfaces for first responders! Future user interfaces will enable first responders to interact with information systems in a natural way. These interfaces should be conducive to the first responder’s environment, equipment, and task at hand. The SURF researcher will be able to prototype early user interface designs by working with public safety members. The researcher may propose their preferred methods for research design and iteration. Their prototype may ultimately be included in one of PSCR’s future user studies on assessing the usability of user interfaces through virtual and augmented realty. Experience in programming and user design are preferred. Studies in any of the following topics will be helpful: Human-computer interaction, User Experience, Industrial or Systems Psychology, Cognitive Systems, Human Factors or Ergonomics. 

671-3 Python User Interfaces for Push-to-Talk Communications Quality of Experience Measurements 
Jesse Frey and Jaden Pieper, 303-497-4056, jmf6[at]
The Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Division’s Mission Critical Voice (MCV) team has developed measurement systems for quality of experience metrics in push-to-talk (PTT) communication systems. These measurement systems focus on first responder communications systems as they look at transitioning to broadband communications. The current measurement systems use a command line interface and are not user friendly for all users. These measurement systems will eventually be used by public safety and should be understandable and approachable for a wide variety of technical backgrounds. The MCV team would like to have an interface that will increase usability for someone without a technical background. A SURF researcher will be responsible for developing a simple user-interface for parts of the measurement systems in Python. The scope of the work will be determined by the student's interests and abilities. Preferred skills or coursework include a background in programming and user-design, experience with Python and Tkinter, and experience developing user interfaces. 

671-4 Python Integrated Testing With GitLab
Jesse Frey, 303-497-4056, jesse.frey[at]
The Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Division’s Mission Critical Voice (MCV) team has developed measurement systems for quality of experience metrics in push-to-talk (PTT) communication systems. These measurement systems focus on first responder communications systems as they look at transitioning to broadband communications. The measurement systems have recently been ported to Python, allowing us to use the continuous integration (CI) features of our GitLab instance. In particular, the SURF student will use YAML to configure the testing suite. To fully utilize these features, unit tests need to be written for our measurement libraries. The SURF student will be responsible for developing unit tests to test the important features of the test code. The student will also be responsible for configuring the repository, so that these tests are run each time the code is pushed. This testing will ensure that, as development continues, the code maintains reliability and functionality. The mentor will scope the work based on the student's interests and abilities. Preferred skills or coursework include a background in programming.  Experience with Python, Python packages, unit testing, and YAML is desired.

671-5 Python Tools for Mission Critical Voice Quality of Experience Measurement Systems
Jaden Pieper and Jesse Frey, 303-497-4210, jkp4[at]
The Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Division’s Mission Critical Voice (MCV) team has developed measurement systems for quality of experience metrics in push-to-talk (PTT) communication systems. These measurement systems focus on first responder communications systems as they look at transitioning to broadband communications. The MCV team would like to add tools and features to our measurement systems. Example tools would be functions that allow users to read and write additional information to wave file headers. Wave file headers can support fields such as comments that can be used to store metadata about the file in question as a string. MATLAB and Audacity programs support reading and writing these additional fields; however, Python’s support seems limited. The SURF student would be responsible for researching what tools such as the above already exist in different Python libraries and implementing those that do not. The student’s interests and abilities will determine the scope of the work. The preferred skill is a background in programming. Experience with Python and audio is desired but not required.

RF Technology Division

 672-1 Anomalous Behavior of Telecommunications Devices
Jeanne Quimby, 303-497-4217, jtq[at]
Tampering of telecommunication devices such as cell phone can affect the behavior of the device. A student working with us will learn about 5G telecommunication devices, vulnerabilities, and anomalous detection algorithms.  We will work together to collect the measurable responses such as physical radiated signal or IP addresses of the 4G base station and cell phones.

