Facilities > GBT > Broader Impact/General Public

Broader Impact

by Taylor Johnson last modified Apr 08, 2014 by Dong-Chan Kim

The NRAO Green Bank Site: Broader Impact

The National Radio Observatory’s Green Bank site consists of a 2700 acre site, the GBT and seven other antennas four of which are in active use for a diversity of projects, electronics labs, offices, a machine shop, cafeteria, dormitory for visiting scientists, "bunkhouse" for visiting students, and a magnificent public science education center. The site is actively engaged with the community, the State, the region and the country. Although our primary mission is operation of the GBT, the e site for many other activities with broader impact take place on site, a representative sample of which is listed here.

Education and Public Outreach (EPO)

The Green Bank site has a rare combination of assets: 1) A laboratory where frontier research is an ongoing activity; 2) a professional staff of scientists and engineers who are also involved in education; 3) facilities such as the Green Bank Science Center, radio telescopes, housing and food services, all available for education and outreach. The site staff use these assets to develop and present programs that would not be possible at other institutions.

The Science Center is a multi-purpose building that draws 50,000 visitors each year, a remarkable number for so remote a location (www.nrao.edu/index.php/learn/gbsc). Visitors experience the many interactive displays in a 4000 sq ft. exhibit hall, hear presentations about radio astronomy from the Science Center staff, and take a guided bus tour around the site.

The Science Center is also used for monthly star parties, an annual 4-day Star Quest gathering of amateur astronomers, the annual meeting of the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers, community days, and so on. It serves as the focus for school field trips throughout the year (www.gb.nrao.edu/epo/fieldtrip.shtml).

The 40-Foot telescope is a working radio telescope outfitted specifically for use by students and teachers. It is the centerpiece of a hands-on research experience offered by the site. (https://science.nrao.edu/facilities/gbt/other-telescopes/40foot) Each year between 2500-3000 scouts, students and teachers visit Green Bank, typically in small groups of a few dozen students with their teachers, for sessions lasting several days. They are housed in the site "bunkhouse" and take meals in the cafeteria. They receive in-depth tours of the electronics labs, training, use of the 40-Foot Telescope, and interactions with the site staff.

Throughout the year the Green Bank site hosts numerous programs for teachers. (www.gb.nrao.edu/epo/teach.shtml) Residential Teacher Institutes provide a research experience for K-12 teachers and preservice teachers through projects on the 40 Foot Radio Telescope under supervision of the Green Bank staff. Begun in 1987 and supported initially by the NSF and NASA, this program has trained over 1000 teachers in the fundamentals of research. Each year a Chautauqua Short Course Program for undergraduate college faculty is held to update their content knowledge ( http://campus.udayton.edu/~physics/gkm/chau/). In the several dozen years of the program over 650 undergraduate faculty have participated.

Over the past 13 years the NSF-sponsored Research Experience for Teachers has matched 27 teachers from grades 7-12 with Green Bank astronomers to perform astronomical research over an 8-week summer period. (www.gb.nrao.edu/epo/ret.shtml). All these activities involve site scientists and engineers as lecturers, advisors and mentors.

The Pulsar Search Collaboratory (www.gb.nrao.edu/epo/psc.shtml) is a unique program in partnership with West Virginia University that enables middle and high school students to participate in active pulsar research using data from the Green Bank Telescope. In a summer residential program, high school teachers and their students work with astronomers to learn how to analyze data produced by the telescope, and then form PSC teams back at their schools. Funded by the NSF, the Collaboratory has so far engaged 103 teachers and 709 students from 18 states in pulsar research. Student teams have thus far discovered 6 new pulsars and one transient object, increasing their interest in science and technology and gaining national recognition.

The 20-meter telescope, originally built by the US Naval Observatory for studies of the Earth's rotation, is now being outfitted as part of Skynet, (http://skynet.unc.edu/s) a distributed network of robotic telescope for research and education.

For the past 8 years the Green Bank site has been host to the WV Governor's School for Math and Science, a 2-week residential astronomy camp operated in collaboration with the National Youth Science Foundation aimed at increasing interest in STEM careers (2012.wvgsms.org). Over 400 rising 9th graders have participated in the program, which is funded by the State of WV. The site also hosts National Youth Science Camp tours and directed studies (www.nysf.com/w/programs/nysc).

