While many high school students study astronomy, only a select few actually get to do astronomy. Academy of Information Technology and Engineering (AITE) Students Anna Lichtenberg and Kevin Fleischer were among the 13 selected NASA-sponsored high school students who participated in astronomical research at Caltech this summer. Along with AITE Teacher Vin Urbanowski, these students not only had hands-on experience, but they will also have the opportunity to present their results at the American Astronomical Society (AAS) annual winter conference in Hawaii this coming January.
The program is part of the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP) run by Caltech astronomers Dr. Luisa Rebull and Dr. Varoujan Gorjian. The team selects six STEM educators from across the United States each year to participate in original research, using data from professional astronomical databases comprised of observations from space-based telescopes, including Spitzer, Herschel, Wise, Planck, Gaia and the airborne SOFIA. The NITARP program is offered at no cost to teachers or students. In addition to Connecticut, the team’s teachers are from Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana and have been collaborating online since January.
“This is an authentic science experience for students,” said Urbanowski. “Instead of doing a known procedure to confirm a known result, we developed our own methods in collaboration with Dr. Gorjian, to discover new results.”
Lichtenberg, Fleischer, Urbanowski and their counterparts from around the country flew to California to meet Rebull and Gorjian at Caltech, where they began their work. During their experience, the students and teachers participated in astrophysics, astronomy and astronomical data analysis, and established objectives and process. The research will continue through online conferencing and cloud-based data sharing and will be completed in the coming year. Urbanowski, this year’s teacher-mentor for the NITARP team called Dust Mights, said the project also resembles professional science in its use of distance collaboration.
“The NITARP program seems like an incredible opportunity to learn about some of the most exciting developments in the field at one of the most famous science research institutions in the world,” says Lichtenberg. “I look forward to interacting with and learning from an incredible group of fellow students and teachers.”
“The idea of working with people from across the country to accomplish this one, greater goal is enticing to me,” says Fleischer. “Along this journey I look forward to meeting many new people to ‘nerd-out’ with, and together experience the wonders of exploring the universe though math.”
The AITE team will reunite with their colleagues to present their results at the 235th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in January 2020.