Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"The Present and Future of Science Journalism” a talk by Charles Petit

Yesterday afternoon, I attended the plenary session given by Charles Petit, titled “The Present and Future of Science Journalism.”  Charles Petit has been in the scientific writing field for over 40 years.  Former president of the National Association of Science Writers, lead writer for the MIT Knight Science Journalism Tracker and VP for the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, Petit has the accolades and experience to support ANY view on the state of Science Journalism (however depressing that POV may be).  He also has a degree in Astronomy, so we can guess his favorite scientific topic :)

Wobbling between the possible career paths of astronomy, education and science writing, I was interested in what he had to say about the demise of science journalism and the possible future of the field.  He gave an engaging lecture on the common themes of the downturn of newspapers and print media, the difference between press releases and articles, and how scientific discoveries are communicated in the modern era.

Given my personal affinity for the science education, I was drawn to the emphasis that Petit placed upon the difference on science educators and writers.   He offered an anecdote about his experiences, recalling how he was once asked to be on a committee to discuss and offer advice on science education.  As the story goes, he replied something along the lines of “why are you asking me? I’m not an educator.”  He (wisely?) noted that one should “never tell a reporter he’s an educator.”  While reporters and educators both highlight important aspects of science, he reminded us that reporters have no formal education, curriculum development or any experience that makes them qualified as educators.

Yet, what if they did?  What if the next generation of science writers and journalists had educational training that led to not only informative articles, but articles that took into consideration how the average reader could learn about the topics at hand. What if each article was not just a report, but a lesson? What if each article included an inquiry based activity on the page? The possibilities are endless. Maybe the future of journalism wouldn’t be so sad after all.

Greetings from Tucson!

I've had the pleasure of attending the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's National Meeting, "Communicating Science" held in Tucson, AZ throughout August 4-8, 2012.  Over two hundred scientists, educators, writers and others involved in astronomy education and public outreach have gathered together to discuss methods of effectively communicating science, common pitfalls, and the hurdles we face in the futures. 

This past weekend, the ASP held a Galileo Teacher Training Program Workshop, where 40+ teaching professionals and educators gathered together to learn and discuss inquiry-based, hands-on astronomy activities.   It was an awesome group that I was proud to be a part of.

Sunday evening kicked off an event at Flandrau planetarium, before the extremely exciting Curiosity landing on Mars.  It was a wonderful experience to gather around with all of these astronomy lovers to watch the successful landing of Curiosity on Sunday night.  I'm including my favorite photo from Curiosity is below:

(From the JPL site on the Curiosity mission: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/)

I love that you can see the rover's shadow in the photo, as well as the beautifully detailed surface of Mars.  And look at that peak in the distance!  How exciting!  Better yet, these photos are the lowest resolution images that we'll be seeing from Curiosity (this camera is purely intended for looking out for rocks and debris in the path of the rover). Just this morning, the first color images from Curiosity have been taken.   

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are chock-full of exciting lectures, panels and interesting conversation.  Keep checking back for updates on some of the sessions!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bay Area Project ASTRO Training Workshop

Last weekend, I spent my days at the Bay Area Project ASTRO Training Workshop.  For two full days, 20+ astronomer/teacher pairs came together to learn about some effective techniques and activities that can be used in order to better communicate astronomy to students.  It seemed like most of the participants were working with middle school classrooms, but the program spans grades 3-12.

I've included the blurb from the ASP's website about Project ASTRO:

Project ASTRO™ is a national program that improves the teaching of astronomy and physical science by linking professional and amateur astronomers with local educators. Each astronomer is matched with an educator in a one-on-one partnership and commits to visiting the educator's students at least four times during the school year. Over 500 active educator-astronomer partnerships currently bring the excitement of scientific discovery through astronomy to over 20,000 students annually.

The main focus of Project ASTRO educator-astronomer partnerships is hands-on, inquiry-based activities that put students in the position of acting like scientists - as they come to understand more about the universe (and science in general).

I had known about Project ASTRO from before my internship at the ASP, so it was wonderful to be able to be involved in the training process.  While I had more of a hands-off role on Friday, I helped lead a couple of activities on Saturday.  I talked a little quickly, but luckily I can practice again at our weekend workshop for the Galileo Teachers Training Program!

Will include photos later!

Recent post on the Astronoblog

Check out my post on the Haverford College Astronomy deparment blog, the Astronoblog:


Monday, July 30, 2012

Finishing up at the ASP

I've been painfully bad at updating this blog.  At any one time, I'm thinking of three posts that I need to get in before my internship ends this week (!).  Keep checking  back within the week to hear about my most recent work-related happenings.

Currently I am trying to get everything in order before going to the ASP's annual meeting in Tucson, AZ.  The conference's theme is "Communicating Science" and I'll be presenting a poster and making contacts that will hopefully help me get a job post-graduation next May.  I'm really excited for all the lectures and poster sessions.  Just printed up some business cards, and I'm ready to mingle!