Applied Physics Division

686-1 MRI and Microscopy on the Cellular Scale
Megan Poorman, 303-497-3532, megan.poorman[at]
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can be used to non-invasively quantify tissue properties within the body. Changes in the underlying cellular properties are a known source of variability in these measurements, as the resolution of MRI is much larger than the size of a cell. How cellular changes affect the MRI signal must be understood before quantitative MRI can be adopted into the clinic, yet few methods exist to validate it to the cellular scale. We are developing a living reference object capable of growing cells within the MRI and being monitored with both MRI and optical microscopy. The student will collect data on cell mimics with both MRI and microscopy, and work with collaborators to process images, model signals, and validate the measurements. Previous experience with cell culture and organized data management is a plus but not required.

686-2 The What If of Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting
Megan Poorman, 303-497-3532, megan.poorman[at]
MRI can be used to non-invasively quantify tissue properties within the body, but requires lengthy acquisitions to accurately measure properties, limiting its use in the clinic.  Magnetic Resonance Fingerprinting is a framework that combines fast MRI with physics modeling to quantify multiple properties simultaneously. However, there is little understanding of how hardware and software errors propagate throughout the system. In this project, the student will design and test MRI sequences under possible error cases in order to understand the measurement uncertainty. They will learn how to operate the NIST MRI and perform Monte Carlo analyses with parallel computing. Programming experience is recommended.

686-3 Building a microMRI for 3D Imaging of live cells
Stephen Russek and Karl Stupic, 303-497-4097, stephen.russek[at]
This remote opportunity involves developing a tabletop microMRI system to image growing cells in the NIST Magnetic Imaging Group ( Work will include programing and developing pulse sequences on FPGA boards (, running imaging sequences in Python (, using novel hyperpolarization methods to take MRI far beyond the current state of the art. A great introduction to biomedical engineering and all components will be provided!

686-4 Exploring Low Field Dynamic Nuclear Polarization
Michele Martin and Karl Stupic, 303-497-3581, michele.martin[at]
Dynamic Nuclear Polarization (DNP) is a technique that allows for enhancement of a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrum. At low magnetic fields, DNP offers a welcomed boost in signal. During an experiment, heating can result from the long, high frequency pulses. The student will remotely acquire and process low field (6.5 mT) DNP data to monitor and understand how temperature changes affect the coil and sample. Further experiments will look at different radical containing compounds, consider other forms of hyperpolarization, or evaluate hyperpolarization coupled with imaging.

686-5 Open source hardware for photonic and electronic lab instrumentation
Sae Woo Nam, 303-497-3148, nams[at]
Originally, "open source" applied to software projects with publicly available source code for others to modify, improve, and use.  Today, "open source" can also apply to hardware that could include designs for electronics, mechanical structures, and photonic circuits.   There is an opportunity to develop low-cost, open-source hardware for precision photonic and electronic instrumentation.

686-6 Web developer for quantum applications
Krister Shalm, 303-497-3094, lynden.shalm[at]
Our group is building a quantum random number generator with the goal of making it available to the public as a service. We are looking for a programmer to help us develop web-based tools and an API for accessing our quantum randomness service. The project will involve working with popular Javascript frameworks, and may include programming tasks in Rust and Python. This position is well suited for someone interested in further developing their programming skills who is also interested in learning more about quantum mechanics or cryptographic systems.

686-7 Using quantum entanglement to generate randomness
Krister Shalm, 303-497-3094, lynden.shalm[at]
We are building the world's best random number generator using quantum entanglement. For this position we are looking for someone to help us analyze and characterize the data our system generates. This project is well-suited for candidate interested in learning more about quantum mechanics, quantum computing, or quantum information, and who has a background in programming with Python.

686-8 Modeling the generation of entangled photons
Krister Shalm, 303-497-3094, lynden.shalm[at]
A common way to produce quantum entanglement is to cause an energetic photon to "fission" into a pair of entangled photons. We have developed a web-based tool for performing these complex computations (, and we are in the process of developing the second generation of this tool. We are looking for a web developer to help us complete the second-generation modeling tool. The interface is written in Javascript while the engine is written in Rust. This is a good opportunity for those who are interested in learning about quantum optics or quantum information and have some experience with web development or programming. 

