STEM Summer Research - Granada Courses

You will earn 6 research credits over 8 weeks, conducting a faculty-supervised, hands-on, directed study research project with results that will culminate in the preparation of a research paper.

You will complete a minimum of 240 hours on research in and out of the laboratory.

To prepare for this experience you will speak with your research mentor before arriving in Spain to work on a literature review.

  • Please review your project with your academic or study abroad advisor to ensure it will transfer back to your home school and that you are following your home school’s policies.

Choosing Your Research Project

  • Review Project titles and descriptions below.
  • List 3 (in order of preference) in your personal essay.
  • Program is highly individualized, with limited enrollment.
  • You will need to complete a brief Literature Review in consultation with your research supervisor prior to departure before the start of the program. More details here.
  • We encourage you to contact Arcadia’s Associate Dean of Academic Access and Curricular Solutions, Rob Hallworth, to discuss your particular research interests further.

Environmental Sciences, Physics & Math Research with IISTA

Course ID Title Credits Syllabus
GRAN RSLW 392S International Independent Research in STEM Fields 6 PDF

Summer 2022 Research Projects


Changes in air quality in Granada (Spain) before, during and after the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic

Discipline: Environmental Health/data analysis

Air pollution is an environmental issue of public health concern. Exposure to air pollutants in urban areas can cause severe health problems such as increased morbidity and mortality and alterations in the respiratory, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems. The first confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 in Spain were identified in late February 2020. Since then, Spain became, by the end of March, the third most affected country worldwide after the United States and Italy, and recorded the second-highest number of deaths due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic after Italy. Since March 14th, lockdown measures were in place in Spain, restricting social contact, reducing public transport, and closing businesses. The restriction measures have been mainly oriented on flattening the epidemic curve, but at the same time confinement of the population, reduction of public transport, and most of the economic activity let to a considerable decrease in road traffic, and consequently, in levels of urban air pollution. The objective of this work is to assess the changes in air quality during the implementation of the lockdown measures in the city of Granada (Spain) due to the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic and the later recovery of pollutants levels after restrictions relaxation. For that, the student will use Air Quality data collected at different monitoring stations within and outside the city of Granada before and after the COVID restrictions were implemented, in order to evaluate the impact of this control measures on Granada air quality. This can provide useful information to plan further actions to effectively mitigate air pollution.


Study of pollutant sources in Granada urban area

Discipline: Atmospheric Science/environmental health

Air pollution is a risk factor for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and also for cancer. Emissions from road traffic have been associated with an increase in mortality, lung cancer and a general deterioration of the respiratory system. The concentration of a certain pollutant in the atmosphere depends on (1) the emission sources and their distance and (2) meteorological conditions. That is why the concentrations of the different atmospheric pollutants present large spatio-temporal variability. Knowledge of the spatial distribution of the main sources of pollutants as well as the areas most affected and with higher exposure for the population can help to design more effective action plans to reduce the levels of the different pollutants. Granada, despite being a medium-sized and non-industrialized city, is among the three Spanish cities with the highest level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution (Casquero- Vera et., 2019). The high concentrations of NO2, as well as of particles, are mainly due to traffic emissions (Casquero-Vera et al., 2021). In addition, to the particle emissions caused by road traffic are added the emissions from heating (fuel oil) and biomass burning (either for heating or burning stubble), especially during winter (Titos et al., 2017). This increase in emissions in winter together with the stable atmospheric conditions characteristic of this time of the year usually led to pollution levels exceeding the limits established by current legislation. This project will focus on the study of the spatio-temporal variability of the different sources of pollutants in the urban area of ​​Granada that will provide useful information to plan further actions to effectively mitigate air pollution.


Can we determine the water vapor content of the atmosphere using low-cost infrared thermometers?

Discipline: Atmospheric Science/Meteorology

Water vapor, representing approximately 0.25% of the mass of the atmosphere, is a highly variable constituent, with concentrations ranging from around 10 parts per million by volume (ppmv) in the coldest regions of Earth's atmosphere, up to 5% by volume in hot and humid environments, therefore with a range of more than three orders of magnitude.

Water vapor is an atmospheric component of vital importance on Earth, as it is a key in the climate, the hydrological cycle and the maintenance of the Earth's temperature within a range that allows life as we know it. Furthermore, water vapor condensed on sulfate particles and other hygroscopic particles can significantly increase the aerosol optical thickness of the atmosphere and thus reduce atmospheric transmittance.

The direct and indirect influence of water vapor on weather, climate and the environment is so important that there is great interest in techniques to infer its vertical distribution and its total abundance in the vertical atmospheric column. This research project focuses on the total abundance of water vapor in the atmospheric column, defined as the thickness of a layer of liquid water that would result if all the water vapor in the vertical column of the atmosphere were brought to the surface at temperature and standard pressure. Depending on the technique used for its determination, it is called in various ways as total column water vapor, integrated water vapor (IWV), precipitable water (PW) and integrated precipitable water (IPW).

The general objective of this research project is to explore the determination of the water vapor content of the atmosphere using low-cost techniques based on infrared thermometers.

