Williams to share in NSF award in support of undergraduate research in astronomy

10/01/04

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Oct. 1, 2004 – The National Science Foundation has awarded $200,000 to the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC), of which Williams College is a member. The grant will allow astronomers Karen B. Kwitter, Jay M. Pasachoff, and Steven Souza to continue their work with students in a variety of ways.

The grant, under NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates program (REU), will allow a continuation of the consortium's collaborative student-faculty research projects in astronomy for the next two years. In addition to Williams College, the member schools of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium are Colgate, Haverford, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Vassar, Wellesley, and Wesleyan.

The consortium was created in 1990 in response to a proposal to the W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles. The goals of the consortium were, and continue to be: to promote interaction among the astronomers at the eight member colleges, whose astronomy departments have small but strong programs with a history of student research participation; to modernize the equipment at these schools to provide all students the opportunity to learn modern astronomical observing and analysis techniques; to develop lab and teaching projects that can be shared; and to promote research collaborations between students and faculty.

Between 1990 and 2002 the Keck Foundation contributed more than $2.3 million to support collaborative astronomy research among undergraduates and faculty at the eight member colleges. Since 2002, the program has been funded by contributions from the member colleges.

A hallmark of the program is the summer student exchange, which allows students to participate in research carried out by faculty members at other KNAC colleges. With NSF support it will now also be possible to provide some summer research opportunities in astronomy for students enrolled at institutions without astronomy faculty.

Each fall the program funds a student research symposium where summer exchange students, along with other students from the member schools who have done astronomy summer research, gather to report on their work to fellow students and faculty. Thus far, more than 160 students and two dozen faculty have participated in the summer exchange, and nearly 300 students have presented their research at the fall symposia.

At Williams, Kwitter, Pasachoff and Souza supervise KNAC summer exchange students as well as Williams astronomy students remaining on campus, including them in observing expeditions to telescopes and solar eclipse sites around the world.

Kwitter, Ebenezer Fitch Professor of Astronomy and chair of the department, studies the end stages of stellar life and the origin of the chemical elements in our galaxy. She is the author or co-author of more than 40 scientific papers.

Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy and director of the Hopkins Observatory, is a renowned authority on solar eclipses. He also works on planetary occultations and studies the abundance of cosmic deuterium. He is the author or co-author of major astronomy texts and many popular books.

Souza, observatory supervisor and instructor in astronomy, is engaged in eclipse and occultation studies, and in observations of planetary nebulae. An expert in magnetic resonance imaging, he is the author or co-author of seven books and 38 journal articles, and holds 27 US patents.

In recent months, Pasachoff, Souza, and Bryce Babcock, staff physicist, along with several of their students have been active in studies of the June 8 transit of Venus, observing the very rare event from sites in Williamstown and Greece as well as with NASA's Transition Region and Coronal Explorer spacecraft.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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