In a small office at GLAS Education, Jaidyn Catherall, a University of Chicago astrophysics student, writes online lessons for students a half world away.
Jaidyn, a sophomore, said the lessons through Google Classroom will help English-speaking African students learn basic information about astronomy, such as sky orientation and the mechanics of refracting and reflecting telescopes. The lessons will assist students as they prepare to join the Stone Edge Observatory (SEO) program. SEO projects are part of the McQuown (McQ) Scholars that were first established at Yerkes Observatory. SEO projects use a research grade telescope in Sonoma, California
Writing astronomy lessons for students on another continent seems to be a far cry from Jaidyn’s career goals. “My dream was always to work with NASA,” Jaidyn said. “I’ve always been interested in astrophysics and I always felt that it had the perfect blend of everything I like: space, math and physics.” She holds on to a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, but admits plans may change.
While not trained in education, Jaidyn said she enjoys the challenge of writing lessons. “I was thinking about how I like information presented to me,” Jaidyn said. She said she provides power point presentations and video to make the lessons more accessible to students. The lessons also have web links to other sites with more information.
Now in her second year at the University of Chicago, Jaidyn said she was seeking a summer internship, when her career advancement officer directed her Kate Meredith and GLAS Education. “She said ‘Kate Meredith is a wonderful woman and I think she has the perfect internship for you,’’’ Jaidyn said.
Kate Meredith is the director of GLAS Education, a continuation of the education outreach at Yerkes Observatory, until the university closed Yerkes in 2018. Meredith said Jaidyn is a brilliant intern student with a background in research. But there is also a need for scientists to make science accessible to everyone.
“It’s really important that we grow scientists who can communicate with the public,” said Meredith.
Alex Scerba likes to “deep dive” into technology that supports other technologies.
Alex was an intern this year with GLAS (Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM) Education where he has been working on the Lakeshore Environment and Night Sky Sensor (LENSS) program.
He discovered his interest in engineering and computers through Yerkes Education Outreach program. He said he also fell in love with Yerkes itself.“I enjoyed the observatory, the building mainly. It was kind of cool, I remember that,” he said.
“Not as much as they hoped,” Alex said, laughing. “I wasn’t really an astronomy guy.” He was more of an engineering and computers guy. “I really enjoyed the tech camps, where you’re doing robotics and computer programming,” Alex said. “And that’s what I was getting more hooked into.”
When Yerkes closed in 2018, Alex followed the education programs to GLAS in Williams Bay.This year, he is working on the LENSS project which will support the Geneva Lake Dark Sky (GLDS) Initiative.
The LENSS team set out to develop an inexpensive, remotely-operable system for measuring light pollution that meets existing standards. Those findings will be used to raise community awareness of the importance of reducing light pollution and keeping the night sky dark.
Alex said he enjoys working on a project that “has the potential to actually make a difference in the community.”
Alex said he is working on the “technology backbone” of the project, the data collection and sorting process. He worked on the software that controls those functions. He is also writing a project overview explaining how the different technologies used by LENSS work together.
A graduate of Williams Bay High School, Alex will attend Milwaukee School of Engineering this year, where he plans to major in computer science While he won’t be able to visit GLAS as often as in the past, Alex said he intends to continue to work remotely with the LENSS team while at MSOE.
Joe Murphy, a senior at Badger High School in Lake Geneva, wants to make sure the work he is doing for GLAS (Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM) Education continues even after his internship ends.
Joe has been working with other students and interns at GLAS on the Lakeshore Environment Night Sky Sensor (LENSS) project. The goal of the student project is to design and build night sky sensors that will measure light pollution and sky quality in the Geneva Lake area. The goal is to have the sensor ready to test within the next two months, Joe said.
The data from the sensors will be remotely collected and then reported to the Dark Skies Initiative, an international nonprofit that promotes smart lighting to reduce light pollution. GLAS Education is home to the Geneva Lake Dark Skies, which is the local Dark Skies Initiative.
Joe said he is looking beyond establishing the LENSS network. He said the program needs to continue to collect data for years to come to guide community decisions on night time lighting.“I want to try to keep working with the LENSS project to get to a point where we can really make a big difference in the area,” Joe said.
Studies show that dark skies are essential for human and animal health, as well as being necessary for basic telescope astronomy.
Like many of his fellow interns and students at GLAS Education, Joe participated in the youth education programs at Yerkes Observatory.“I’ve always had an interest in math and science,” he said. “When Yerkes was doing the summer camps … it was just an amazing experience.”
He said he particularly enjoyed working with Arduino programming, which students used to remotely control robots and drones. He was also a counselor during the last summer camp at Yerkes.
Joe joined the McQuown Scholars in 2016. When Yerkes Observatory closed down in 2018, key staff from the observatory formed a new non-profit education organization, called GLAS Education, and moved to an off-campus location in Williams Bay.
“And once operations resumed here at GLAS Education, I took part in the LENSS project for about a year and then I was made an intern,” Joe said.
Josh Garza, a student at the University of Chicago, was looking for a summer internship when his career guidance counselor steered him to GLAS Education.
