UA Honors

Biosphere 2, in partnership with the Honors College at the University of Arizona, has developed internship opportunities for approximately ten UA Honors students each semester. The internships are suited for Honors students interested in exploring and engaging in the scientific research being conducted at the Biosphere 2 facility, as well as for students interested in the complementary education and outreach activities at the facility. Continuation of projects beyond the initial semester internship is encouraged. Students participating in this 3-unit, semester-long, Biosphere 2 Honors internship will do the following:

  • work under the guidance of faculty/staff members at Biosphere 2 and in the Honors College to conduct research projects that culminate in a presentation and publicly accessible poster (or publication) by semester’s end
  • on a regular basis, explain their work and interact with the public visiting Biosphere 2
  • meet regularly with their fellow interns and faculty/staff members at Biosphere 2 to discuss research progress and learn about the various research projects and interactions with the public.
Application Instructions

Please submit your completed application packet to the Honors College (Slonaker House). Your packet should include the following:

  1. Résumé, including descriptions of relevant laboratory, field, or data analysis experience
  2. The name of one faculty member that can serve as a reference for the internship
  3. A completed application form, including additional pages to address the essay questions.
Internship Details

About Biosphere 2: The primary research objective at Biosphere 2 is to bridge the gap between laboratory- and field-scale studies by utilizing the unique infrastructure of Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2 offers unique opportunities for the exploration of complex questions in environmental and earth sciences because of its ability to combine varying scales, precise manipulation, and fine monitoring in controlled experiments. By building upon the large external scientific network at the University of Arizona in hydrology, geology, geochemistry, ecology, biology, physics, engineering, and atmospheric sciences, Biosphere 2 has developed a strong multidisciplinary team of researchers to address complex questions in environmental science. In conjunction with a high-profile facility and research program, Biosphere 2 is also actively engaged in science outreach and education; about 100,000 people visit each year, and 10% of those visitors are K-12 schoolchildren. The residential possibilities in our 25+ casitas allow us to host large student groups, scientific conferences, and more with capacity for almost 200 people to stay overnight.

Who is Eligible

Honors students who have completed one year of undergraduate study at the University of Arizona are eligible to apply. Honors students from any major or program are welcome, but students with scientific background and interest will likely be preferred. Students must be in good standing in Honors, with a 3.2 GPA or higher. Self-discipline, real-world problem solving, initiative, attention to detail, excellent communication skills, above-average responsibility, and curiosity are all attributes of the most desirable interns.

How the Internship Will Work

Students will be part of an internship cohort of Honors students who meet regularly to discuss their internship experiences, particularly the research effort each will undertake, and how the research findings can translate into educational opportunities for visitors and K-12 students. Interns will work under the guidance of Biosphere 2 faculty and staff, and an Honors staff member. Potential topic areas for Honors internships are described below. Interns will have significant latitude in selecting a project that matches their particular areas of interest or experience. Interns will learn about multiple aspects of Biosphere 2, undertake their research, engage in public outreach, and will take responsibility for presenting results at the end of the spring semester, with specific expectation details to be confirmed earlier in the semester.

A Biosphere 2 staff van typically drives from UA main campus to Biosphere 2 and back again once each weekday and can be utilized by active interns.

Research Project Ideas 

Topics for Honors interns include the areas described below. Detailed research questions, methodologies, and scheduling will be determined via collaborative dialogue between the Honors intern and the Biosphere 2 mentor(s). The number of students that can be paired with any given mentor is limited, so please consider having a back-up mentor or two in mind when applying. We encourage you to contact the researcher(s) you are interested in working with before you start the application process.  You are welcome to propose additional topics, but these are the ones for which we are best prepared to support interns.

Ocean/Marine Research, Education, and Outreach

Rafe Sagarin, Biosphere 2 and Institute of the Environment

NOT SEEKING STUDENTS AT THIS TIME: Dr. Sagarin and colleagues are transforming the Ocean Viewing Gallery to house an exciting new display about exploring the Gulf of California. New marine research, lesson plans, and other opportunities are being planned to accompany the future transition of the coral reef ecosystem to an analog of our Desert Sea – the nearby Mexican ocean that exchanges nutrients, energy, and much more with our Sonoran Desert region. Join Dr. Sagarin and snorkel in the Biosphere 2 Ocean, learn marine science, help determine which species to introduce to the changing ecosystem, research the mangrove swamp, and more.

Education and Outreach, Translating Research Findings for the Public

Kevin Bonine,, Biosphere 2, College of Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Dr. Bonine is a herpetologist, ecologist, evolutionary biologist, and conservation biologist. He is also the Director of Education and Outreach at Biosphere 2. Myriad opportunities are available with him to study how best to engage visitors and school groups at Biosphere 2, how best to teach complex ecosystem principles, and how to ensure that researchers present their findings in a way that the public can understand. Talking with visitors, generating surveys, planning nature trails or educational playgrounds, refining age-appropriate lessons, teaching school kids, and deploying wildlife cameras can all be part of your internship experience.

