Our Saturday program is back in session and running full steam ahead. We kicked it off with an exciting session with the Science Education group at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Students learned about the Giant Magellan Telescope that will allow us to look deep into the galaxy at 10X the resolution of the Hubble telescope. Are we alone???
I often wonder where would I be today if I had participated in a program like this. Luckily I discovered engineering in 11th grade, but we are exposing these kids to everything linked to the innovation economy. Our students can tell you the difference between Product Design, Design for the built environment and what to consider when Designing for developing countries. They have met people who do these things and it has been reinforced with design challenges such as designing a light source for kids in developing countries to do their homework at night.
Our students have programmed robots, built Rube Goldberg type machines and electronic toys. They are learning about the power of Design, Science, Technology and Business to solve problems that matter to them. Our programming is highly differentiated from traditional STEM programming. Although we have some Designers, Engineers and Scientists in our group, we are constantly reminding them that there is a growing demand in industry for people who are both creative and technically literate. We encourage them become creative / technical hybrids. I’m really looking forward to an upcoming session with a guest speaker, a Scientist from Biogen, who has dual degrees in Biology and Philosophy. We are always looking for ways to stress the value of being able to work across disciplines.
After our Robotics program last Summer, we learned that although students were excited about Robotics, Coding and Electronics, they lacked confidence in their Math and Science skills. We can continue getting them excited about cool technologies, but their interest may not persist once the Math and Science becomes more challenging. This summer, subject to funding, we envision a 5 or 6 week program with students focusing on Science and Math fundamentals in the morning. We are talking to a couple of different sources to help us develop the curriculum. The afternoons would be dedicated to projects. We have a couple of really exciting real-world relevant projects in the works.
One quick appeal before I discuss our visit to Harvard. We believed so much in our vision of bringing these types of experiences to under-represented populations that we bootstrapped the organization for its first three years. Fortunately, last year we finally made inroads into the philanthropy community. We were recognized with grants from the Cambridge Community Foundation, Harvard Agassiz Fund and Cambridge Rotary. That said, our biggest obstacle to continuing this work and bringing it to more students is funding. Our Summer program is currently at risk. We need your help connecting with investors interested in new approaches to broadening participation in the innovation economy.
The Cambridge Rotary Club was instrumental in setting up our visit to the Harvard Smithsonian Observatory. They were introduced to us by the Cambridge Community Foundation last Summer and since then have been graciously introducing us around town. The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is a feat of engineering. It is slated to come on line in 2022. It has 10 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope and over 80 times the light gathering power of Hubble. Its 7 segment main mirror is nearly 80 feet across. It is housed in a building over 20 feet tall on a 8,200 foot tall mountain in Chile. The GMT program manager and our students had a great discussion. We had to cut off questions because our pizza was getting cold!
Our students pass by MIT and Harvard so often that it’s easy to forget these are two of the top Universities in the world. Both have many of the world’s foremost authorities working on amazing projects. We learned about a really cool way to see the upcoming solar eclipse on August 21st about one minute longer than anyone stuck on the ground. You simply point an infrared spectrometer out of the window of a Gulfstream V jet and cruise at an altitude of about 15 kilometers along the path of the eclipse. No joke. We met a grad student who will be doing exactly that. The students were amazed when she showed pictures of herself on a practice run. She wasn’t just talking about it – she was living it. We were also treated to a discussion on exoplanet atmospheres. Believe it or not, a couple of the students knew exactly what that was.
The day wasn’t all lectures it was broken up nicely with hands on exercises: Kinesthetic Telescopes, Making Images with Lens and Mirrors and Controlling Robotic Telescopes. The day was capped off with a trip to the roof. Where we saw the Great Refractor Telescope that was install in 1847. For 20 years it was the largest telescope in the United States, the most significant American astronomical instrument and equal to the finest in the world. It was an amazing day!
Michael K. Dawson
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