Let's Talk About Supenovae!

A couple of weeks ago, I worked at the NASA Summer Art Program at the YMCA in Berkeley, CA, facilitating some fun supernovae activities.  The afternoon started with an interesting ice breaker where students had to go around to different stations and try to figure out the answers to some common astronomy questions.  I was sitting near one of the stations that featured the question "What are sunspots? What do they represent? What causes them?" On the table was a styrofoam sun with a magnet and little staples that actually looked like sunspots.  It was really interesting to see these groups of 14-17 year-olds try to figure out the answers to these questions.  Some students took into account these magnetic models; some tried to figure out the answer by studying the question and some students were hesitant to write down any response to the question that wasn't a 100% right.  It reminded me that the curiosity it takes (and the courage to be wrong) is not something that comes naturally to a lot of students, especially at the high school age.  It reminded me a lot of myself.  It made me to be more involved in programs that really encourage kids that it's okay to be wrong when trying to understand a new concept; scientific understanding is not focused on getting the right answer on the first try, but rather working toward an answer that in the end makes sense to you.  And being wrong on the first try is something that all scientists have experienced.

After the introductory activity, Dr. Jeff Silverman from UC Berkeley gave a short lecture on supernovae.  It was awesome! Definitely one of the best lectures I've heard on the subject; very engaging and great for the audience level.  A theme throughout the summer has been "why can't scientists effectively communicate their science?" -- hearing a scientist so effectively talk about supernovae and his research to a high school class was pretty enlightening.

Then we were on to the fun stuff!  Vivian (also from the ASP) and I went through a couple of activities.  First, she brought along a large poster that went through the life cycle of stars, but sun-like and massive.  It was great seeing such an effective educator in her element.  Then we went on to do a kinesthetic life cycle of stars activity, where the kids mimic the core and outer envelope of stars and the gravitational and fusion pressures within the star, through balancing activities.  We go through each phase of the star from star-forming regions to protostar and so on and then to the death of star in both sun-like and massive stars.

We then went into an activity that mimics core collapse within massive stars using tennis and ping pong balls.  We ended with an activity that goes through all the elements that supernovae provide us!  At the end of the session, the students realize that we would only have stars and gas-planets --no diamond rings, no computers, and no humans!  

We left before the art portion, but they did a lot of cool splatter paint activities that embodied a lot of supernovae-like traits.

Here are some photos from the event:


^^ the students acting out a supernova explosion!  Note my excitement on the side :)

^^ an activity that used tennis and ping pong balls to mimic why more massive and less massive particles react different during a supernova.  In a SN, the core is going to contract and become EXTREMELY dense.  The core and the outer layers of the star are going to fall inwards; once the neutrons (formed from the intense packing of protons and electrons at the center of the star) are packed as tightly as they can, the core collapse stops and the material falling inward will "bounce" outwards.  the different layers of a stars during a SN in different ways depending on their mass.  By bouncing a ping pong ball on top of a tennis ball onto the ground, you can see that the tennis ball is going to bounce less (b/c gravity is pulling on it more), while the ping pong ball is going to shoot up, in a similar fashion to less massive particles.  This is a simplified model, but shows how gravity is important in a SN and how different particles are going to react differently throughout this stellar process.

 ^^ what do SN give us activity?  I'll ruin the punch line: US!  We wouldn't be alive without supernovae!  The iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones -- all thanks to the deaths of super massive stars!

Monday, July 16, 2012

SETIcon II: Where science and imagination meet!

Last month I worked at the SETI Institute’s SETICon II: where science and imagination meet! It was a fun convention hosted by the SETI Institute that brought together a lot of interesting people.  I helped out at the Lick Observatory Booth and presented an activity and some iPad apps on exoplanets and how to find them.  The activity was very easy to understand and included a model demonstration of the wobble method (Doppler spectrocscopy) and the transit method.

Here’s  a demonstration video by the wonderful Suzy Gurton.  It's titled "How Do We Find Planets?" and can be find on the Night Sky Network list of activities:

Throughout the day, I also showed off the Kepler and Exoplanets apps.  I ended up chatting with Dr. Frank Drake of the famous Drake equation (!), who was presenting at one of the panels later on at the convention.  It was definitely a starstruck moment (pun intended).  I remember attending an astronomy class at a college I visited during high school, and during that lecture we went over the Drake equation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation) and the notion of intelligent life in our Universe.  It was pretty full circle when I showed him and his wife the apps, and had a discussion about how I got into astronomy.  Both lovely people, and I had a great time talking it up with them.  I’ve included some photos below:

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

NASA Summer Art Program

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA at the PG&E Teen Center observing a session of the NASA Summer Art Program.  Every Tuesday this summer, around 25 high school students spend the afternoon learning about space and the cosmos combined with interesting art projects.  While I was just observing this past session, I’ll be running some activity sessions for the next two workshops.  Next week’s topic is supernovae, so it’s going to be a really “super” time haha.  Excited to get involved in a new outreach activity!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Don't forget your heels the next time you head to the lab

Last Thursday, the EU Commission released a promotional video entitled “Science: It’s a Girl’s Thing!” in attempt to draw more young women into scientific fields.  Due to overwhelming negative responses, it was removed within 48 hours. 

