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Maui Reaches for the HI STARS

Rigorous summer camp equips students with stellar research skills. “My most favorite part of the week was everything!”

July 7, 2011
Cindy Schumacher

The camp, called Hawai’i Student/Teacher Astronomy Retreat (HI STAR), has been operating since 2007 under the direction of Education Public Outreach and Astronomy Research Specialist Mary Kadooka of the University of Hawai’i Institute for Astronomy (IfA). Funding and support for HI STAR have come from NASA IDEAS grants, NASA Astrobiology Institute, Las Cumbres Observatory, Global Telescope and DeKalb Observatory and others.

“HI STAR brings teams of students and their science teachers to the UH Mānoa campus for a week of physics and astronomy lectures, demonstrations and hands-on activities under the mentorship of IfA scientists,” said Kadooka. The network of roles and responsibilities of the astronomer mentors have been developed to ensure exemplary astronomy research projects for the participants.

The rigorous summer camp equips the students with research skills to conduct projects worthy of science fair entry. “Many of our students have gone on to win honors with their projects,” she said.

Article Photos

Students, teachers, organizers and research mentors attended the Hawai’i Student/Teacher Astronomy Retreat (HI STAR) 2011 on the UH Mānoa campus for a week of physics and astronomy lectures, demonstrations and hands-on activities under the mentorship of Institute for Astronomy (IfA) scientists. Representing Maui are Baldwin High School teacher Graham DeVey (back row, far right), UH IfA Astronomer Dr. JD Armstrong (back row, far left), and Maui students Ashley Martin (second row, far right) and Conor Leigh (fourth row, second from the right).

Photo: Katie Whitman

Planned activities keep attendees busy from early morning until late night. The students and teachers live in the UH dorms, eat at the university cafeteria and participate in activities in classrooms and computer rooms on campus.

“In addition, university scientists volunteer their time to engage participants in authentic scientific research and ensure that all learning styles are addressed,” Kadooka said.

HI STAR is a unique opportunity for middle and high school students. One of the main goals of the program is to equip attendees with sufficient skills and knowledge to pursue research with enthusiasm during the school year.

“The curriculum was developed with the philosophy that giving students the opportunity to develop hands-on research skills before college may inspire them to choose science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] majors and careers,” said Kadooka.

Together with their mentors, the students work in group projects.

“Inspired by the latest research showing the effectiveness of teaching astronomy in an interactive, learner-centered environment, the HI STAR instructors include a wide variety of activities and field trips in the week’s schedule,” she said.

“In addition to research, the HI STAR curriculum introduces students to important concepts in physics and chemistry which provide the necessary tools to explore their astronomy skills,” said Kadooka.

Projects have included the variability of stars, the rotation of asteroids, exoplanets, a hypothesized relationship between the phases of the moon and earthquakes, the sun’s variability, extragalactic cosmic rays and more.

To accomplish their astronomy projects, students work in a computer lab and do image processing. They are introduced to a variety of software packages to measure position and brightness of objects and conduct remote controlled (over the Internet) observation with the two-meter Faulkes Telescope North on Haleakalā, the Faulkes Telescope South in Siding Spring, Australia, and the DeKalb Telescope in Auburn, Indiana.

Ashley Martin, 15, a 10th-grader at Kīhei Charter School, just completed her first experience as a HI STAR camper.

“My most favorite part of the week was everything!” Martin exclaimed, obviously still excited about her adventure.

Martin explained her research work. The theory is that different types of asteroids have distinctive colors.

“Using photometry, we found the brightness of asteroids at different wavelengths, or colors, by taking images through five different filters,” she said. “We then measured the brightness of a meteorite here on the ground reflecting sunlight at the same wavelengths. We also measured the color of the sunlight itself. We compared the meteorite spectrum with the color signature of asteroids in space and looked for similarities and differences.

“I want to be able to study the minerals that are found in outer space,” said Martin, who hopes to become an astrogeologist. Her participation in HI STAR has shown her how science is learned in college and what a career as a scientist might be like.

By the end of the HI STAR retreat, the students know how to choose astronomical targets, find their coordinates, take observations with a telescope, process the resulting images into scientifically useable data and analyze that data. On the last day of camp, participants present their project methodology and results to the astronomy community at IfA.

“Seeing students expressing their happiness to be learning all day is a sign of a successful program,” Kadooka said. “Our staff at UH IfA is always striving to inspire students to look up to the heavens and be overcome by a sense of awe and wonder while reaching for the HI STARS.”



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