Students STEM out at NRAO

Students from all over the state attended the Governor’s School of Math and Science this summer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank. Above, Lauren Young, of Cabell County, shows members of her group a graph they created using data they collected using the 40-foot telescope and Green Bank Telescope. S. Stewart photo
Students from all over the state attended the Governor’s School of Math and Science this summer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank. Above, Lauren Young, of Cabell County, shows members of her group a graph they created using data they collected using the 40-foot telescope and Green Bank Telescope. S. Stewart photo

Rising freshmen from all around West Virginia spent two weeks this summer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank for the Governor’s School of Math and Science – a school revolving around science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Over the course of the two weeks, students are divided into groups and given research projects which they present at the end of the school.

“We have fifty-nine students this year,” education program director SueAnn Heatherly said. “They are doing astronomical research projects so they are looking at all kinds of things. Some of them are looking at galaxies and some of them are looking at neutral hydrogen in our galaxy. A couple of teams are trying to characterize the forty-foot telescope and how it works and how it performs. There’s another group trying to detect the hydroxyl molecule which is a really tough thing to do.”

While the school focuses on math and science, it attracts students with a range of educational interests. In a group of six young ladies, only one said she is interested in a career in astrophysics. Others are inter- ested in other sciences and other subjects altogether.

“What I like about science is more in genetics which we don’t learn here,” Shayna Brewer, of Wayne County said. “Before I came here, astronomy was just kind of over my head. I knew nothing about it although my dad is really into astronomy. I came here, and I started understanding it more.”

The girls were excited to learn that the school encompasses more than just math and science. They are given time to try out other classes, including dancing, hiking, creative writing and foreign languages.

“It’s been amazing,” Ashley Eby, of Brooke County, said. “I was never expecting it to be this fun. There’s a good balance of everything. It’s a lot more than math and science. It’s a lot of activities that you wouldn’t usually get a chance to do. I took a Mandarin class. I took a dance class, Zumba, hiking, mountain biking – all kinds of stuff. It’s a great location, too, because we can’t use our phones so we’re away from the rest of the world. I don’t miss it at all. It’s kind of nice. I’m glad it’s here.”

Eby’s group mate Madison Bowers, of Randolph County, agreed. She said it was great to have the variety of classes.

“Today, I learned how to waltz – which is crazy,” Bowers said, laughing. “There’s so many fun things. I’ve mountain biked which is something I never thought I’d be able to do, but I actually did it.”

It wasn’t all fun and games, though. The groups still had research projects to complete. On the last day before presentations, groups hovered around computer screens in the lab, putting finishing touches on their projects.

A group including Lauren Young, of Cabell County, and Madewa Adeniyi, of Harrison County, created 3-D maps to show the data they collected using the Green Bank Telescope.

“We mapped the right ascension, the declination and the X-data,” Young said. “We did the same thing with the contour map. The contour map is telling us that it is a binary radio emission which means there are two things giving off radio signals, and they’re right next to each other. We figured out what we were looking at was the constellation Signus and from there, we narrowed down our area that we were mapping. It included Signus X1 and Signus X3.”

“We also found a Signus A which is a radio galaxy,” Adeniyi added.

Along with the GBT, students used the 40-foot telescope for their projects.

David Tanner, of Clay County, was working on a slideshow of maps his group created with the data they collected from both of the telescopes.

“Our project was detecting hydroxyl radicals and molecular clouds,” Tanner said. “This is just some of the data we got from the GBT. It shows spikes – they indicate what we’re detecting, like hydroxyl. We also got interference, like we actually picked up a Russian satellite at one point.”

While he has enjoyed the two weeks discovering astronomy and astrophysics, Tanner said he plans to study plant genetics.

“This is just a start getting into science,” he said. “It’s been really fun. I never got to do anything like this before. The two weeks I’ve been here have just flown by.”

Among the 59 students attending the camp was one representative from Pocahontas County – Jacob Hise.

Hise, a resident of Dunmore, said he heard about the program during the school year and decided to apply because his favorite subjects are math and science.

“Unlike poetry and language arts and history, there’s a black and white answer with everything,” Hise said. “Mostly in math, there’s a black and white answer. There’s no guessing around it or interpreting why people did something. There’s an answer.”

Hise and his group did a project about the cold dark cloud.

“We’re studying a large, interstellar cloud that is extremely cold,” he said. “In fact, it turns hydrogen into ice crystals. We just learned about it this week and have been studying it. We’ve used the 40-foot and we were also given time on the GBT today. What’s so great about that is scientists who submit appeals to use the telescope, only about ten percent get to use it and we, as students at the Governor’s School, get to use it without really applying.”

The Governor’s School of Math and Science is divided into sessions. The first two sessions are held at West Virginia University and the third at the NRAO in Green Bank. Pocahontas County was represented by Taylor Tegtmeyer at Session I. Hillsboro resident Victoria Rose, represented Greenbrier County at Session II.

For more information on the Governor’s Schools of West Virginia, including Governor’s Honors Academy and the School for the Arts, visit www.gov schools.wv.gov

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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