The sky is blue, the water is freezing, and thermometers are making yo-yo’s jealous. It's summertime in Chicago and that means another fun and exciting time at the Adler’s annual summer program, the Astro-Science Workshop. Originally conceived as a cold war era reaction to Soviet aerospace advancement, the program’s goal remains to inspire a new generation of American youth in space exploration and science. Though the exigencies of the original program may be deigned dated, the goals are the same, and the excitement about space and the future are very real.
The need for this type of program has become more evident in recent history. As the gap between education and experience grows, the Astro-Science Workshop stands as an outlet for opportunity amidst a wasteland of continually scrutinized and nit-picked science education. Therein we expose students to a trove of hands on experiences and ideas. In this way a program, which operated during the awe inspiring days of early NASA, continues to feed the imaginations and endless possibilities of the future into the hungry minds of today’s youth.
This three-week program revolves around equal parts education and experimentation; the best way to learn science is to do science. Educational components include instruction on a wide variety of astronomy and physics topics ranging from basic mechanics to galaxy formation, and supplemented by outside presentations from the surrounding area's leading figures in astronomy and astrophysics. These outside lecturers expose the students to cutting edge astronomy topics and give insights to what the future of the field may hold, such as dark matter, dark energy, and active galactic nuclei. All of this instilled cosmic wonder is funneled into individual and group high-altitude experiments done at the edge of space!
In order to instill a robust and useful background in experimentation, the students take part in the launching of high-altitude balloons. These balloons carry payloads, which video the journey and can be modified to carry a variety of equipment. In previous years, data on humidity, air pressure, temperature, radiation, and even speed of sound measurements were flown. In the construction phase, students learn the ongoing hurtles of new science. In their deconstruction phase, the issues surrounding the ambiguity of data and analysis techniques are made apparent. For most, this is their first foray into science beyond the classroom, and will serve as a base for their future ambitions.
Last summer I had the pleasure of working with eleven Chicago area students and learned a lot about them and the educational process. This summer, Gayle Ratliff, Dr. Mark Hammergren, and I will continue the tradition with a new class of approximately fourteen students learning from seven physicists and astronomers from Loyola, University of Chicago, Northwestern, and the Illinois Institute of Technology. This will truly be an incredible summer, and I cannot wait to see all we accomplish and learn together!
Written by Michael Martynowycz, Fellow, Adler Planetarium