STEM Pipeline Blog / February 5, 2019
Winter 2019 First Light Highlights – by Stephanie Williams
Going into my second term of teaching First Light I was so excited to share all the wonderful mysteries about Exoplanets! In the winter term, these DC public middle school students are learning all about what exoplanets are, how we detect them, and what we look for when we search for life on these planets!
We started the term by discussing effective research skills so students could use these skills throughout the rest of the term, and hopefully, for the rest of their lives. We discussed how to identify a reputable source, and how to properly cite someone else’s work. Dr. Meredith and I explained how imperative it is that people within the scientific community are properly recognized for their work. We also introduced our term project, in which students will be making travel brochures based on the NASA Exoplanet Travel Bureau Posters. First Light students were excited about the idea of learning about real exoplanets, determining their habitability, and eventually designing an alien life form that could “live” on their planets.
In the second week, we discussed how scientists both detect and confirm exoplanets. Students modeled how exoplanet transits work, and observed how modeling the transits of exoplanets with different characteristics changes the data we observe. While conducting their experiments, students kept diligent notes in their notebooks, then discussed their final results as a group. First Light students also learned about the lengthy process of confirming exoplanets, and about the biases in detection methods that make it easiest to detect bigger planets that are close to their host stars.
In the coming weeks at First Light, we will learn more about how scientists determine if a planet could be habitable. This will include working with the electromagnetic spectrum and atmospherics modeling, determining the habitable zone for different heat sources, and going through the Miller-Urey experiment! I am excited to share with the students the University of Maryland’s (UMD) Observatory in the midst of all this, where the students will see where UMD students and scientists look to help confirm exoplanets, as I did in my undergraduate work there. In the final teaching session of the term, we will dive deep into the analysis of aliens in Sci-Fi, and with our newfound knowledge, decide if these species are realistic or not!
I am excited to see what all the students take away from the Winter Term, and the creative ideas they will come up with as they learn more about the potential for life in space.
Stephanie Williams is the lead First Light instructor and is finishing her degree in astrophysics at the University of Maryland. After she graduates she plans to pursue a career in science education and outreach.
By Stephanie Williams
Stephanie Williams is the lead First Light instructor and is finishing her degree in astrophysics at the University of Maryland. After she graduates, she plans to pursue a career in science education and outreach.
Be sure to check out other First Light blog posts here.
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