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October 2009-January 2009 updates for Ms. Zielinski

Published: January 15, 2009

This quarter with Spitzer has been an amazing one. At the end of September and beginning of October, two students (Samantha Hopkins and Michael Dzakovich) and myself (Lynne Zielinski) traveled to the Spitzer Space Center in Pasadena to reduce our data for the variable star Z Cha taken by the Spitzer spacecraft. In preparation for this visit, students worked with both the Image J and DS 9 software programs. They also created a Z Cha research summary and put together a notebook containing background research materials associated with Z Cha, paying particular attention to finding and documenting any light curve data they could find. Of the six students that I had working at school on this project, two were chosen to come to the SSC. While at the SSC, we were joined by three other teachers, Beth Thomas, Jennifer Teller, and Virginia Jones, and their six students, along with our scientist mentors, Don Hoard and Steve Howell. Together, we worked on the data reduction of Z Cha collected by Spitzer.

Then in January 2009, the same student team traveled to the American Astronomical Society symposium in Long Beach to present our research data in a poster session. The students had a very interesting experience, attending oral presentations and speaking with astronomers. The students learned much about the professional world and how scientists network and share information, and really appreciated the opportunity to participate in this experience.

Between these two events and back at school, the student and I worked on further examination and analysis of the Z Cha data, shared the experience with the other students, and developed an eclipsing binary star demonstration/activity. This activity was designed to present a 3-dimensional model and to demonstrate how a binary star system works. In addition, the students created a 3-dimensional physics model of a binary star system. The activities and how-to-make the model guide were written up and added to the activities presented on the poster for the AAS meeting and they were placed on the Spitzer Education web page.

In addition to the on-going learning curve associated with understanding variable stars, photometry, and how to use Image J and DS 9 software. While at the SSC, students learned how to do in-depth research using professional data bases, reduce raw data using IRAC software, create graphs from this style of data, write an abstract for the AAS, and summarize the results of all these efforts. At school, students learned how to design, test, practice, and present an activity and model that can be used by other students and teachers. Students also learned how to design, prepare, and create a professional poster. At the AAS conference, students learned how to use their poster as a tool for one-on-one presentations, become less "shy" about talking to professional astronomers and scientists, and much about astronomy topics in general.

To date, I have used the Spitzer Teacher Research program to engage students in real-world hands-on research and to provide students with the opportunity to learn research techniques, and how to use the typical tools astronomers use, like image processing programs. Also, this program allowed me the opportunity to support my efforts in promoting research-based studies at the high school, and to provide students with opportunities that they would never have without the Spitzer Teacher Research program, such as visiting the SSC, working alongside astronomers, and presenting at the international AAS conference.

The skills that the students have acquired because of this program are unique and will help them throughout their lives. This is a solid statement because the skills acquired include those of public speaking, creating presentations, developing activities, providing learning opportunities for others, tutoring, proactive, leadership, and technology skills. The students have taken a lot of ownership in this project and are seeking ways to help spread the word by writing a research report and submitting it to the RBSE on-line journal in February.

The students have done a lot between September and January, as stated in the sections above. Currently, they are writing a research report about Z Cha and the results of the Spitzer data. They are also going to further adapt the interacting binary star system activity based on the feedback received at the AAS.

I plan on developing a way to incorporate the real-data from Z Cha and WZ Seg, the use of photometry, and the activities we created this year into next year's Astronomy class curriculum. Secondly, I would like to get more students involved in photometry of variable stars and look at other Spitzer materials developed by teachers. I would also like to utilize Yerkes observatory to take ground-based images of cataclysmic variables that students can create light curves from.

The news of the student's experience at Spitzer and the AAS has caused many other students to become interested in astronomy and want to take the Astronomy class. Students in my space science club have been asking if they can get involved in similar research projects and to do research that can be submitted science fair-type programs.

The local science department teacher blog has published a brief posting and some pictures from the SSC visit. The students have been interviewed by the district publicity director and some publicity will come out of that in the next month.

The 2023 NITARP application is now available! Go here for the instructions. Applications are due by 3pm Pacific time, Monday Sep 12, 2022. (NOTE: we do not yet know if we will be permitted to travel to the AAS!)