Tuesday, June 18, 2002

University High School junior Shawn Matsumoto learned about telescope mirror making Sunday from MIT's Mike Mattei at the TOPS workshop. TOPS, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, stands for Toward Other Planetary Systems.

UH astronomers hosting
Pacific students and teachers

By Helen Altonn

Fifty teachers and high school students from throughout the Pacific are learning ancient and modern methods of "Searching for Other Worlds" in an intensive University of Hawaii workshop.

University of Hawaii

The three-week program takes participants from Manoa to Mauna Kea and from traditional Lakota Indian astronomy to observations from the world's most powerful telescopes.

The National Science Foundation is the major sponsor of the workshop, known as TOPS, or "Toward Other Planetary Systems." It began seven years ago as a one-week program and expanded to three weeks four years ago.

Karen Meech, UH Institute for Astronomy senior faculty member and TOPS director, said several teachers are starting astronomy courses because of the workshop.

"In particular, some Micronesian teachers are wildly excited."

One from Pohnpei, now teaching astronomy, said for the first time in his career he has seen students excited about science, Meech said.

Another teacher from the Marshall Islands "came to us in a panic" three years ago when told he was to teach science instead of English because he didn't know anything about it, she said. Now he's teaching astronomy.

Many students also changed their careers to astronomy after the workshop, Meech said.

Among this year's participants is Melissa Lamberton of Tucson, Ariz., a prize recipient of the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge. She won a UH Institute for Astronomy award to attend the TOPS workshop.

It began June 10 and continues through June 28 with talks, demonstrations, discussion groups, field trips and hands-on activities. The group's base shifted Saturday from the Institute for Astronomy in Manoa to Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island.

Meech said 20 staff members, including five astronomers and faculty, five graduate students, six educators and four other professionals from the Institute for Astronomy, are involved with the program. Thirty-four guest speakers are donating their time and attending the workshop at their own expense.

Among them are Chief Joseph Chasing Horse, American Indian cross-cultural consultant from the Black Hills of South Dakota and ambassador to the United Nations for the Lakota Sioux Nations.

He will give a talk and workshop on "Lakota Astronomy" tomorrow at Hawaii Pacific University, which will be followed by an astronomy culture-sharing session.

The ordained sun-dance chief also will lead a workshop with Richard Shope on Lakota "Learning Bundles." Shope is education and public outreach coordinator of the Outer Planets/Solar Probe project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The two have developed materials to educate Lakota youth about NASA space science.

Nainoa Thompson also will discuss "Polynesian Voyaging" at the workshop.

The participants learned yesterday how to make telescopes with grinding of a 6-inch mirror by Janet Mattei, director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, and her husband, Mike, of MIT's Wallace Astrophysical Observatory. He is an optician who specializes in making mirrors for telescopes.

Participants work on telescopes at every workshop, Meech said, describing it as "kind of like a Julia Child cooking class. We have mirrors in (different) stages of grinding from previous years." It's hoped to finish some this year to donate to schools interested in astronomy, she said.

Among other activities, the group will study the stars from telescopes on Mauna Kea and Hapuna Beach and conduct a site survey at Cape Kumukahi with Charles Ruggles of the University of Leicester, United Kingdom, and Paul Coleman of the UH Institute for Astronomy.

Astrobiology will be discussed by John Stolz of Duquesne University and Lorraine Olendzenski of the University of Connecticut. And Meech and Donna Governor, TOPS 2002 Teacher, will conduct a simulated impact of a comet to see how craters are made.

UH Institute for Astronomy

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