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Solar Summer School on Maui

by Katie Whitman

Solar summer school

Summer school students and faculty. Photos by Katie Whitman.


This past summer, students and faculty from the IfA, mainland US, Europe, and Australia gathered at the IfA's Advanced Technology Research Center on Maui for a weeklong summer school in solar physics and astronomy. Organized by the American Astronomical Society's Solar Physics Division and IfA solar physicist Ilia Roussev, the summer school was designed to give attendees a broad introduction to the structure and dynamics of the solar atmosphere. Through lectures, labs, and a trip to the IfA's SOLARC telescope on the summit of Haleakala, summer school students learned about the various problems facing solar researchers today, while gaining hands-on experience with modeling and observations.

The school was aimed at graduate students and first-year postdoctoral fellows. Many students, such as Antonia Savcheva (Harvard) were new to the field of solar astronomy and hoped to get a stronger background in solar atmospheres. Hazel Bain from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, elaborated, "It's easier to use space-based observations because they're freely available." This summer school "is a good chance to get your foot in the door as far as the ground-based observations." Finally, some, like Iulia Chifu, a Ph.D. student studying sun- quakes at the University of Bucharest in Romania, were looking for ideas to expand and augment their research, as well as a chance to meet potential collaborators.


Maria Kazachenko (Montana State University) inspected the spectropolarimeter at the SOLARC telescope.


Claire Raftery (left, from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland) and Laurel Rachmeler (University of Colorado, Boulder) learned how to visualize a model of interacting solar winds using the Tecplot 360 advanced visualization program.

Once the students had been presented with the basics, they spent three days exploring three hands-on labs. In an interactive classroom environment, Roussev and assistants led students through a 3-D simulation to educate the students about the various supercomputing and modeling resources available to them. In the instrumentation lab facilities, IfA solar astronomers Haosheng Lin and Don Mickey showed students how they developed a fiber-optic spectropolarimeter for SOLARC, then used that instrument to make an extremely sensitive measurement of the coronal magnetic field. Students were asked to process an actual image, requiring them to go through the necessary calibration and measurement steps to obtain an actual value for the coronal magnetic field strength.

For many students, the instrumentation lab and tour of Haleakala were their first introductions to instrumentation used to observe the Sun. In a field heavily focused on satellite data, the students were excited to see first-hand the kind of work that goes into making the observations and the challenges involved in developing the instrumentation to achieve difficult observational goals.

The most exciting lab was a trip to the summit of Haleakala. IfA Associate Director for Maui Operations Jeff Kuhn gave the students a tour through the various telescopes and instruments utilized by UH astronomers. At SOLARC, students saw the nitty-gritty workings of the telescope and spectropolarimeter that made the very sensitive measurement they processed in the instrumentation lab. They watched as real-time observations of the solar corona were taken and interpreted.

The summer school wrapped up with short talks in which each of the participants presented his or her own research. The students agreed that the school had been a very positive experience. IfA graduate student Cooper Downs said, "It got me thinking about the big picture." He added, "I was definitely more motivated to do more analysis and observationally oriented research."