Josh, who is majoring in physics, said he knew about Yerkes Observatory. but he hadn’t heard of GLAS Education, which took on Yerkes’ astronomy and science-oriented youth education programs when the observatory closed in 2018.
Josh was accepted as an intern in June. Since then, he said, he’s gained an appreciation for astrophysics. It may result in an adjustment to his major. “I’m starting to like astro now,” he said.
Josh’s project at GLAS was to simplify a process used to precisely locate celestial objects.“I’ve been writing code to interface with the astrometry software that we use to add coordinates to the data we take with SEO (Stone Edge Observatory, Sonoma, Calif.),” Josh said.
He said he started writing the code in mid-July and finished writing in August. The new program has gone through a testing process, and as of the beginning of September it’s been ready to use. Data collected from the observatory is separated into a number of steps, Josh said. One of the steps is called astrometry, which uses a series of coordinates to precisely locate a celestial object in the night sky.
“The current step requires you to download a bunch of stuff on your computer,” he said. “It’s a lot of set up. The goal of my stuff is to make a one and done kind of thing. You download it. You don’t have to install anything; it’s all taken care of.”
Josh has done his internship remotely, using Zoom and other online communications to keep in touch with staff and students at GLAS. Josh said he’s set on a STEM career, but it will take a while to narrow the focus.
“Between software engineering – I’ve done that kind of stuff and I kind of like it — engineering and now astrophysics is something to look into, too, because it’s pretty cool.
Starting as a fourth grader in 2013, Griffin spent a few weeks each summer participating in the former YAAYS (Yerkes Astrophysics Academy for Young Students) program.“I was interested in astronomy, but it wasn’t until I went to Yerkes that it really kicked off for me,” said Griffin, who will be a senior at Elkhorn Area High School this year.
In addition to attending youth programs at Yerkes, Griffin also became a McQuown Scholar (McQ). At Yerkes, and now at GLAS, the McQuown Scholars is the umbrella program of which all high school students and projects are part. The McQuown Scholars program continued through GLAS Education when Yerkes closed in 2018 and so did Griffin. He started working with GLAS as a volunteer. This summer he is a paid GLAS intern.
Although he plans a career in engineering, Griffin maintains a strong interest in astronomy. “I had one small telescope when I was a kid,” Griffin said. But the light pollution in Elkhorn made it hard to see the stars.
Griffin is now one of about a half dozen students involved with GLAS’s LENSS (Lakeshore Environment Night Sky Survey) project. The project goal is to design and build night sky sensors that will measure light pollution in the Geneva Lake area. A prototype light sensor has been completed but there’s still plenty of work left to do, Griffin said.
“Right now we are working on the calibration and testing, just to see how reliable our sensor is in comparison to other, already-on the-market sensors, and to see how certain variables affect our sensor, such as temperature, light intensity, stuff like that, because we want to have the most accurate readings possible,” Griffin said. Griffin said he joined the LENSS project because it gives him an opportunity to work on his computer coding skills.
Griffin lives in Elkhorn with his parents, Melissa and Brian. His dad works at American Family Insurance. His mother works at a contact lens distributor in Burlington. He has one younger sister. Griffin plans to study at either the Milwaukee School of Engineering or UW-Platteville.
“I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to go into yet, other than engineering, so it could be astrophysics, it could be engineering physics, there are so many routes I could go,” Griffin said.
A classmate at Badger High School urged Melynna Arreola-Quiroga to attend a GLAS Education Star Party in the fall of 2019. Her friend could not make it, but Melynna went with her mother. She said she was impressed by the people she met at the GLAS-sponsored Star Party. “I thought, yeah, I want to do this,” Melynna said.
Melynna is no stranger to science and she’s a quick study in astronomy. But her real interest is in business and communications.
“I really like astronomy and I’m into marketing,” said Melynna who is a junior at Badger. She said she likes to explore new areas of knowledge. She’s GLAS’s most recent intern, having been brought on in September.
Melynna is working with GLAS Education’s Geneva Lake Dark Skies program, which seeks to educate the public about light pollution and the health and aesthetic benefits of keeping the night sky dark.
“For Dark Skies, I’m working on social media, using Instagram and Facebook, and Twitter sometimes.” she said. Melynna, who is bilingual, said translating Dark Sky information from English to Spanish is bridging a language barrier. “Many times people who don’t have access to materials in Spanish, I wouldn’t say they’re uneducated, but I would say they could be educated more than they are,” Melynna said.
She’s also helped recruit volunteers to help with GLAS activities. Unlike some of the interns this year, Melynna never took part in the Yerkes Observatory education program or visited the observatory. “Sadly no,” she said about missing out on the Yerkes experience. “That’s a bummer.”
Melynna said she loves it at GLAS. Kate Meredith, GLAS director, said GLAS’s goal is to help students explore their interests and discover their strengths. GLAS stands for Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). It’s important not to forget the arts, she said.
“There are all sorts of roles in science that you never really think about,” Meredith said. . “All of these giant science projects, these telescopes, they have to have people who know business, they have to have people who can develop their public outreach materials.”