For this we intend, on the one hand, to study the water vapor content at different time scales using solar photometry, microwave radiometry (subject to availability) and ECMWF data and, on the other, to calibrate a low-cost device to generate time series of water vapor content by infrared thermometry. Finally, it is intended to design a laboratory practice on this topic, which can be used in different subjects such as Atmospheric Physics (degree in Physics); Meteorology and Climatology (degree in Environmental Sciences); and Remote Sensing (masters degree in Geophysics and Meteorology).

The study will use water vapor content data obtained from a solar photometer and a microwave radiometer (subject to availability) routinely operated at the Interuniversity Institute for Earth System Research in Andalusia (IISTA-CEAMA) in the framework of the AERONET network of NASA and MWRNET of ACTRIS, respectively, and from the ECMWF. In addition, the student will carry out their own measurements with a low-cost infrared thermometer covering different time scales.

The methodology for the development of this project will cover the following stages:
(i) Familiarization with the solar photometry technique for the determination of water vapor.

(ii) Familiarization with the microwave radiometry technique for water vapor determination.


What do we really know about clouds?


The atmosphere is composed of gases, aerosol particles… and clouds! Clouds are a key component of the atmosphere that is often dismissed when considering its components. They are crucial in the interaction with radiation and in the hydrological cycle, but very difficult to characterize because of their large spatial and temporal variability. There is still a gap of knowledge related to cloud formation and the physical processes occurring within. Because of this, they are usually not accurately characterized in climatic, forecast and radiative transfer models. A better characterization of clouds and processes occurring within based on experimental data is key to understand and mitigate climate change. 

Measurements within clouds are usually difficult to perform because of their high altitude and are very scarce, and here it is where remote sensors become useful. Remote sensing observations from the ground and space have provided key datasets for understanding the Earth´s atmosphere, including clouds. Satellites provide a wide spatial coverage, but with low temporal and vertical resolution. Ground-based measurements are located at local sites, but they provide high temporal and vertical resolution, so the combination of the different measurements is needed to obtain comprehensive information. 

At Granada, we have a Doppler cloud radar that can continuously provide information about cloud properties and with high-vertical resolution. It has also scanning capabilities that allow the study in 4D. Furthermore, there are multiple algorithms to retrieve different properties of the liquid water droplets forming the cloud, which will also allow us to characterize them. In this research project, we aim to learn how to exploit the database from the radar system and to apply some of these algorithms to familiarize with cloud properties and cloud radar data processing. Once we have retrieved some properties, we will try to characterize cloudiness over the city of Granada making use of the cloud radar experimental database.

The research will be performed in the IISTA under the supervision of María José Granados Muñoz (PhD) and Juan Antonio Bravo Aranda (PhD) looking for motivated candidates with Team play skills.


Understanding ground-based NASA networks for supporting satellite missions


During the last decades scientists are improving their understanding of Earth' s climate system thanks to NASA space missions with special emphasis on the A-Train satellite constellation. Nevertheless, the current challenges in climate sciences requires new satellite developments and implies international cooperation between international space agencies (e.g. ESA, JAXA and similar). Such cooperation permits the implementation of the latest technologies in passive remote sensing to characterize atmosphere composition. Although remote sensing via satellite are unique in their spatial and temporal coverage, such measurements need to be validated. To solve these limitations, ground-based networks have been implemented through international cooperation, and many of them hosted by NASA. The Aerosol Robotic NETwork (AERONET) is an  international network with headquarters in NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. With more than 400 instruments worldwide distributed, AERONET main objective is to study columnar aerosol properties using the well-known sun-photometry technique and uses the standard instrument CIMEL CE-318. AERONET success in providing both optical and microphysical properties of aerosol and serves for decades as reference for validating satellite aerosol products. On the other hand, the NASA Pandora Project is part of Pandonia Global Networks which a collaboration between NASA and ESA towards establishing long-term fixed locations focused on providing long-term quality observations of total column of a range of trace gases.

The objective of this research and training proposal is to familiarize in the use of
AERONET and Pandonia data for evaluating satellite data for satellite validation. Students will familiarize with current and future space missions and their needs of validation, and also with the use of ground-based networks for studying extreme events (e.g. intense pollution, volcanic eruption, Saharan dust storms, biomass burning). We plan that students become familiar with the installation of AERONET and Pandora standard instruments. No special mathematical background is needed although it is expected preliminary skills in data visualization. We expect that students develop additional skills in the communication of extreme events via social networks.


Atmosphere thermodynamics state studies using satellite and ground-based microwave radiometry


Understanding Earth ́s Atmosphere composition and dynamics requires precise knowledge of global temperature and radiation profiles, water vapor content and wind. Classically, such measurements were acquired by radiosondes but limited to some places in the world and launches at certain periods. The development of microwave radiometer technique is allowing continuous monitoring of such thermodynamics atmospheric variables. In this sense, NASA launched in 2002 the Aqua satellite which deployed the Atmospheric Infrared Sounders (AIRS). AIRS and its partner instrument AMSU are observing and characterizing the entire atmospheric column from Earth's surface to the top of the atmosphere in terms of surface emissivity and temperature, atmospheric temperature and humidity profiles, cloud amount and height, and spectral outgoing infrared radiation. These data and scientific investigations will answer long-standing questions about the exchange and transformation of energy and radiation in the atmosphere and at Earth’s surface.

