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The Leiden/ESA Astrophysics Program for Summer Students (LEAPS) 2021

The application and review process for LEAPS 2021 is now completed, and all final offers have been made and accepted. The organisers and the advisors of the LEAPS projects thank all the students who applied for the 2021 LEAPS program. Due to the high number (more than 300) and the high-quality of applications, choosing the best candidate for each project has been a hard task. If you have not been contacted, we would like to encourage eligible candidates to re-apply next year.


LEAPS is an opportunity for students with an interest in astronomy and astrophysics to perform a 10 week summer research project in collaboration with a research scientist from Leiden Observatory or ESA. The program is open to all students not currently engaged in a Ph.D. program, although most past participants have been senior-undergraduate or masters' students who are enthusiastic about research in astrophysics.

Students are selected for the program based on their academic achievements and research potential. Each applicant has the opportunity to choose up to two projects of interest, and they are selected by project advisors based on what they indicate their scientific interests and experience to be. Research at Leiden Observatory and ESA takes place on a diverse array of topics (see below for LEAPS 2021 projects), and student projects will likely consist of anything from the analysis of data from world-class telescopes, to large computer simulations, to hands-on work in the astrochemistry laboratories.

The LEAPS 2021 program will run from June 14 to August 20 2021, although start dates for specific projects may vary. Due to the uncertainty surrounding travel restrictions amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the LEAPS 2021 program will be carried out remotely.

Leiden Observatory

Leiden Observatory (located in the Huygens and Oort buildings, Niels Bohrweg 2, Leiden) is a world-class institute for research in astronomy and astrophysics based in the Netherlands, approximately 35km from Amsterdam. The atmosphere at the observatory is dynamic, with approximately 100 faculty/research scientists and 70 graduate students engaged in astrophysical research on a wide range of topics. Major fields of interest include extrasolar planets, star formation, cosmology, galaxy formation, instrumentation, and astrochemistry. Multiple research projects will likely be available within these fields.

European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC/ESA)

ESTEC is ESA’s largest establishment, and its technical and organisational hub. ESA develops and manages many types of space missions, from exploration, telecommunications, to earth and space science. The Research and Scientific Support Department at ESTEC consists of approximately 40 staff scientists, with research interests ranging from the geology of planets in our solar system, to plasma physics in the magnetosphere of the Earth, space weather, to observational astronomy with ESA's space missions such as Planck, Herschel, GAIA and EUCLID.

How to Apply

The application process for LEAPS 2021 is now complete. We encourage interested and eligible candidates to apply next year.

The program is open to all international students provided they are not currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program. For ESA projects (Type of project: ESA), in case of equivalent qualifications, preference will be given to nationals of one of the following ESA member states and cooperating states: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom plus Canada, Latvia, and Slovenia. The working language of the observatory is English, and students should be sufficiently proficient in English to perform a research project.

If you have any questions about the application process or the program, please consult the Frequently Asked Questions page. If you have any questions that are not answered on the FAQ page, please .

Past LEAPS Successes

The LEAPS 2019 cohort had a great summer in Leiden and are already starting to share their research results with the world.
  • Danielle Rowland (supervised by B. Ribeiro and A. Paulino-Afonso) presented her research with a poster at the 2020 American Astronomical Society meeting. See here.
  • Lorena Acuña presented exoplanet atmospheric transmission spectra she obtained following her research on "Exploring the clearness/cloudiness of the atmosphere of gas giant exoplanets" in a poster at the ARIEL Science, Mission & Community 2020 conference held at ESA/ESTEC in January 2020.
  • and more publications are on the way!

LEAPS 2015 was a great success! Twenty-two students from four continents spent their summer in Leiden doing astrophysics research.

  • Joshua Borrow (with supervisor Pedro Russo) published a paper on astro-ph entitled "A Blueprint for Public Engagement Appraisal: Supporting Research Careers."
  • Lukasz Tychoniec (supervised by John Tobin) presented his research at the Polish Astronomical Society Summit, and his research already contributed to one published paper and he is preparing a paper on the full results.
  • Tessa Wilkinson (supervised by Anna-Lea Lesage) presented her research at the 2016 American Astronomical Society meeting.
  • Jeremy Dietrich (supervised by Christian Ginksi) submitted a paper to MNRAS "Archival VLT/NaCo multiplicity investigation of exoplanet host stars".
  • Maria Vincenzi (supervised by Carlo Manara) presented a poster at the workshop: "The accretion/outflow connection in YSOs" at ESTEC in October and a paper is in preparation.
  • Hope Boyce (supervised by Nora Lutzgendorf) presented a poster at the Canadian Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics and a paper is in preparation.

The 2013, and 2014 groups of LEAPS students also performed very well and the first scientific publications are out!

  • Ryosuke Goto and his advisor Sean McGee published a paper on galaxy formation in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on his LEAPS project; "The stellar mass function and efficiency of galaxy formation with a varying initial mass function". See here.
  • Steffi Yen and her advisor, Adam Muzzin, presented a poster at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) winter meeting in Washington DC, "Searching for the Most Distant Galaxy Clusters". See here.
  • Fiona Thiessen and her advisor Sebastien Besse submitted a paper on Lunar surface composition and lava flows (figure below).
  • Conny Weber worked with Agnes Kospal on infrared variability of young stars in Chamaeleon which featured on a poster at the "The Universe Explored by Herschel" conference in Noordwijk (conference website). See the poster here.
  • Hannah Harris, a 2014 LEAPS student, and her advisor Pedro Russo published a paper in the Space Policy Journal, "The Influence of Social Movements on Space Astronomy Policy." See here.
  • Saul Kohn (now a PhD student at UPenn) and his advisor David Sobral published a paper in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on his LEAPS project: "The most luminous Halpha emitters at z~0.8-2.23 from HiZELS". See here (link here).
  • LEAPS student Michael Hammer (from Cornell University) and his adviser Lucie Jilkova studied close stellar flybys that lead some stars to lose parts of their circumstellar discs. Using simulations in the AMUSE framework (www.amusecode.org), they showed that if the two stars approach each other close enough, part of the disc lost from one star can be transferred to the other one. These close encounters can happen shortly after stars form when many stars are clustered together. They further showed that even our Solar System might have experienced such an interaction and stolen some material, which is now orbiting in its outer parts, from another star. Michael presented a poster on the results of his LEAPS project on the 225th AAS meeting. The project eventually resulted to publication in an international refereed journal, which led to several press releases, for example: New Scientist, Scientific American, Universe Today.

Figure of the submitted paper by Fiona Thiessen, students of the LEAPS 2013 class. (a) M3 color composite image of the Imbrium basin (red: IBD1000, green: IBD2000, blue: R750 nm). Numbers indicate the basalt units mapped in this work. Large and spectrally bright craters are mapped separately in grey and were excluded from the basalt units. The surrounding highlands and kipuckas inside the Imbrium basin are also shown in grey. Dark strips correspond to portion of the lunar surface not observed with M3 using OP1B. (b) Eratosthenian basalt flows from Schaber [1973] with flow phases I-III. leaps2015 @ ESTEC

ESTEC group picture (joint tour with ASTRON summer school).

leaps2015 @ LOFAR

The rain could chase us away from LOFAR! (not quite drenched yet in this picture).

The 2013 LEAPS students (and some supervisors) on their visit to the Westerbork Radio telescope in Dwingeloo, the Netherlands.