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Physics Internships for High School Students

6 minute read

Physics internships for high school students can be an exciting way to explore your interest in the subject and gain hands-on experience. Internships serve as a bridge between classroom learning and real-world applications. They offer students a chance to apply theoretical knowledge to practical scenarios, fostering a deeper understanding of the subject. For high school students passionate about physics, a summer internship provides a unique glimpse into the world of professional research and experimentation. These opportunities can vary in terms of duration, focus areas, and requirements, but here are some general aspects to consider:

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#1 Research Universities

Many universities and research institutions offer summer internships or programs specifically designed for high school students in their physics department. These programs often involve working with professors or researchers on ongoing projects. 

Caltech's Summer Research Connection (SRC)

One example is Caltech's Summer Research Connection (SRC). Caltech offers summer research opportunities for high school students through its many programs, where students have the opportunity to work on projects in physics, astronomy, and other scientific disciplines.

MIT Haystack Observatory High School Internship

Another prestigious internship opportunity for high school students is the MIT Haystack Observatory High School Internship which provides summer internships for high school students interested in radio astronomy and atmospheric sciences. This immersive internship provides students with the opportunity to conduct research using cutting-edge radio telescopes and observational equipment.

Participants in the MIT Haystack Observatory Summer Research Program work closely with faculty mentors, gaining hands-on experience in data analysis and scientific inquiry. The program not only enhances their understanding of astrophysical phenomena but also nurtures critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

For students in Canada, Perimeter Institute hosts a summer program for high school students interested in theoretical physics. Participants engage in lectures, discussions, and collaborative projects.

Not sure where to pursue your physics internship? The Amgen Scholars Program provides high school students with the opportunity to engage in research at top institutions worldwide. With distinct programs tailored for regions including the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, it brings together a diverse cohort of students eager to contribute to cutting-edge research in a collaborative and supportive environment.

The program includes a physics track where participants work on independent research projects, gaining exposure to the diverse applications of chemistry. Universities participating in this program include Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, and Caltech, where students engage in hands-on laboratory work alongside distinguished faculty, participate in seminars, and network with both peers and leading scientists.

#2 Science Centers or Museums

Some science museums and centers offer internships that combine educational outreach with hands-on research experiences. These internships may involve developing educational materials or assisting with interactive exhibits. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) could qualify as one example of a “science center” and has various internship opportunities for high school students. Here’s a quick overview of this prestigious high school internship program: 

NASA High School Internship Program

For students with a passion for astrophysics and space exploration, the NASA High School Internship Program provides a gateway to the stars. NASA offers a range of internships at its various centers across the United States, allowing students to work on projects related to space science, astronomy, and aerospace engineering.

Interns at NASA have the chance to collaborate with scientists, engineers, and researchers on projects that contribute to ongoing space missions. Whether it's analyzing data from telescopes or designing experiments for microgravity environments, this internship offers a unique blend of theoretical and hands-on experience in the realm of space physics.

To be eligible for this internship, applicants must be U.S. citizens and maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0. These paid internships are accessible across various NASA facilities during fall, spring, and summer sessions. The application process is centralized, with one application being considered agency wide. Stipends for OSTEM interns are determined based on academic level and the duration of the session, and prior experience is not a prerequisite. Opportunities are open for high school, undergraduate, graduate, and educator levels.

Key Dates for the Summer 2024 Session:

Rolling Decision Deadline for Applications: February 2, 2024
Learn more here: https://www.nasa.gov/learning-resources/internship-programs/ 

While we’re here, check out my other post on this topic: “How Polygence Can Prepare You for a NASA Internship”.

For students in Europe, another fun option could be CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. CERN offers a summer internship program for high school students called CERN OpenLab High School Student Programme and students get to work on exciting challenges related to exascale computing, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, nuclear and particle physics, and more! Check out more information on this summer physics internship below:

CERN High School Student Internship

One of the most prestigious internships for budding physicists is offered by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). The CERN High School Student Internship provides students with the opportunity to work alongside leading scientists and engineers in the field of particle physics. Located in Geneva, Switzerland, CERN is home to the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator.