Here's the video:

I was dumbfounded after watching this.  How did anyone expect this ad to be a success? I can quickly categorize my frustration:

Portrayal of Women (in Science)
What female scientists trot around in high heels and miniskirts?  Ever heard of close-toed shoes in the lab?   I agree that there should be more of an effort made to encourage young women to become interested in science, but illustrating this with models in makeup  just emphasizes an already prominent gender line in many areas of science.  Where's the gender equality when you need it? This video didn't need to endorse gender stereotypes, and yet it delved into the worst ones.  Also, with the exception of a model writing an equation, there was no involvement of women actually doing science in this video. 

Portrayal of Science
I know, I know, people think science, they think "microscopes, beakers, oh boy!" (wordplay intended), but why is the European Commission endorsing this?  Science is so much more -- let's advertise this!  I would have loved to see science portrayed as the pursuit of curiosity and discovery and critical thinking.  

When it comes down to it, I'm upset mostly about the fact that the European Commission thought this was a well-crafted and successful ad.  Kudos for taking it down so quickly.

An interesting article written by Elizabeth Newton on Astrobites (and links to other articles on the topic) can be found here.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Every Year Should be the International Year of Astronomy

2009 marked the International Year of Astronomy, a global celebration of Astronomy and its contributions to society and culture.   Throughout the world, there were special lectures, activities, and projects galore that celebrated the wonderful science of Astronomy and commemorated the 400th year of Galileo Galilei's use of the first telescope.  Today I started working on updating the International Year of Astronomy's Observing Guides to be applicable to any future year.   For each month, there's a special guide with an overall theme that includes objects to observe, current NASA missions, stories, photos, etc.

When looking at objects to observe in the springtime, I came across this photo of the Whirlpool galaxy, also known as M51.  This was the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) image from July 24, 2000.  It's a beautiful spiral galaxy, 23 million miles away, and 65 thousand light years across.  To put this in perspective, the distance from Earth to the Sun is just 8 light seconds!  I couldn't stop staring at this photo; not only is the spiral particularly beautiful in this image, but the interaction with the second galaxy on the left is especially cool.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

NASA's video of the Transit of Venus

The video was taken in optical light as well as ultra-violet light, allowing us to get an even better (aka AWESOME) view of the Sun and Venus.

(Thanks, APOD!)

"Why I Became an Astronomer" by Phil Plait

Great article by "Bad Astronomy" blogger, Phil Plait.

"Bad Astronomy" is a Discovery Magazine blog that has a lot of interesting posts on astronomy, space science, and just science in general: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Finishing up my first week

It's been a busy and wonderful week at the ASP!

Tuesday was the final transit of Venus until 2117! The ASP had an event at UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science.  Throughout the afternoon and the late evening, there was an array of viewing stations with solar telescopes set up and wonderful ASP staff members to help and explain the transit.  Over the course of the day, we estimated that there were a couple thousand or so people at the event! It was a wonderful day, and very exciting for everyone.

I've included some of my favorite snapshots:

(Can you see Venus??)

I spent the rest of the week researching and adding to my multicultural astronomy document, and helping the office out with a mailing.  (I found the postcard addressed to Neil deGrasse Tyson - so fun!).  I also worked on my application to get funding to go to the annual ASP meeting, with this year's theme as "Communicating Science" - hopefully everything will work out!  Had an interesting staff meeting today; very cool to see the non-profit and fundraising side of the ASP.

All in all, a great first week!

Monday, June 4, 2012

First Day at the ASP

Today was my first day as an intern at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific!  After a wonderful tour and introduction to the office, I got to work.  One major focus of this summer is researching and preparing materials on multicultural Astronomy education.  An interesting article on the subject can be found here.

I spent today researching Native American Astronomy traditions, legends and activities.  It's been so much fun; I got to read a myriad of folklore on astronomical topics, and all were very interesting.  I've started compiling this information in a document that is broken up into five sections: legends/folklore, videos, journal articles, activities, and useful links.  My hope is to be able to add to this document throughout the summer, make similar documents that pertain to other cultures, and using these,  maybe put together a small program that might include a folk tale with accompanying videos, activities, etc so that they can be more easily used in an educational setting.

For some samples of Native American sun-related folklore, check out this

Tomorrow, I'll be going with the rest of the ASP crew to help out with a transit of Venus event at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, CA.  This is the last time you'll be able to see a transit of Venus in your lifetime -- the next transit will be in 2117!  To learn more about the transit of Venus and find a viewing time (depending on location), check out this

Looking forward to the rest of my summer working here!