Students Participate in NASA Competition – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Students Participate in NASA Competition

This May, four HWS students and three faculty members will participate in the third annual National Student Solar Spectrograph Competition (NSSSC) at Montana State University. The team will compete against 21 colleges and universities to determine the best construction of a solar spectrograph-an instrument used to measure properties of light over the visible and near infra-red portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The competition is part of an education and outreach effort for NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), heliophysics mission and is hosted by the Montana Space Grant Consortium.

Over the course of nine months, Candace Carducci ’15, Jacob Slade-Baxter ’15,  Mimi Sakarett ’15 and Lee Schneider ’14, under the advisement of Peter Spacher, physics lab technician, Joshua Nolenberg, visiting assistant professor of physics, and Ileana Dumitriu, assistant professor of physics, have been building their own spectrograph instrument to collect data in support of their goals. The team received a NASA Build Award of $2,000 for project materials.

During the fall semester the team met at least once per week in Dumitriu’s lab to conduct research on lenses, diffraction, interference, solar spectrum and spectroscopy through lab activities. “The students explored different types of spectrographs in order to decide which design is best suited for our research project,” says Dumitriu. “They also tried different types of digital cameras and data acquisition software in order to record and analyze the spectra.”

This spring, the team has focused its efforts on building the spectrograph, collecting data and preparing for the competition. “It is our intent to use the spectrograph device we’ve built to measure the prominence of water vapor constituents of the atmosphere over a relatively small geographic area of Seneca Lake,” says the team.

“Growing up surrounded by machines I developed an interest in how and why things work,” says Slade-Baxter. “I am excited to participate in this competition.” To Lee Schneider, “physics is what makes the world we live in today possible. I would love to get into biophysics and medical imaging research.” Sakarett, a computer science major with minors in chemistry and environmental studies, says preparing for the competition has enhanced her love for “discovery and hands-on science learning.”

The HWS team members will demonstrate their instrument and present their research findings in a competitive science fair environment. There are four judged categories: best build, best design, best science and best presentation. Each student on the winning teams receives a scholarship award of $3,000 and a travel award to a NASA launch.

In the photo above, HWS students and faculty construct a solar spectrograph in Eaton Hall. The team will participate in the National Student Solar Spectrograph Competition at Montana State University this May.