Cutting edge astronomical research and project-oriented science education is in the offing, thanks to a $150,000 National Science Foundation grant Purdue University Calumet has received and will apply to the purchase of a state-of-the art, high-powered robotic telescope.
According to Purdue Calumet Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Adam Rengstorf, the Northwest Indiana Robotic (NIRo) Telescope will contribute to expanded astronomical knowledge through high-quality research, advanced Purdue Calumet astronomical and physics course and laboratory curricula, improved science education in area middle schools and robust opportunities for community outreach activities.
The 20-inch, advanced Ritchey-Chretien reflecting telescope will be equipped with a thermoelectrically cooled CCD (charge-coupled device) imager, capable of producing a distortion-free image covering a field of view nearly as large as the full earth moon.
Plans call for it to be housed in a dedicated observatory at Buckley Homestead County Park in Lowell backed by the Lake County Parks and Recreation Dept. The location is the site of the Calumet Astronomical Society’s Thomas Conway Observatory, which provides a darker sky for better, more unobstructed viewing than other northwest Indiana locations, including Purdue Calumet.
The $300,000 project is a collaborative effort of Purdue Calumet and astronomy/physics professors Rengstorf and Shawn Slavin, along with the Calumet Astronomy Society and the Lake County Parks and Recreation Department, which comprise the Calumet Astronomy Center (CAC). The CAC is assuming a role of coordinating astronomical education, outreach and research in northwest Indiana.
Purdue Calumet is contributing $50,000 to the project. Fundraising efforts are underway to secure the remaining $100,000. The Calumet Astronomy Center is hosting “A Future Filled with Stars” fundraiser event, Friday, Aug. 15, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Duneland Falls Banquet Center in Portage. Tickets are available for $25 and may be purchased from Purdue Calumet.
Checks made payable to Purdue University Calumet (CAC on the memo line, please) can be mailed to the university c/o 2200 169th St., Gyte Building 268, Hammond, IN 46323-2094. For details about purchasing by credit card, individuals should contact Prof. Rengstorf at email@example.com or 219/989-2624).
“The NIRo observatory will provide a platform for education and research featuring rich datasets of various astronomical phenomena,” Slavin said. “Purdue Calumet students will soon have the ability to learn the science of astronomy through discovery from authentic data that they themselves obtain with the robotic telescope.”
Rengstorf added, “The NIRo Telescope will enable laboratory sections of our 200-level astronomy courses to be completely revamped to incorporate actual data. More advanced observational experiments will be available to our physics majors, independent research projects also will be possible, and there is the potential for cross-over projects with engineering, mathematics and computer science students.”
Robert Rivers, dean of Purdue Calumet’s School of Education, calls the NIRo Telescope “an exciting addition to the earth/space science curriculum” of local middle and high schools.
“Purdue Calumet’s Center for Science and Technology Education will work with physicists at Purdue Calumet to design exciting, hands-on astronomy projects using the robotic telescope that may allow secondary students to either study known sky objects and events or, even better, to make original discoveries of their own,” he said.
Additional information about the project is available by visiting www.calumet.purdue.edu/cac/