February 19, 2016  

Did You Know?: Saturday Morning Astrophysics

Saturday Morning Astrphysics

A participant in the Dec. 12 Saturday Morning Astrophysics event examines a meteorite. Participants also had the opportunity to measure the impact of rocks dropped into large bowls of sand, flour, water and dish soap. The students measured the craters left from the rocks dropped at different distances. (Photo provided)
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The Department of Physics and Astronomy's outreach program Saturday Morning Astrophysics at Purdue (SMAP) allows Indiana students in grades 6-12 to learn about different astrophysics topics.

Each month provides a topic of interest that participating students can explore through on-campus sessions. Postdoctoral researcher Matthew Wiesner is the lead instructor and creator of most of the SMAP instructional activities. Students learn together and complete hands-on activities. The free, 90-minute sessions occur on the second Saturday of every month.

The department piloted SMAP with six monthly sessions in the spring of 2015 to help increase students' interests in science and technology. The department was seeking a way to help provide students with additional options for careers and aim them to the network of resources available at Purdue.

The goals of the program are to offer students the opportunities to learn about the universe and the world around them across disciplines of science and technology, learn to interact with real research scientists, and participate in active learning.

Students  learn basic astrophysics content, data collection and analysis techniques and applied technologies.

"Students are learning to work together cooperatively and collaboratively to discover fundamental concepts related to science and scientific research," says David Sederberg, physics and astronomy outreach coordinator.  

Some activities have included assembling telescopes, using cloud chambers to observe radiation coming through outer space, and creating models to explore the energies produced by exploding stars.  In the most recent session, students conducted an experiment, designed by Wiesner, modeling one way in which scientists are searching for dark matter.

The registration roster for each session is 30. Parents are allowed to participate in the sessions. Because of the high demand for SMAP, there is currently a wait list. To sign up for the wait list, go here.

SMAP is one of many outreach efforts the department offers. For more information on all outreach programs, go here.

* A video from the Dec. 12 session of Saturday Morning Astrophysics is available here.

Writer: Aspen Deno, denoa@purdue.edu  

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