Soil Chemistry and Soil Formation

Katerina Dontsova,, Biosphere 2 and Soil, Water, & Environmental Science

With Dr. Dontsova, students will have the opportunity to participate in one of several ongoing projects at Biosphere 2 that focus on soil formation processes. The projects range in scale from Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO) (340 m2 area, 1 m soil depth) to large mesocosms with mesquite and grasses (0.26 m2 area, 1 m depth) to smaller and more controlled systems (20 cm2 area, 30 cm depth). Students can observe the changes that are happening in the rock during initial stages of soil formation as a result of water flow and biological activity. In the small mesocosms students will be working on establishing the role of root-mycorrhizae-bacterial associations on the extent of total weathering and chemical denudation. Specifically, to what extent does the biota (plants and microbes) contribute to weathering rock to form high surface area secondary solids while also diminishing the loss of weathering products in solution. Interns may use direct measurements and geochemical modeling. Dr. Dontsova and her colleagues have hypothesized that plant and microbial/fungal effects are synergistic and not simply additive. In larger mesocosms research can link measured weathering, denudation, and carbon sequestration in the soil to water transpiration, plant photosynthesis, and plant and soil respiration; while LEO research can focus on development of subsurface heterogeneity through hydrologic-geochemical coupling.

Ecology and Carbon and Water Cycling

Dr. Greg Barron-Gafford,, Biosphere 2 and School of Geography

Dr. Barron-Gafford studies ecohydrology in mountain and valley ecosystems in the desert southwest. His interdisciplinary research involves measuring leaf and soil carbon and water fluxes with the goal of better understanding how semiarid environments will respond to climatic stresses of temperature, summer drought, and reduced mountain snow input. He and his colleagues can estimate the component fluxes within sub-canopy and canopy species in the Santa Catalina Mountains and in the Santa Rita Experimental Range that border Tucson to the north and south, respectively. Potential projects include measuring carbon and water exchange with the atmosphere in individual trees or whole sub-canopy plots to capture variation due to canopy cover (a biological influence), slope and/or aspect (a physical driver), and changing climate (atmospheric influences). Methods may include measures of plant water status, hemispherical photography (to quantify incoming solar radiation), and leaf/plot/soil gas exchange with the atmosphere. His group is interested in how these ecosystems will perform under projected climate change scenarios, which species might begin dominating the ecosystem, and how tightly coupled carbon uptake is to water availability in this semiarid, sky island setting. The internship experience can include fieldwork or center on lab activities depending on student interest and availability. More information on Barron-Gafford’s research and lab members can be found at

Water Movement Across the Landscape

Peter Troch and Till Volkmann,, Biosphere 2 and Hydrology & Water Resources

Drs. Troch and Volkmann want to better understand catchment scale hydrological processes, including water transit time, through advanced measurement, modeling and synthesis methods. The objectives of their research include: (1) Developing, testing and applying advanced observation methods for hydrological fluxes and states at a range of spatial and temporal scales; (2) Developing hillslope to catchment scale hydrological models for water and solute transport; and (3) Hydrological synthesis at the catchment scale with special attention to hydrological extremes. The motivation of their work is to contribute to improved water resources management in the light of climate change and other human influences on the hydrological cycle. Students working in their lab may work on water transit time estimation using stable isotope data from rain and streamflow samples. The internship experience can include fieldwork, lab work that includes running the laser spectrophotometer, and mathematical modeling of flow and transport processes at catchment scales.

Plant Growth, Physiology, and Phenology

David Moore,, School of Natural Resources and the Environment

Plants take up about half of all the carbon produced by humanity through the process of photosynthesis but there are many unanswered questions about how long this will continue especially as spring arrives earlier, and autumn later, for some plant populations. Dr. Moore’s lab group aims to discover the environmental triggers for major phenological events in cottonwood trees by studying patterns of leaf development, plant photosynthesis, and growth. Interns will work at Biosphere 2 using an experimental stand of trees. Depending on their interests students can learn how to carry out physiological measurements, image analysis, spectral measurements of leaves, and other laboratory techniques.

Computer Modeling of Terrestrial Hydrology, Ecology, and Climate Change

Guo-Yue Niu,, Biosphere 2 and Hydrology & Water Resources

To enhance our understanding of the interactions between the soil, plants, and air and their integrated behavior at hillslope and catchment scales, Dr. Niu’s group is developing a Terrestrial Integrated Modeling System (TIMS) for modeling hydrological, microbial, geochemical, geomorphological, and ecological processes at the Earth’s land surface. The coupled model will be used for interpreting LEO measurements and three other projects funded by federal agencies: 1) an NSF-funded biology project for exploring the impacts of climate change and rainfall redistribution over complex terrain on the spread of invasive species, 2) a DOE-funded Earth System Model (ESM) project to develop a global high spatial resolution land surface modeling system for studying the interactions between climate and the global water cycle, and 3) an NSF-funded project to study the integrated processes of energy, water and carbon in the Jemez-Catalina Critical Zone.

Rainforest Response to Climate Change and Trace Gas Exchange Across the Soil-Atmosphere Boundary

Joost van Haren,, Biosphere 2 and Honors College

Dr. van Haren studies the effect of climate change on tropical ecosystem activity and in particular the exchange of greenhouse gases across the soil-atmosphere boundary. Tropical forests are the most dynamic ecosystems in the world, however they are threatened by deforestation and climate change. The potential response of tropical forests to climate change is uncertain, because little experimentation under predicted future environmental conditions (increased temperature and decreased precipitation) has been done in tropical ecosystems. Biosphere 2 provides an opportunity to study tropical ecosystem processes under future conditions. The student(s) involved in this project will have the opportunity to work within the Biosphere 2 tropical forest to investigate both plant and microbial responses to changing temperature and precipitation. The exchange of greenhouse gases across the soil-atmosphere boundary greatly influences the global budgets of these gases, but is still poorly understood, especially in regard to the influence of biology on the rates. In Biosphere 2, students will have the opportunity to measure the gas exchange in a range of ecosystems from pure bare soil (LEO) to tropical vegetation.