2010 Annual Science Report

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Reporting  |  SEP 2009 – AUG 2010

EPO Activity: Astrobiology Education/Outreach Program for Albany Area Schools

Project Progress

In addition to the formal Education and Public Outreach programs described elsewhere in this report, members of the New York Center for Astrobiology reach out to K-12 students and their teachers in local area schools through a series of formal and informal talks and educational activities. Our goal is to engage the students and to use Astrobiology as the means of inspiring their interest in STEM disciplines. The leaders in this activity are John Delano (Distinguished Teaching Professor at U Albany and EPO lead of our NAI team) and Paul Mayeur (RPI doctoral student with a strong interest in Astrobiology education). Examples of activities from the current reporting period are summarized below.
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Invited presentation by Delano at the Science Teachers Association of New York State (STANYS) annual convention in Rochester, NY (November 2009) on “Speciation events: A geological application of that phenomenon”; the audience included ~100 science teachers.
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Key-note presentation by Delano at the 25th Annual Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (U Albany, March 2010) on “NASA’s search for life in the Galaxy”; the audience included ~400 high school science students and their teachers.
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Two TV interviews by Delano (Capital News 9 and WTEN-TV) on the LCROSS mission to the Moon to search for water ice in a permanently shadowed crater (Cabeus) on the lunar south pole.
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Additional invited talks by Delano: U Albany Community Day event; Berlin Central High School event for students, parents, and teachers; Capital District Humanists Society; Elsmere Elementary School; Cobbleskill Elementary School; Richmondville elementary school; Albany Area Amateur Astronomers Association; U Albany Phi Beta Kappa Society; Siena College.
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Mayeur prepared and presented instructional demonstrations for a group of 22 local teachers on topics in astronomy, including solar and night-time observing with the 16-inch telescope at the Rensselaer Observatory. The observations included sunspots (with discussion of their origin and the 11-year solar cycle) and the Saturn system (planet, rings and satellites, with discussion of NASA’s Cassini Mission). As a demonstration of a simple experiment in infrared astronomy for use in the classroom, the group re-created Herschel’s original discovery of infrared light by placing thermometers in and beyond the red end of the visual region of the solar spectrum. The experiment led to a general discussion on infrared radiation and how astronomers use it in their research on topics highly relevant to Astrobiology.
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Instructional demonstrations were presented by Mayeur for 14 underprivileged and underrepresented youths (ages up to 14) at the Schenectady Boys and Girls Club of America on the meaning of color and temperature, illustrated by a demonstration of the Herschel experiment discussed above.
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Classroom presentations by Mayeur included two local sixth grade classes (total 32 students) on topics such as a Winogradsky column (with discussion of diversity and symbiosis amongst micro-organisms), and natural selection and mass extinctions (with discussion of why certain species survive and others do not).