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Cosmic Chicago

Cosmic Chicago

Columbia College Chicago

Program Summary

This July a group of 30 students, ages 14-17, from Chicago high schools will become “Junior Research Scientists” at Columbia College Chicago’s Department of Science and Mathematics. Astronomy is this year’s 5-week workshop for young people interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

From their computers on campus, the Junior Research Scientists will use virtual telescopes to observe the universe. Thanks to Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope, they will be working with images transmitted by the most powerful telescopes on Earth and in space. This experience can have a profound effect on the viewer. A young woman who defined herself by her school or neighborhood in the morning may realize she is a citizen of the Universe by the afternoon.

The Junior Research Scientists will use mathematics and optics to build personal planetarium projectors for their home use to display a “slice of the sky” to share with family and friends. Small groups of 3-5 students will redefine the traditional constellations using Chicago-inspired imagery and icons. Orion the Hunter might become Michael Jordan the Slam Dunker! They will then create virtual tours of these starry neighborhoods, exchanging scientific knowledge with one another and with the online community. Just like their ancestors, these stargazers will be making stories to explain the mysteries of the Universe. Only this time, they will be gathered ’round the glow of the computer screen.

Finally, Chicago’s Adler Planetarium will offer their expert staff and state-of-the-art equipment to showcase the Junior Research Scientists’ Chicago Constellation Tours for family and friends.

Cosmic Chicago makes good use of the Internet to broaden horizons, share vital knowledge, spark creative imagination, encourage invention, and foster brotherhood of all people under the sun, the moon and of course — the stars.


>>Introduction and Background:

The focus of Cosmic Chicago is on basic stellar astronomy, but it will not confine itself, to traditional textbook instruction. Instead, it will feature practical astronomy, optics and mathematics so students can make personal planetarium projectors and construct digital programs to tour the night sky.

Columbia has learned that the optimum STEM project includes both virtual and tangible elements. This project demands Internet research and online collaboration among students, but it also results in the creation of DIY planetarium projectors and tours of the galaxy created by participants.

The software that makes the virtual part of the program possible is Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope (www.worldwidetelescope.org). This free program transforms a simple PC into a virtual telescope. It takes “big data” from the best earth-bound and sky-born telescopes and blends it into stunning and accurate images of the observable Universe. It also makes it easy to create personalized tours, add custom graphics and even make one’s own constellation figures. Chicago’s Adler Planetarium has recently enabled their large digital dome to run images from the WorldWide Telescope. They will partner with us to show off students’ projects in their majestic Grainger Sky Theater.

>>Curriculum and Agenda

This program begins July 1, 2013, and will run half days, four days a week for five weeks.

Week 1:
• Introduction to the night sky and traditional constellations
• Basics of using the WWT
• Basic image optics required for making personal planetariums

Week 2:
• Develop first-draft constellations
• Setup WWT online community page.
• Study the astronomy of constellations selected by students
• Learn/Review math needed to understand stellar distances
• Begin assembly of personal planetariums

Week 3:
• Refine personal (Chicago) constellations
• Create first draft WWT virtual tours
• Visit Adler Planetarium for technology overview and preview
• Complete personal planetarium projectors

Week 4:
• Complete Chicago constellations and virtual tours
• Print versions of constellations as posters for display and saving
• Trial run of tours and constellations at Adler Planetarium in preparation for final showcase event

Week 5:
• Final edit/revision of online projects and presentations
• Rehearsal and staging of final event at Adler for family and friends
• Celebration of Junior Research Scientists’ accomplishments
• Recognition, encouragement and advice about how to continue and expand the positive relationships formed online and in the classroom

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