686-9 Optoelectronic hardware for neuromorphic computing
Jeff Shainline, Jeff Chiles, Saeed Khan, Bryce Primavera, 303-497-6292, jeffrey.shainline[at]
The Faint Photonics/Quantum Nanophotonics groups at NIST are currently developing optoelectronic devices for large-scale neuromorphic computing and artificial intelligence. We have an opportunity for an undergraduate researcher to participate in the design, layout, fabrication, and testing of the relevant devices. The project will involve simulation of photonic and superconducting devices and circuits using commercial software as well as home-grown python code. Once devices are designed, the masks used for lithography will be laid out using python software developed by our group, and fabricated at NIST by on-campus researchers. The undergraduate will work closely with our professional staff to learn the various design, fabrication, and testing stages of this research effort.

Time and Frequency Division

688-1 Improving the Robustness of GPS Carrier-Phase Time Transfer
Jian Yao, 303-497-4721,jian.yao[at]
The Global Positioning System (GPS) has been widely used to compare remote clocks, including the state-of-the-art atomic clocks at National Metrology Institutes (NMI). At NIST, we use the GPS carrier-phase time transfer to monitor the U.S. civilian time on a daily basis. However, the anomalies of GPS data due to cable replacement, missing data, or even unknown reasons, could occur a few times a year, which affects the robustness of GPS carrier-phase time transfer. The student will help investigate the feasibility of using an ensemble of GPS receivers to improve the robustness. Multiple GPS links between NMIs will be studied. This research opportunity will involve algorithm development and data analysis and will be completely virtual. Programming experience with C/C++ or MatLab or Python is required. Knowledge of GPS or optimization is preferred.

688-2 Software to support the NIST network time services
Judah Levine, 303-497-3903, judah.levine[at]
The NIST Time and Frequency Division operates time servers at multiple locations that respond to 
requests for time in a number of formats. A student working in this program will learn the basics of 
distributing time information in digital formats and in monitoring the performance of the servers in 
near real time. The student will develop applications that support these requirements. Some 
experience with programming in a high level language (such as Python or equivalent) is necessary.

688-3 FPGA based electronic frequency counter and noise analyzer
Tara Fortier, 303-497-4686, tara.fortier[at]
Low-noise electronic frequency counters are an integral tool for providing precision characterization of microwave and optical timing signals from atomic clocks.  The most common type of frequency counter counts the number of zero-crossings over a period of averaging time.  Commercial frequency counters suffer from additive errors and can lose frequency cycles resulting in loss of timing and frequency information.  Software-defined radio (SDR) offers versatile approach for phase tracking and computer controlled reconfiguration for signal tracking and noise measurement.  We are seeking  a motivated undergraduate student capable of networking a group of FPGA-based SDR machines as frequency counters and integrating the output data from these machines with existing Labview/Python code.  

688-4 A thin film mystery?
Scott Diddams, 303-497-7459, sdiddams[at]
We build ultrastable Fabry-Perot (FP) optical cavities for precision astronomical spectroscopy with the aim of finding and studying exoplanets.  In our latest FP cavity, we measure the length to be both increasing and decreasing at the same time!  We need a curious person to help us solve this mystery.  We think the answer might lie in the thin film optical coatings that make up the mirrors of the FP.  This is a good optics-related problem to work on remotely, as it will involve computer modeling of the mirrors and the FP cavity.

 Software and Systems Division

775-1 Evaluating Augmented/Virtual Reality Visual Performance
John Penczek, 303-497-3157, jpenczek[at]
NIST is supporting industry development of the next generation human-machine interface through Augmented and Virtual Reality technology. This project involves developing a measurement system to evaluate the visual performance of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) devices. The student will be tasked to assist the main project by developing software (using OpenCV or Unity) that can be called by Python to generate simple 3D image test patterns and render them on the AR/VR device. The 3D image software should create stereo image pairs with defined binocular disparity between the images. The student will also support the integration to the main robot-based automated test program.

Created September 28, 2009, Updated January 7, 2021