Friday, July 27, 2012
A Terrific Way to Introduce the Younger Generation to Solar Physics!
Activities on Solar Week are set up for each day of the week.
I am writing of the web site, solarweek.org, e.g.
Which provides a cornucopia of scientific information about our Sun, the nearest star, and on which all life depends. On this site a middle school student, for example, can learn about the energy driving solar prominences. A curious, young female middle- schooler can ask a female solar physicist about everything from solar storms, to the origins of the solar dynamo and the behavior of charged particles .....without being drowned out by catcalls of "NERRRD!"
Established in 2000, 'Solar week' was the brainchild of David Alexander, who began the website as part of the NASA Yohkoh mission education and public outreach program. His vision was to inspire more girls to want to study science and become scientists and to help banish the stereotype that only males do science. (He also implemented his site without having to appeal to 'lipstick', fashionista sense, dancing, or other superficials like the EC Science bunch tried a month or so ago, see e.g. http://brane-space.blogspot.com/2012/06/want-to-get-girls-into-science-dont.html).
Solarweek retains that aim as well as serving as a general online resource mainly for middle and lower high school students, to learn more about solar science - but I would say it can also serve to introduce the workings of the Sun to anyone without a physics or astronomy background who just wants to satiate natural curiosity about the nearest star. The site is very hospitable in this respect, and the individual learner is limited only by his or her imagination, and energy.
Solar Week is sponsored by the Center for Science Education at the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. The site's primaary goals are to educate students about the Sun and solar physics and to encourage future careers in science - especially for girls - who remain (sadly) only marginally represented in the hard sciences, at the highest levels.
Two distinct sides comprise the website: One is a set of curricula, times and activities for classrooms (including a page of science career resources available throughout the year), the other is an interactive bulletin board that goes live twice a year for a week (once in the fall, and once in spring) allowing middle school classrooms to pose questions to a dozen leading solar scientists who volunteer their time and expertise, to educate, inspire and entertain the kids.
Generally, three fourths of the questions posed are (naturally) about the Sun- Earth connection, but many are also 'curiosity' questions pertaining to the specific path that brought the scientists from childhood to their present stations. Students also want to know what inspired and challenged them along the way....and what really turns them on about their day. This role model approach has been built into the web site.
Teachers recently polled on why they bring their classes to the site respond that they want to excite a general interest in science and astronomy, and entice specific interest in Sun-related science. Students themselves affirm that participating in Solar Week increases their enjoyment and interest in science and even their interest to become a solar astronomer.
Let us sincerely hope the hopes and dreams of many of these budding solar astronomers are not snuffed out by antsy budget cutting, austerity mavens. We know that a sophisticated solar probe is already being readied to penetrate the solar corona (to within 8-9 solar radii of the photosphere) in 2015. It would be a damned shame if a number of the kids got their hopes up to participate in the data analysis, only to (later) find the project was cut owing to the fetishism of deficit mongers - who already allowed trillions to be blown on useless, wasteful "wars".
Here's hoping these kids that are coming into the field and aspire to new solar discoveries will get their wishes fulfilled, as opposed to a lump of coal from budget cutting maniacs.