A Robotic "Social Media" Controlled Observatory for Education and Research [CL]


I describe the world’s first robotic observatory to interact with its observers entirely using the social media platforms Facebook or Twitter. The telescope “tweets” what it’s doing, posts live images, and responds to observer commands through a comprehensive command set. Observation requests are queued and observed by a responsive queue engine. Its architecture, social media based image processing capability and several usage examples are also described.

Read this paper on arXiv…

D. Lane
Tue, 6 Feb 18

Comments: Accepted for publication in the proceeding of the Robotic Telescopes, Student Research, and Education Conference, June 2017

A better communicator is always a better scientist, or the reason why every PhD student should engage in science outreach [CL]


The ability to communicate with all audiences is a skill that is rapidly becoming a must-have for any future scientist. As more physicists engage in communicating science to non-expert audiences, research shows that this experience helps them to get a better understanding of their own research and the impact on society, improves the perception of science by lay audiences and can also become an area of personal growth as a citizen. A recent deployment of a PhD student to the Amundsen Scott South Pole Station, as part of the IceCube Collaboration, provided a ready opportunity to spark interest. We present results of the efforts made by the Universit\’e libre de Bruxelles (ULB), the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the Interuniversity Institute for High Energies, IIHE (ULB-VUB), to introduce Belgian students and citizens to science and the life of a scientist. The essential parts of this program will be identified to show why the contributions of a PhD student to the organization of these activities are beneficial to the development of new skills as a scientist, but also to broaden the audiences and the impact of the local university and/or the specific research outreach program.

Read this paper on arXiv…

C. Clercq, J. Schauwers, G. Wasseige, et. al.
Mon, 29 Jan 18

Comments: Submitted to the 35th International Cosmic Ray Conference (ICRC 2017, Busan, South Korea)

Insights into the effects of indicators on knowledge production in Astronomy [CL]


Nine interviews were conducted with astronomers from Leiden University, and a document analysis was performed on relevant institutional (self-) evaluation documents, annual reports, and CVs of the interviewees. The aim was to perform a qualitative study about the relationship between the research behaviour of astronomers and how their science is being evaluated. This study encompassed the funding and publication system as well as the indicators used to measure the scientific output, its quality and the research performance. This report sheds light on how astronomers define high-quality research and how they think that creating knowledge of value is encouraged or hampered by the evaluation processes. We found that astronomers are realists who define scientific quality on the basis of “truth” and are driven by curiosity. These two factors make up their intrinsic values and motivation to perform Astronomy. Publication pressure, arising from the requirements of “the system”, creates an extrinsic motivation to perform. This results in premature publications, low readability and replicability, risk aversion and a focus on quantity rather than quality. Hence, indicators do not merely represent quality, but also co-constitute what counts as good research. While we observe such constitutive effects of indicator use on research behaviour and content, we do not see that the astronomer’s intrinsic values are co-constituted. This gives rise to a discrepancy between what is being measured by indicators and what astronomers define as scientific quality; the so-called “evaluation gap”. Findings on constitutive effects and the evaluation gap in Astronomy lays out the conceptual groundwork for further empirical research and for policy advice on alternative evaluation practices and innovative indicators with the aim of bridging the “evaluation gap”.

Read this paper on arXiv…

J. Heuritsch
Thu, 25 Jan 18

Comments: N/A

The International Cosmic Day – An Outreach Event for Astroparticle Physics [IMA]


The International Cosmic Day (ICD) is an astroparticle physics outreach event for high-school students and brings together students and different physics outreach projects from all over the world. Groups of scientists, teachers, and students meet for one day to learn about cosmic rays and perform an experiment with atmospheric muons. All participating groups investigate an identical question. The students are enabled to work together like in an international collaboration, discussing their results in joint video conferences. Analyzing data, comparing and discussing with other “young scientists” gives the students a glimpse of how professional scientific research works. Scientists join the video conferences and give lectures to provide an insight in current astroparticle physics research. Several participating research experiments analyze big science data tailored to the questions addressed by the students and present their results on equal terms with the students. To create a lasting event, proceedings with measurement results of all participating groups are published. Every participant receives a personal e-mail with his certificate and the proceedings booklet. Organized by DESY in cooperation with Netzwerk Teilchenwelt, IPPOG, QuarkNet, Fermilab, and national partners like INFN, the ICD is a growing event with more and more popularity. We present the organization of the event and the experience from five years of ICD.

