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STUDENT RESEARCH INITIATIVES
Over the past several years, the Orion Observatory has sponsored a number of senior projects at California Polytechnic State University. Students completing these projects have been from the physics, mathematics, and statistics departments. Their research has covered such diverse topics as the period of eclipsing binary stars, changing times of maxima of Cepheid pulsating stars, the effects of purposeful defocusing on the photometric precision of stars of different brightness levels, and the design and evaluation of a dual-channel stellar photometer using a dichroic beamsplitter. Students have presented their results at scientific meetings such as those of the American Astronomical Society and the Society for Astronomical Science, and have had their papers published. It is expected that such sponsorships will continue over the next several years.
Described elsewhere on this website (see Research Seminar under Cuesta College) is a credit course that is devoted entirely to student research.
The Orion Observatory is pleased to sponsor and facilitate student astronomical research at the high school and college level. Students can readily make quantitative astronomical measurements. An example of such measurements is determining the position angles and separations of visual double stars. These measurements can be made using a Meade laser-etched illuminated astrometric eyepiece which only costs $120 and can be used with any telescope. There are many other astrometric measurements that could be made visually, such as the positions of Jupiterís moons, asteroids, etc. Besides visual astrometry there are many other quantitative measurements that can be made such as visual photometric estimates of a variable star. Binary star eclipses provide fast-paced action.
With time exposures on even a low-cost digital camera, the quantitative science possibilities increase rapidly. And with an astronomical CCD camera (now available for under $500) one can easily make serious scientific measurements that are publishable in peer-reviewed journals. Astronomical CCD cameras are so inexpensive now that they are being given away as door prizes. I was the lucky recipient of such a prize last week at the Society for Astronomical Scienceís annual meeting at Big Bear, although the real thrill at the conference was to see Cal Poly physics senior Chrissy Heather give her first ever scientific talk.
Last October Cuesta College (Physical Sciences Division) and the CCAS held a joint meeting that featured student speakers from my two astronomy classes, members of the CCAS, Cuesta faculty, and a student and faculty member from Cal Poly. Another joint Cuesta College / CCAS meeting is scheduled this fall on Thursday, October 26th at 7 PM.
Astronomy is one of several proven ways of attracting students toward science, engineering, and mathematics (not to mention local institutions of higher learning). We are taking advantage of our active local society, the Central Coast astronomical Society, astronomy educational programs at three local institutions of higher education, and a local citizenry rife with retired scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who support both science and higher education. By bringing these local elements together in a focused manner we are providing a special contribution to student education. Astronomy offers an unusual opportunity, at very low cost, to contribute directly to the advancement of science by way of observations and analysis published in scientific journals. Such published undergraduate research dramatically changes studentís lives and brings credit to the institutions and communities which encourage and sponsor such research.