However, any satellite product must be validated from ground-based measurements because of the complexity of satellite instruments and of inversion techniques. In this sense, for validation of AIRS data the Department of Energy of the United States through the ARM program deployed supersites with many remote sensing instrumentations for the validation of AIRS. On the other hand, E-PROFILE, which is part of the EUMETNET Composite Observing System, is a European networks of radar wind profilers (RWP) and automatic lidars and ceilometers (ALC) for the monitoring of vertical profiles of atmosphere thermodynamics variables. The objective of this research and training proposal is to familiarize in the use of AIRS data using the online tools developed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The students will also become familiar with ARM program and E-PROFILE for the validation of AIRS products. It is also planned the characterization of atmospheric thermodynamics state at extreme events such as hurricanes, dust transport or droughts. No special mathematical background is needed although it is expected preliminary skills in data visualization. We expect that students develop additional skills in the communication of extreme events via social networks.


Exploiting NASA’s tools for the observation of Earth´s atmosphere using satellite data


A better understanding of the atmosphere and processes occurring within is key to understand and mitigate climate change. Remote sensing observations from space using satellites have provided key datasets for understanding the Earth´s atmosphere. Satellites are equipped either with active or passive remote sensors that provide valuable information by interacting with the atmosphere through radiation. In the case of passive instruments, radiation emitted or reflected from the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface is detected, in one or more spectral bands—i.e. a range of microwave, infrared, visible, or ultraviolet wavelengths. Depending on the spectral band, scientist can obtain information about the state of the atmosphere (chemical composition, concentrations, absorption, etc.) Some bands are relatively broad (as for imaging instruments), while others are extremely narrow (as for several thermal infrared-detecting instruments). In the case of active instruments, they emit an energy pulse and measure the energy reflected (or backscattered) to the sensor. The study of these return pulses allows creating three dimensional profiles of clouds and aerosol properties, among other components.

NASA has been sending out to space Earth-observing satellite missions to obtain comprehensive global observations of our home planet for many years. Many of these missions are usually grouped forming satellite constellations that combine information from multiple sensors, both active and passive. This synergy among the different missions allows studying interactions that are not visible by the independent instruments on-board each satellite, allowing us to obtain more information about the atmosphere than the one provided by each mission independently. One of the greatest strengths of NASA is that this information is publicly available and they provide multiple userfriendly tools to analyze it.

In this research project, we aim to learn how to exploit these tools for the visualization and analysis of satellite data from NASA constellations to improve the knowledge we have about our atmosphere and the basics for understanding climate change. For this purpose, we will use NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) tool in combination with NASA’s Giovanni system to analyze different phenomena affecting our atmosphere on global, regional and local scales.


Study of air masses in the atmosphere using the NOAA HYSPLIT model


An air mass is an extremely large body of air whose properties of temperature and humidity are fairly similar in any horizontal direction at any given altitude. Air mass may cover many thousands of square kilometers and when transported can change the thermodynamics and atmospheric composition in a given place. Therefore, the study of air mass transport can help in understanding rapid changes in the atmosphere and anticipating to natural and anthropogenic disasters such as extreme rainfall or pollution events.

The Hybrid Single Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) model developed by the NOAA Air Resources Laboratory incorporates the latest advances in air mass transport. HYSPLIT can be used to forecast an air mass in the atmosphere and also to study back trajectory analysis to determine the origin of air masses and establish source-receptor relationships. HYSPLIT helps to explain how, when, and where potentially harmful materials are transported, dispersed and deposited in the atmosphere. For example, the use of HYSPLIT serves to study the transport of very humid and hot air masses to northern latitudes, or transport of cold air masses from northern to southern latitudes. HYSPLITS serves also to study transport of pollutants such the biomass-burning particles crossing the United States from West to East or Saharan dust particles crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, having the information of air mass transport is essential for responding appropriately and preventing disaster related to accidental and/or intentional release of chemical, biological or nuclear agents that ultimately have significant health, safety, security, economics and ecological implications.

During this research activity the student will familiarize with the different types of air masses in the northern hemisphere and will learn how to use HYSPLIT both the on-line and downloads versions for studying backward and forward air mass trajectories. Also, the student will familiarize with meteorological databases of different temporal and spatial resolutions that permit to optimize air mass transport calculations. The student will study how different thermodynamics variable such as temperature and water vapor at a fixed location vary with backward trajectories. Further analyses include relationships between pollutants (e.g. aerosol particles, greenhouse gases) and backward air mass transport.

Grade Scale

The following information is vetted and provided by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) on the Electronic Database for Global Education (EDGE).

Spanish Abbreviation Translation Numeric U.S. Equivalent
Sobresaliente SB Outstanding 9 - 10 A
Notable NT Very Good 7 - 8.99 B+
Bien B Good 6 - 6.99 B
Aprobado AP Passing 5 - 5.99 C
Suspenso S/I Fail 0 - 4.99 F