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Hot Science in the Classroom: One High School Science Teacher's Dream Come True

Mercury Summer 2007 Table of Contents

illustration of Spitzer spacecraft
Illustration courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

by Gretchen Stahlman

In the cold expanse of space, the Spitzer Space Telescope searches for heat radiated from distant stellar objects. These thermal emissions reveal matter that would otherwise be hidden, such as newly formed stars nested inside dense, dusty nebulae. The orbiting telescope is already halfway through its short five-year lifespan, and research time on "Spitzer" is precious to astronomers on Earth.

"You can't put an amount of money on [the opportunity to work with Spitzer]," says Doris Daou, Deputy Manager of Education and Public Outreach at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center. "The opportunity is rare."

Daou, along with colleague and astronomer Stephen Pompea of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, planned and initiated the "NASA Spitzer Space Telescope Research Program for Students and Teachers." Twelve individuals out of thirty-seven outstanding applicants were chosen to participate in the 2005 program, which offered Spitzer research time to high school science teachers.

Spitzer Science Center Director Thomas Soifer says, "We wanted to bring the Spitzer Space Telescope mission to the classroom, and give this great opportunity to teachers and students from all over the country." Soifer donated three hours of his personal discretionary research time to the Observing Program for Students and Teachers, giving each group of four teachers access to a portion of this precious telescope time. Spitzer's science teachers are using this technology to bring real scientific research into the classroom.

"We are preparing the next generation of scientists by giving teachers the tools to work with science," program initiator Daou stated in an enthusiastic French-Canadian accent as I spoke with her on the phone. "We want to engage not only teachers, but students as well."

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