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HI STAR Summer Program

by Mary Kadooka, Astronomy Research/Education Specialist

Eighteen students entering grades 7-12 and four secondary school teachers participated in the 2008 HI STAR (Hawaii Student/Teacher Astronomy Research) program June 8-14 at IfA and UH Manoa. The main goal of HI STAR is to equip interested and talented students and their teachers with the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue astronomy research during the school year.

The 2008 program focused on teaching the students about how light curves give astronomers insights into the properties of celestial objects and on helping them to develop the skills necessary to produce light curves for a research project. (Light curves are graphs that show how the amount of light received from celestial objects varies over time.) Students measured the amount of light in actual telescope images to learn these skills. A secondary objective was to expose students to real-time telescope remote observing (over the Internet) to learn the process of obtaining astronomical images.

The five boys and 13 girls came from Molokai, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu, and the teachers came from Molokai, Oahu, and Wyoming. Most of the students had previously attended a HI STAR miniworkshop, or they had demonstrated an interest in astronomy or science. Their primary instructors were two IfA alumni: Catherine Garland, a professor of physics and astronomy at Castleton College in Vermont, and Mike Nassir, a physics and astronomy instructor at UH Manoa.

In addition, IfA astronomers and graduate students spoke to the students about extrasolar planets, comets, asteroids, stellar evolution, planetary nebulae, and galaxies to introduce them to the research topics, and they worked with the students on projects in these areas.

The students spent most afternoons and evenings working on their group projects and observing remotely on the Faulkes Telescope, located on the summit of Haleakala, and the DeKalb Observatory telescope in Indiana. The location of DeKalb Observatory, which is owned by amateur astronomer Donn Starkey, allowed the students in Hawaii to observe during daylight hours because of the six-hour time difference. Starkey also participated in the program as a mentor.

Instructor Mike Nassir (second from right) assisted some of the
HI STAR students while they examined a graph of spectral lines.
Photo by Lorrain Rudd.
Students discussed the spectrum of visible light.
Photo by Karen Teramura.
Students used Mira software to determine the brightness of stars. Photo by Karen Teramura.

As a concluding activity, pairs of students gave 20-minute PowerPoint presentations about their research findings to an audience of IfA astronomers and staff, and the students' families in the IfA auditorium. The students will continue doing research to improve their projects to enter them in the science fairs in spring 2009.

Marina Tangelder, a HI STAR student from Kapaa High School on Kauai, said this about the program: "This experience was inspirational, I had fun, learned new things that I would never have known otherwise, and made friends that will last a lifetime. Thank you so much to everyone who came to share their knowledge with us."

HI STAR is funded by a grant from the NASA Initiative to Develop Education through Astronomy and Space Science (IDEAS), by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and by private donors.

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