A Partnership in Observational and Computational Astronomy

A Partnership in Observational and Computational Astronomy (POCA)

We are establishing formal partnerships between South Carolina State University (SCSU, a Historically Black College/University), the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) and Clemson University (CU). The mission of POCA is to develop an effective, long-term partnership that combines the strengths of the three institutions to increase the scientific and educational output of all the partners with special emphasis on enhancing diversity in the field of astronomy. The extensive experience of the partners will facilitate the development of new research projects as well as enhance existing ones at all three institutions. SCSUs involvement in publishable research will be significantly enhanced while developing a strong mentorship program that supports student involvement in astronomy twelve months out of the year, from the freshmen year through graduate school. We will implement a multi-tier program of summer internships in astronomy at SCSU, NOAO and CU that will build student confidence, enhance technical skills and develop a research portfolio that will prepare underrepresented minority students for graduate school. The summer internships will be supplemented with a structured program during the academic year that will maintain student interest in the field while further developing their academic and research skills. The undergraduate activities will be part of a larger effort of recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities into the astronomy graduate program at CU. POCA will also develop web based educational resources for use in our student mentorship program and undergraduate astronomy labs that will be disseminated to the wider community as a legacy for future PAARE recipients. Through planetarium programs, observing sessions, museum displays and related activities we will broaden our impact beyond our three institutions to the general public and recruit the next generation of astronomy students from the K-12 community.

Research conducted under POCA will lead to a better understanding of a number of astrophysical topics. Using new and archival spectra and photometry, we will model physical processes that relate the period of RV Tauri stars to their luminosity, temperature and other parameters that may have cosmological significance through their potential use in distance calculations to members of the Local Group. Much of our effort will make use of small aperture telescopes at KPNO, in line with one of the recommendations of the NSF AST Senior Review Committee. Through student and faculty research, we will participate in a world-wide network that studies GRB afterglow; and, we will use narrow-band Ha photometry to search for short-period tidally locked binaries in the Galactic halo that may provide direct evidence for primordial Li depletion. Another research project using VLA and GBT data will help better understand the role of magnetic fields in the process of star formation. Faculty at the three institutions are eminently qualified to lead these efforts and through sharing within our partnership we will ensure sufficient access to the necessary resources.

The lead institution for this project, SCSU, is a minority institution in which 96% of the undergraduate student population is African-American. SCSU students will receive PAARE scholarships to major in physics with an astronomy option, while PAARE fellowships will support minority students entering the graduate program at CU. Five years of PAARE is too short to complete the path from freshman to Ph.D. However, we will fill the pipeline and build a foundation for a partnership that will continue to increase diversity in the field. Undergraduates at SCSU and CU as well as graduate students at CU will acquire extensive observational experience at KPNO using small aperture telescopes followed by data reduction, analysis and computer modeling that will train future astronomers and lead to presentations and peer-reviewed publications. Graduate students will receive a unique training experience as mentors to other students and in the process enhance their teaching skills. Our efforts will reach out to non-majors through inquiry-based astronomy labs and web-based resources whose dissemination will serve as a legacy to PAARE, while our planetarium programs and other activities will engage the public and K-12 community.