Read this paper on arXiv…

M. Hutten, T. Karg, C. Schwerdt, et. al.
Tue, 7 Nov 17

Comments: presented at the 35th International Cosmic Ray Conference, Busan, July 2017

Hack Weeks as a model for Data Science Education and Collaboration [CL]


Across almost all scientific disciplines, the instruments that record our experimental data and the methods required for storage and data analysis are rapidly increasing in complexity. This gives rise to the need for scientific communities to adapt on shorter time scales than traditional university curricula allow for, and therefore requires new modes of knowledge transfer. The universal applicability of data science tools to a broad range of problems has generated new opportunities to foster exchange of ideas and computational workflows across disciplines. In recent years, hack weeks have emerged as an effective tool for fostering these exchanges by providing training in modern data analysis workflows. While there are variations in hack week implementation, all events consist of a common core of three components: tutorials in state-of-the-art methodology, peer-learning and project work in a collaborative environment. In this paper, we present the concept of a hack week in the larger context of scientific meetings and point out similarities and differences to traditional conferences. We motivate the need for such an event and present in detail its strengths and challenges. We find that hack weeks are successful at cultivating collaboration and the exchange of knowledge. Participants self-report that these events help them both in their day-to-day research as well as their careers. Based on our results, we conclude that hack weeks present an effective, easy-to-implement, fairly low-cost tool to positively impact data analysis literacy in academic disciplines, foster collaboration and cultivate best practices.

Read this paper on arXiv…

D. Huppenkothen, A. Arendt, D. Hogg, et. al.
Thu, 2 Nov 17

Comments: 15 pages, 2 figures, submitted to PNAS, all relevant code available at this https URL

Forty Years of Linking Variable Star Research with Education [CL]


In this review, I reflect on four decades of my experience in linking astronomy research and education by supervising variable-star research projects by undergraduates, and by outstanding senior high school students. I describe the evolution of my experience, the students I have supervised, the nature of their projects, the educational contexts of the projects, the need for “best practices”, the journals in which we publish, and the special role of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). I then describe our recent research on pulsating red giants and related objects, including three astrophysical mysteries that we have uncovered. Finally, I suggest how my projects might be scaled up or extended by others who supervise student research.

Read this paper on arXiv…

J. Percy
Fri, 13 Oct 17

Comments: Submitted to the proceedings of the conference “Remote Telescopes, Student Research, and Education”

An item response theory evaluation of the Light and Spectroscopy Concept Inventory national data set [CL]


This paper presents the first item response theory (IRT) analysis of the national data set on introductory, general education, college-level astronomy teaching using the Light and Spectroscopy Concept Inventory (LSCI). We used the difference between students’ pre- and post-instruction IRT-estimated abilities as a measure of learning gain. This analysis provides deeper insights than prior publications into both the LSCI as an instrument and into the effectiveness of teaching and learning in introductory astronomy courses. Our IRT analysis supports the classical test theory findings of prior studies using the LSCI with this population. In particular, we found that students in classes that used active learning strategies at least 25% of the time had average IRT-estimated learning gains that were approximately 1 logit larger than students in classes that spent less time on active learning strategies. We also found that instructors who want their classes to achieve an improvement in abilities of average $\Delta \theta = 1$ logit must spend at least 25% of class time on active learning strategies. However, our analysis also powerfully illustrates the lack of insight into student learning that is revealed by looking at a single measure of learning gain, such as average $\Delta \theta$. Educators and researchers should also examine the distributions of students’ abilities pre- and post-instruction in order to understand how many students actually achieved an improvement in their abilities and whether or not a majority of students have moved to post-abilities significantly greater than the national average.

Read this paper on arXiv…

C. Wallace, T. Chambers and E. Prather
Mon, 18 Sep 17

Comments: 14 pages, 60 figures, submitted to Physical Review: Physics Education Research