01.10.11

Stellar Education: Teachers Bring Classroom Space Science to Astronomy Conference

 
PASADENA, Calif. -- Real space science and insights into teaching astronomy come straight from the classroom to a renowned international conference this week. Nearly 60 teachers, students and astronomy educators will be on hand to present the fruits of their year-long labor as participants in NITARP, the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program, at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Wash. from Jan. 9 through Jan. 13, 2011.

NITARP pairs professional astronomers with eighth grade, high school and community college teachers nationwide to show their students how genuine space research gets done. The four NITARP teams used archival observations by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, an orbiting infrared telescope, as well as other telescopes for analysis and teaching purposes.

"We're getting teachers involved in real astronomy research with real astronomical data," said Luisa Rebull, an associate research scientist from NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, who coordinates the NITARP program. The goal of NITARP is to inspire and motivate students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as to engage the public in shaping and sharing the experience of exploration and discovery.

Bona-fide scientific and educational chops

Last year's program turned out to be a great success as evidenced by the nine posters being presented at the winter 2011 American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle. These posters cover topics such as the tempestuous cores of "active" galaxies to stars that periodically dim to young stars just beginning to shine.

On the educational side of things, other posters explain tools developed by teachers and students to comb large data sets and solve scientific problems. One group, for example, came up with techniques to allow vision- and hearing-impaired students to delve into astronomical science alongside their non-disabled peers.

"The class of 2010 did some amazing work and we are very proud of them," said Rebull. "We look forward to them presenting their hard-earned results to the public." All of poster titles, in the order of their appearance at the meeting, are listed below.

NITARP Class of 2011 Announced

NITARP also recently unveiled its class of 2011. The total of 12 educators hail from all over the United States including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The educators and their scientific mentors are divided into three teams that will perform research and prepare posters for the 2012 American Astronomical Society winter conference.

During the spring, the teams will learn to use the appropriate scientific software for their project and will start analyzing data. Come summertime, each team (consisting of the scientist, the teachers and up to two students per teacher) will attend an all-expenses-paid workshop at the Spitzer Science Center (SSC) and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), both in Pasadena, Calif. In the fall, the teams will create their poster presentation for the American Astronomical Society and the results might be published in a scientific journal as well.

In addition to classroom-experienced teachers, two teams will include non-traditional educators from the amateur astronomical community and a NASA educational outreach center. Stepping beyond the classroom will bring in fresh approaches and help spread the word to thousands in the general public. Also new for this year, in addition to Spitzer observations, one team will work with data from NASA's exoplanet-hunting Kepler spacecraft.

Applications for the 2012 NITARP class will be available in May 2011 from the NITARP website: http://coolcosmos.ipac.caltech.edu/cosmic_classroom/teacher_research/.

This program was funded by NASA. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. 

Abstracts

The NITARP posters being presented at the 217th meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Jan. 9 through Jan. 13. 2011:

  • 142.43 - Gorjian et al., "Determination of the Infrared Luminosity of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN)"
  • 248.10 - Piper et al., "Educational Aspects of Searching for Variable Stars in the Mid-IR Sky"
  • 248.12 - Petach et al., "Using NASA Archives in High Schools to Study AGN"
  • 248.13 - Hoette et al., "Multi-Sensory Approach to Search for Young Stellar Objects in CG4".
  • 257.08 - Seebode et al., "Ring-like Structures Around Epsilon Aurigae Companion"
  • 340.08 - Johnson et al., "Searching for Young Stellar Objects in CG4"
  • 342.03 - DeCoster et al., "Spitzer Observations of Stellar Variability in the Mid-Infrared"
  • 346.07 - Mallory et al., "The NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP) at Pierce College"
  • 346.09 - Stanford et al., "A Tool For Exploring Spectral Energy Distributions in the Classroom"

NITARP Class of 2010

Team working with Luisa Rebull (SSC):

  • Chelen Johnson (Breck School, Minneapolis, MN) teacher mentor for team
  • Kevin McCarron (Oak Park and River Forest High School, Oak Park, IL)
  • Vivian Hoette (Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI)
  • Carolyn Mallory (Pierce College, Woodland Hills, CA)
  • Russ Laher (Spitzer Science Center, Pasadena, CA) 
  • Mark Legassie (Raytheon and Spitzer Science Center, Pasadena, CA)

Team working with Varoujan Gorjian (SSC/ Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)):

  • Tim Spuck (Oil City Regional Senior High School, Oil City, PA) teacher mentor for team
  • Kate Meredith (LaCrosse area schools, LaCrosse, WI)
  • Helen Petach (Fairview High School, Boulder, CO)
  • Elizabeth Ramseyer (Niles West High School, Skokie, IL)
  • Mark Abajian (IPAC, Pasadena, CA)

Team working with Steve Howell (National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO))

  • Sally Seebode (San Mateo High School, San Mateo, CA) teacher mentor for team
  • Darryl Stanford (San Mateo Community College, San Mateo, CA)
  • Dean Drumheller (San Mateo Community College, San Mateo, CA)

Second team working with Steve Howell (NOAO)

  • Beth Thomas (North Middle School, Great Falls, MT) teacher mentor for team
  • Richard DeCoster (Niles West High School, Skokie, IL)
  • Peggy Piper (Lincoln-Way North High School, Frankfort, IL)

NITARP Class of 2011

Team working with Dr. Luisa Rebull (SSC):

  • Chelen Johnson (Breck School, Minneapolis, MN) teacher mentor for team
  • John Gibbs (Glencoe High School, Hillboro, OR) 
  • Marcella Linahan (Carmel Catholic High School, Mundelein, IL) 
  • Diane Sartore (Pine Ridge High School, Deltona, FL) 
  • Russ Laher (Spitzer Science Center, Pasadena, CA) 
  • Mark Legassie (Raytheon and Spitzer Science Center, Pasadena, CA)

Team working with Dr. Varoujan Gorjian (SSC/JPL):

  • Tim Spuck (Oil City Regional Senior High School, Oil City, PA) teacher mentor for team
  • Merrill Butler (Orange County Astronomers, Orange, CA) 
  • Adam Keeton (North High School, Eau Claire, WI) 
  • Shefali Mehta (Haddam-Killingworth High School, Higganum, CT) 
  • Mark Abajian (IPAC, Pasadena, CA)

Team working with Dr. Steve Howell (NOAO):

  • John Blackwell (Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH) teacher mentor for team
  • Stacy DeVeau (Arizona NASA Educator Research Center, AZ) 
  • Debbie Edwards (Sherando High School, Stephens City, VA) 
  • Michiel Ford (Kickapoo Nation School, Powhattan, KS)