During the internship, students engage in hands-on research, participate in workshops, and attend lectures by renowned physicists. The immersive experience at CERN not only deepens their understanding of particle physics but also exposes them to cutting-edge technology and international collaboration.

#3 U.S. National Laboratories

Below is a map of all current U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories, many of which have outreach programs for high school students. If you live near these hubs and are interested in medical physics, chances are there might be laboratories near you that can provide exposure to internship opportunities, events like “Science on Saturdays” for High School Students, and exposure to cutting-edge research and technologies. 

A map of  U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories
A map of U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories

Source: U.S. DOE, link here.

One example of such a DOE national laboratory is the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) High School Student Program, which offers a summer internship program where high school students work on projects related to physics, environmental science, and more. Another example is the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory near Princeton University, where I worked for 5 years. 

Located in Batavia, Illinois, Fermilab is a renowned particle physics laboratory that opens its doors to high school students through its internship programs. Fermilab High School Internships provide students with the opportunity to work on projects related to particle accelerators, neutrino physics, and cosmic ray research. Interns at Fermilab collaborate with physicists and engineers, gaining insight into the forefront of particle physics research. The program also includes educational seminars, laboratory tours, and exposure to the diverse range of careers within the field of physics.

If you have inquiries about internships at national laboratories, don't hesitate to reach out. I take great pleasure in mentoring my Polygence students on engaging research projects that can enhance their future applications at national labs.

#4 STEM competitions

Participating in science competitions like Intel ISEF or Siemens Competition can open doors to research opportunities. Winners often have the chance to work with mentors or institutions related to their projects. 

#5 Internships in Industry

Companies in industries like aerospace, engineering, and technology may offer internship experience for high school students interested in physics-related fields. These opportunities can provide insight into how physics is applied in the professional world.

#6 Online Opportunities, such as Polygence

In some cases, especially considering the impact of the pandemic, virtual internships or online research projects may be available. These can be a flexible way to gain experience from anywhere. One example of gaining real-world research experience is via Polygence. For example, my undergraduate degree was in Physics (and I minored in Nuclear Engineering), and my graduate degree was in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Since then, I’ve mentored over a dozen students on fun physics and engineering projects on Polygence, ranging from how to code an autonomous drone to doing computational modeling and simulation of nuclear reactors. If this resonates with you, consider the possibility of collaborating with me as a mentor on Polygence!

If you’re wondering what physics explorations you can get out of a Polygence mentorship program, take a look at these innovative physics projects completed by Polygence students:

  • For the Marvel Universe enthusiasts out there, my student Pramesh explored the physics behind Iron Man's iconic “Arc Fusion Reactor”. Pramesh’s project outcome was a blog, titled "The Science of Fission and Fusion Energy," takes a pragmatic look at nuclear science. It's a thought-provoking exploration of how fantasy and reality intersect. Check out his blog here!

  • Polygence student Andrew explored the physics behind nuclear fusion, a promising source of clean energy. Andrew learned to design CAD models of nuclear reactors on his computer in order to study how different factors, like materials and configurations, impact fuel production. Andrew presented his research at the Polygence Symposium of Rising Scholars – you can find his awesome talk here

You can find more information about Polygence mentors and the vast array of expertise on this page.

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What is the Eligibility Criteria?

Eligibility criteria for high school physics internships can vary depending on the specific program or institution. However, here are some common factors that may be considered:

  1. Grade Level

  2. Age Requirements

  3. Academic Performance

  4. Letters of Recommendation

  5. Application Material

  6. Interviews

  7. Previous Experience

  8. Work Authorization (for Paid Internships)

It's crucial for students to carefully review the eligibility criteria outlined by each program and ensure that they meet the specified requirements. Additionally, students should take the time to prepare a strong application that highlights their academic achievements, passion for physics, and any relevant experiences or skills.

When searching for physics internships, it's essential to consider your specific interests within physics—whether it's astrophysics, quantum mechanics, engineering, or another subfield. Look for programs that align with your passion to make the most of the experience. Also, keep in mind that application deadlines and requirements may vary, so plan ahead and prepare a strong application. 

Good luck!