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01.07.13

Have You Practiced Your Piano and Done Your NASA Research?

Did you know that students as young as 7th graders who are juggling soccer, dances, and homework can also conduct NASA research?

They can if they are the students of a NITARP teacher. NITARP is the NASA/Infrared Processing and Analysis Center Teacher Archive Research Program and it welcomes teachers of middle school, high school and college, as well as museum educators to participate in the program and the students they teach can assist in conducting the research.

NITARP teachers use astronomical data from optical telescopes as well as data from the ultraviolet, submillimeter, and infrared wavelengths to discover new stars and galaxy clusters, and study nearby active galaxies and stellar variability, among other projects.

The program partners professional scientists with educators to carry out original research projects and present the results at the semi-annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the professional organization for astronomers in the US. 

NITARP has grown every year since its start in 2005. A total of 81 educators in 31 states have been selected as participants. All the students they teach are potentially impacted because they help analyze the data or learn from teachers who were in the program in previous years. In this way, the program touches thousands of people nationally at schools and museums.

"While there are many fabulous programs getting astronomy data into classrooms all over the world, NITARP is still relatively unique in that, among other things, we have very high expectations for our participants," said Luisa Rebull, IPAC staff scientist. IPAC is funded by NASA and located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology. "They are doing real research with real data, getting real results, all in only 13 months. Our educator participants involve students throughout their experience, from writing a proposal to writing up and presenting their results. This program never fails to energize me! I get very excited about all the fabulous (and diverse!) work that these teams are doing."

After completing the program, the teachers incorporate their work into their classrooms and share with other teachers. Following their second AAS meeting, all participant educators are required to conduct at least 12 hours of professional development in their schools and communities, at the local, regional, and national levels, in print and in person. 

Chelen Johnson, a science teacher at Breck School in Golden Valley, MN, has participated in the program for four years. "NITARP offers students, and teachers alike, a unique opportunity to model how scientists work together in a collaborative team, not in isolation. My students and I have learned so much working with other students and teachers across the country on an authentic research project. Continually, my astronomy team members are commenting how much fun they're having while learning about star formation and infrared astronomy," Johnson said.

One of her students, Melissa Clark, a senior at Breck School, said, "After spending every Saturday morning for the past two years working with NITARP, I started to realize how science is a passion of mine.  My work with NITARP has inspired me to keep science a part of my education, and develop my interest in astronomy more intimately."

Melissa has been involved with the Breck Team SWAG (Smart Women Analyzing Galaxies) for the past two years. In her college applications she wrote a passionate essay about her love for astronomy, explaining that even though she's not a morning person, she looked forward to starting her weekend with her SWAG teammates looking for star-forming regions or previously unclassified galaxies.

The largest class of NITARP educators started the program one year ago. These are the teams that will present posters at the 221st AAS meeting in Jan. 6 to 10 in Long Beach, CA.

2012 Team working with Dr. Luisa Rebull (Spitzer Science Center/IPAC)

  • Peggy Piper (Lincoln-Way North High School, Frankfort, IL) - teacher mentor for team 
  • Jacqueline Barge (Walter Payton College Prep High School, Chicago, IL) 
  • Robert Bonadurer (Daniel M. Soref Planetarium at the Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, WI) 
  • Debbie French (New Philadelphia High School, New Philadelphia, OH) 
  • Lauren Novatne (Reedley College, Reedley, CA) 

2012 Team working with Dr. Varoujan Gorjian (SSC/JPL) 

  • John Blackwell (Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH) - teacher mentor for team 
  • Wendy Curtis (Waynflete School, Portland, ME)
  • Thomas Doyle (Dodd Middle School, Freeport, NY)
  • Pamela Thompson (Monrovia High School, Monrovia, CA) 

2012 Team working with Dr. David Ciardi (NExScI/IPAC) and Dr. Steve Howell (NASA/Ames) 

  • Sally Seebode (San Mateo High School, San Mateo, CA) - teacher mentor for team 
  • Joseph Childers (Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, Dayton, OH) 
  • Cindy Melton (Coral Glades High School, Coral Springs, FL) 
  • Matthew McCutcheon (Latin School of Chicago, Chicago, IL) 
  • Caroline Odden (Phillips Academy, Andover, MA) 

