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HI STAR Students Earn Science Fair Awards

Since 2007, the UH NASA Astrobiology Institute team has sponsored HI STAR, the Hawaii Student/Teacher Astronomy Research program, a summer course that trains middle and high school students to perform astronomical research under the mentorship of IfA scientists. This spring, the program bore especially sweet fruit: Three 2008 HI STAR participants won research awards at the Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair in April.

Travis Le with his award-winning project.

Travis Le with his award-winning project. Photo courtesy Mary Kadooka.

Punahou School freshman Travis Le received the third place award in the Senior Research category for his project, "WASP 2-b Or Not Just 2-b," a study of an extrasolar planet. He used the Faulkes Telescope under the mentorship of Maui Technology Education and Outreach Specialist JD Armstrong and postdoctoral fellow John Johnson to observe a planet crossing in front of its star. The Faulkes Telescope, located on Haleakala, is the world's largest telescope dedicated primarily to education and outreach. It can be used remotely, that is, over the Internet.

Winning this award is an exceptional achievement for a freshman, especially considering that the only two students who finished ahead of him were experienced competitors who had each been a previous first-place winner. As the science fair winner for the best astronomy project, Le earned an invitation from the IfA to tour the Mauna Kea Observatories, but since he is only 14 years old, he must wait until he is 16, the minimum age to go to the summit. In the meantime, he will tour Haleakala Observatories. Le subsequently entered his project in the 2009 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Reno, Nevada, and received an award from the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Physical Society Third Award.

Kira Fox and Gina Hyun with their project.

Kira Fox and Gina Hyun with their project and awards. Photo courtesy Mary Kadooka.

Kira Fox and Gina Hyun, eighth graders at Niu Valley Intermediate School, received the second place award in the Junior Research category and the Hawaiian Astronomical Society Junior Research Best of Category award for their study of asteroid 1270 Datura. Their mentor was IfA graduate student Nick Moskovitz, and they also used the Faulkes Telescope for their research.

HI STAR brings teams of three to four students and their science teacher to UH for a week of physics and astronomy lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on activities. The students learn astronomical research skills such as image processing, and do real-time remote observing on telescopes. During the week, they work on group projects, and they continue working with their mentors throughout the school year.

The third year of the HI STAR program begins on June 12. Sixteen students and three teachers from Maui, Kauai, Molokai, and Oahu have signed up for this program, which is under the direction of Astronomy Research/Education Specialist Mary Kadooka.

Workshops organized by Mary Kadooka.