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Education and Outreach

Education at all levels has been a priority at MIT Haystack Observatory. From the training of graduate students to working with high school and middle school students the staff at the Observatory has gladly volunteered their time and energy to the effort. Graduate students from several institutions around the state have used the facilities at Haystack and worked with the staff on several cutting-edge research projects. In recent years several programs have been started and sustained at Haystack, which have primarily been aimed at the undergraduate and high school levels.

At the undergraduate level, the goal has been to expose undergraduate students to research in radio astronomy. In order to achieve this goal, a small radio telescope (SRT) has been developed and commercialized. The SRT is available as a kit for students to build and use. The SRT allows the students and their teachers to obtain a hands-on introduction to radio astronomical observing techniques with observations of atomic hydrogen and of emission from the Sun. The SRT has become a successful tool available to students all over the country - there are many units installed on college campuses nationwide and worldwide. In the continuing development of the SRT and its capabilities, and in keeping with its long tradition in research and development in radio interferometry Haystack is bringing the techniques and science of interferometry to the undergraduate classroom.

The 37-m research grade telescope is available to undergraduate students nationwide for research. The telescope is accessible remotely and provides students who have an interest in radio astronomy and who may not have local facilities that allow them to pursue this interest. Observations using the telescope have been integrated into undergraduate curricula at all levels - from demonstration experiments in basics astronomy courses, to laboratory experiences and research projects at the more advanced levels. Students have used the telescope to study emission from a variety of molecules including ammonia, methanol and silicon monoxide.

Since 1987 Haystack Observatory has been part of an NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program that allows selected undergraduates to spend the summer at Haystack and work closely with the scientists. The students work on research projects, prepare extensive research reports and present their results at national conferences.

As a result of the success of the REU program, a Research Experiences for Teachers program (RET) was started in 1999. This program brings in two teachers from local high schools to spend the summer at Haystack and learn about the research being done. This experience culminates in a high school lesson plan that the teachers take back to their classroom for testing. Once the lesson plans have been tested they are placed on the web for use by the larger community. Several workshops have been run at Haystack to introduce other teachers to these resources. A transportable SRT is available for the teachers to borrow and use in their school.

Educating the public has also been an important effort at the Observatory. From conducting open houses several times a year to bringing school groups to tours the Haystack staff are committed to educating the public about their research. Haystack staff also travel to schools and museums to talk to the public about radio astronomy and their research.

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