2012 Team working with Dr. Ranga-Ram Chary (Planck Data Center/IPAC, the US-Planck Data Center) 

  • Chelen Johnson (Breck School, Minneapolis, MN) - teacher mentor for team
  • Christopher Border (Maui Preparatory Academy, Lahaina, HI)
  • Kathryn O'Connor (Lokelani Intermediate School, Kihei, HI) 
  • Denise Rothrock (Madisonville High School, Madisonville, TX) 

2012 Teacher working with Dr. Michael Werner (JPL) and Dr. Raghvendra Sahai (JPL)

  • Tim Spuck (Oil City Regional Senior High School, Oil City, PA, and Einstein Fellow, National Science Foundation) 

They have conducted research on new young stars, quasars, and planetary nebula, among other subjects. They have trained students to be leaders in this work, and they will report about the various ways in which they have engaged students in the research experience.  The poster abstracts are collected here: http://nitarp.ipac.caltech.edu/aas/2013abstracts.pdf

The posters they will present at the American Astronomical Society meeting are:

  • Bonadurer, et al., "How Do Astronomers Know That? Educating Teachers, Students & the Public on HOW You Discover Young Stars"
  • Border, et al., "Identifying and Addressing Difficulties with Aperture, Wavelength, and Resolution"
  • Curtis, et al., "Color Magnitude Diagrams for Quasars Using SDSS, GALEX, and WISE Data"
  • Doyle, et al., "High School and Middle School Students Experience Authentic Science Research Investigating Active Galactic Nuclei"
  • Johnson, et al., "Classification of Compact Submillimeter Sources in the Planck Archive"
  • Novatne, et al., "New Young Star Candidates in BRC 27"
  • Odden, et al., "Classification of Ultra Blue Sources in the Kepler Field"
  • Seebode, et al., " Meeting Inquiry National Standards with High School Research Projects"
  • Spuck, et al., "SOFIA Observations of the Planetary Nebula NGC7027"
  • And "bonus poster" (not created as part of a formal NITARP team but this tool is used by several NITARP teams), Laher, et al., "Ten Recent Enhancements To Aperture Photometry Tool"

The new group of educators to begin NITARP faced the most competition for their positions since the program began because there were five applicants for every spot in the program.

2013 Team working with Dr. Luisa Rebull (SSC/IPAC)

  • John Gibbs, Glencoe High School, Hillsboro, OR
  • Wendi Laurence, NASA Aerospace Education Services Project, Penn State, Park City, UT
  • Robert Marshall, Carnegie Science Center's Planetarium & Observatory, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Michael Murphy, Ravanscroft School, Raleigh, NC
  • Laura Orr, Ukiah High School, Ukiah, OR
  • Christi Whitworth, Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, Rosman, NC

2013 Team working with Dr. Varoujan Gorjian (SSC/JPL) 

  • John Blackwell (Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH) - teacher mentor for team 
  • Nicole Granucci, Oxford High School, Oxford, CT
  • Theresa Paulsen, Mellen High School, Mellen, WI
  • Thomas Rutherford, Sullivan South High School, Kingsport, TN

2013 Team working with Dr. David Ciardi (NExScI/IPAC) and Dr. Steve Howell (NASA/Ames) 

  • Sally Seebode (San Mateo High School, San Mateo, CA) - teacher mentor for team 
  • Holly Bensel, St. Mary's School, Medford, OR
  • Fred Donelson, Gahanna Lincoln High School, Gahanna, OH
  • Danielle Miller, University High School, Orlando, FL

2013 Team working with Dr. Babar Ali  (NASA Herschel Science Center, IPAC, Caltech) 

  • Peggy Piper, Lincoln-Way High School, New Lenox, IL - teacher mentor for team 
  • Melissa Booker, Robinson Secondary School, Fairfax, VA
  • Carol Ivers, Foran High School, Milford, CT
  • Lynn Powers, Bozeman High School, Bozeman, MT

Applications for the 2013 NITARP class will be available in May from the NITARP website: http://nitarp.ipac.caltech.edu.

The NASA Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), based at Caltech, in Pasadena, CA, is leading this program. These teams use archival data from the Spitzer Space Telescope (part of the Spitzer Heritage Archive, SHA), the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database (NED), the NASA Exoplanet Archive, the NASA/IPAC Infrared Science Archive (IRSA), all of which are based at IPAC, and other NASA archive holdings. Funding comes from the NASA Astrophysics Data Program (which is where professional astronomers go for Spitzer archival research), and the other archives at IPAC.