Discovering Our Universe From The Classroom: NASA/IPAC Teacher Research Program

High school teachers and students doing real astronomy research? Absolutely!

Once again, more than 50 teachers, students and astronomy educators from the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP) will be attending the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), running from January 3 through January 7 in Grapevine, Texas.

For over a decade now, NITARP has partnered small groups of educators with a research astronomer for original, year-long, authentic research projects. At the AAS meeting, the educators from the 2016 class, along with some of their students, are presenting the results of their work over the past year. Meanwhile, the educators from the 2017 class are meeting their teams and getting started on their own projects.

In addition, seven self-funded NITARP teacher alumni are also returning to AAS to network and showcase projects they have done after being intensively involved in the program.

From NITARP’s early years through the 2017 class, a total of 103 educators from 34 states have participated or will participate. NITARP works with educators because, through them, NITARP reaches thousands of students per year with information about how science really works, what NASA does, and the wealth of astronomy data that is freely available to the public.

Here are the teams that are presenting posters at the AAS meeting this week:

2016 team working with Dr. Varoujan Gorjian (JPL/IPAC):

  • Thomas Rutherford (Sullivan South High School, Kingsport, TN) – mentor teacher for the team
  • Kelly Kilts (Lexington High School, Lexington, MA)
  • Russell Kohrs (Massanutten Regional Governor's School for Integrated Environmental Science and Technology, Mount Jackson, VA)
  • Vincent Urbanowski (Academy of Information Technology & Engineering, Stamford, CT)

This team made use of data originally collected to look for variability in young stars; instead, they used these data to identify variable active galactic nuclei (AGN). They looked at four regions monitored by the Spitzer Space Telescope, and have applied various techniques to separate out the foreground stars leaving multiple candidates that are likely variable AGN in the background. Once verified, these AGN going through a significant variability phase will be ideal targets to study the accretion of gas onto supermassive black holes.

2016 team working with Dr. Luisa Rebull (IPAC):

  • Laura Orr (Ukiah High School, Ukiah, OR) – mentor teacher for the team
  • Milton Johnson (Bioscience High School, Phoenix, AZ)
  • Alexandra Miller (Milken Community Schools, Los Angeles, CA)

This team looked for new young stars in a region called Cepheus-C. It is part of a large molecular cloud that is home to 1000s of baby stars. No one yet had spent any significant amount of time determining which objects were likely young stars in this region by combining data from the optical to the infrared, and this team discovered almost 250 new young stars.

The 2016 educators will now go on to conduct at least 12 hours of professional development for their colleagues in their schools and communities, at the local, regional, and national levels, in print and in person.

NITARP is announcing today the 2017 class of educators and their teams, as follows:

2017 team working with Dr. Varoujan Gorjian (JPL/IPAC):

  • Laura Orr (Ukiah High School, Ukiah, OR) – mentor teacher for the team
  • Gary Duranko (Salem High School, Salem, NH)
  • Howard Lineberger (Durham Academy, Durham, NC)
  • Jamie Rowe (Bethlehem Central High School, Delmar, NY)

2017 team working with Dr. Luisa Rebull (IPAC):

  • Thomas Rutherford (Sullivan South High School, Kingsport, TN) – mentor teacher for the team
  • Sam Evans (Maumee High School, Maumee, OH)
  • Olivia Stalnaker (Lake Dallas Middle School, Lake Dallas, TX)
  • John Taylor (Elkhart Memorial High School, Elkhart, IN)

They will present their results, with their students, at the 2018 AAS winter meeting to be held in National Harbor, MD.

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.

Date: January 5th, 2017
Category: Project News
Image Link: NITARP_2016-2017-1.jpg