2009 Annual Science Report

University of Hawaii, Manoa Reporting  |  JUL 2008 – AUG 2009

EPO Activity: Science Fair Projects and Astronomer Mentor Program

Project Progress

Since 2005, the UH NAI team has sponsored workshops on all islands and the summer HI STAR program in 2007 to teach precollege students astronomy research skills so they can conduct authentic research using images from remote telescopes. When students participate in the HI STAR summer program at the University of Hawaii Manoa they work on group projects supported by astronomer mentors. They do remote observing using the 2.0 meter Faulkes Telescope and 16” DeKalb Observatory Telescope in Indiana and image processing using Mira software for photometry and Astrometrica for RA and Dec positions. They select their object of interest, ie. comets, asteroids, extrasolar planets, stars, nebula, galaxies and the sun for their group projects. They learn to do light curves of some of these objects to use for their projects. Astronomer mentors serve as project advisers during HI STAR and the subsequent school year. The UH NAI EPO manager serves as the liaison among students, mentors, teachers and parents to ensure meaningful communication and to alleviate problems.

The challenge is to encourage astronomers sincerely interested in working with students to be mentors. Thus, the students learn enough skills and physics needed for astronomy projects so mentors need not help them with rudimentary skills. Since postdocs and graduate students mentors eventually leave IfA, new mentors are constantly being recruited. This has been difficult for the students who then have to adjust to a new mentor. UH IfA has Hubble, NSF and Spitzer postdoctoral fellows who are excellent astronomers that we can recruit for our outreach. We also recruit UH IfA graduate students who have been active in GEPOC (Graduate Education and Public Outreach Committee) since the UH NAI lead works with them.

Laptops with image processing software are loaned to students for the duration of their projects. These have been purchased from previous grants and some are on loan from a Department of Education No Child Left Behind grant.

We follow up with these students to see if they pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) college majors. We believe that students who experience authentic science research will be more inclined to decide upon STEM majors.