Use of Site Infrastructure

The Green Bank site is a large protected site with laboratories, utilities and support facilities that makes it an attractive location for staging research projects not directly connected with the NRAO mission. In addition, because of the National Radio Quiet Zone and the West Virginia Radio Astronomy Zone it is uniquely protected from many forms of man-made radio frequency interference. For these reasons it is used as the Northern site for the PAPER telescope, an instrument to study the epoch of reionization, run by a partnership of universitis which also operates a sixty-four element array in the Karoo desert of South Africa (http://eor.berkeley.edu/). The 45-ft telescope, built originally as part of the interferometer then transformed into a ground station for the Japanese HALCA satellite, is now functioning as a Solar Radio Burst Spectrometer, providing dynamic spectra of solar radio bursts during daylight hours at Green Bank (https://science.nrao.edu/facilities/gbt/other-telescopes/45foot). The 140-ft telescope was recently operated under contract to MIT Lincoln Lincoln Laboratory for atmospheric (ionospheric) studies and is now being considered for use as a spacecraft data downlink station. Finally, the University of Texas (Brownsville) is leading the installation of a Low Frequency All Sky Monitoring Array on site to study the transient universe..

The West Virginia University Department of Physics fluxgate magnetometer was installed at the Green Bank site on June 2, 2009. The project is a collaboration between the WVU, NRAO, and University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). The instrument is operated by the WVU plasma physics group for research and education purposes and also contributes to measurements of UCLA's Magnetometers along the Eastern Atlantic Seaboard for Undergraduate Research and Education (MEASURE) array.

Training the Next Generation of Scientists and Engineers

An active Research Experience for Undergraduates program has been in place at the Green Bank site for more than 50 years. In 10-12 week internships undergraduate students in STEM majors experience life and work at a major research facility. Participants have gone on to successful careers in science, engineering and academics (https:// science.nrao.edu/opportunities/student-programs/summerstudents). A co-operative education program brings several undergraduates to Green Bank throughout the year to work with astronomers, electronics and software engineers. The site has resident pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships and internships. Every two years the site co-hosts a summer school in single-dish radio astronomy with NAIC that draws 60 students to learn hands-on the techniques of radio astronomy. Area high school students can spend a week at the site assisting staff in a mentorship program which ranges in topics (depending on student interest) from electronics though accounting, astronomy, and engineering. The flexibility and breadth of science on the GBT, and the availability of local professional researchers, provides students at all levels with a meaningful and significant experience.

University Collaborations

All new instrumentation for the GBT is being built in collaboration with research groups at Universities. This not only leverages efforts of site staff and supports University faculty, it provides a valuable training ground for students to become future instrument builders. Collaborations between the NRAO, the University of Pennsylvania, and six other institutions have developed a 3mm bolometer array (MUSTANG). The University of Maryland built the Zpectrometer, an analog signal processor to look at distant galaxies. Work with the University of California - Berkeley’s CASPER group has led to two FPGA-based instruments, GUPPI (for detecting and timing pulsars) and VEGAS (used for high resolution spectral line studies). Cornell University has built and installed a signal processing system designed to process the radar signals from the Arecibo Observatory and the Goldstone Radar (NASA) after they have been bounced off bodies within the solar system. Students from the California Institute of Technology, working with NRAO staff, developed an optimized continuum receiver (CCR). Radio cameras are also being built for the GBT – the University of Massachusetts, Bringham Young University, and NRAO staff are building two phased array feed systems to work at 1 and 100 GHz, and the University of Stanford is leading a collaboration to build a traditional feed array for 3mm wavelength observations.

Meetings and Workshops

The housing and cafeteria facilities make the Green Bank site an excellent location for small, intense, scientific workshops. The first was a joint US-USSR symposium held in 1961, at a time when scientific contact between the two nations was rare. Since then there have been about 3 dozen workshops covering millisecond pulsars, gaseous halos of galaxies, chemistry in the universe, cometary radio astronomy, the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, and data management issues in astronomy, to name just a few (see for example: https://science. nrao.edu/science/event/tf35). On average 2-3 workshops are held on site each year, with anywhere from 40-100 participants.

The Green Bank Site and the Community

The Green Bank site has tight links to the local community, the region and the State. In addition to the mentorship experiences offered to local secondary school students, the site staff has significant outreach into the community. Staff members often teach STEM classes in the locals schools, mentor science and math students, serve as science fair mentors and judges for the county are are on county and state educational committees and boards. Site facilities are used for community meetings and by organizations such as the Boy Scouts and National Forest Service, and are a vital part of the count emergency services plan..

Updated: 27 August 2012