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.
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:
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.
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.