SUNY Oswego students to intern at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics


February 20, 2018

Two SUNY Oswego undergraduates have accepted internship offers to work this summer at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on a programming project for a molecular spectroscopy database.

Software engineering major Joshua Karns of Rochester and computer science major Wyatt Matt of Parish -- both in only their second year at SUNY Oswego, though with junior-level course credits -- will spend May 16 to Aug. 24 advancing the graphical user interface for the HITRAN spectroscopic database, developed at the Atomic and Molecular Physics Division of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, under the direction of Dr. Iouli E. Gordon.

The opportunity came together thanks to a lunch meeting Dr. Shashi Kanbur of Oswego's physics department had with Gordon at an astrophysics conference in Michigan, which led to a team project Karns and Matt worked on last fall for HITRAN in a software development class of Oswego computer science faculty member Dr. Bastian Tenbergen.

Karns and Matt were two of six students in Tenbergen's course working in the Python language to develop a programming interface for HITRAN (high-resolution transmission molecular absorption database). The research tool is used by scientists of many kinds, from astrophysicists to chemists to atomic physicists.

Tenbergen's software engineering course simulates how programmers work in a company with stakeholders; the students develop actual software products for internal, and in this case, external clients.

"I really want students to gain an appreciation for how contracted software development works," Tenbergen said. "They need to treat the stakeholder like their boss."

Indeed, Gordon now will be the supervisor for Karns and Matt this summer. In offer letters to the students, the Harvard-Smithsonian professor wrote, "We believe that the knowledge and experience gained through this internship will provide you with an excellent learning opportunity that can be applied toward your future studies and projects."

Both students -- the only two on the class project who were able to make themselves available for the full-summer project -- expressed excitement for the opportunity.

"I think it's going to be invaluable," said Matt. "In the course, we were supposed to simulate a working environment. Now we are going right into a working environment that allows us to keep working on the project. I'm eager to work on new features they want."

Karns said, "Right now (the interface) is usable. It still has some bugs to be worked on. I'm looking forward to fixing so many things we had to overlook because of the time crunch."

Kanbur, with many contacts in his research field of stellar pulsation and its relationship to the time-distance scale of the universe, has guided numerous SUNY Oswego students to prestigious internships, including, for years, positions at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

For more information on academic and experiential learning opportunities at SUNY Oswego, visit

Summer opportunity -- SUNY Oswego students Wyatt Matt (in back) and Joshua Karns look over web pages for HITRAN, a molecular spectroscopy database developed through Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The students have accepted internships to work at the center's Atomic and Molecular Physics Division continuing to develop a graphical user interface they began with a team of students in an Oswego software engineering course.