TechnologyObserving FacilitiesEducation and OutreachAbout Haystack

Research Experiences for Teachers


Summer 2014


Westford, MA

MIT Haystack Observatory in Westford, MA, will host two local area high school science teachers during the Summer of 2014, under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation. These teachers will work with staff scientists on a project using observational instruments and will receive hands-on experience in the field of radio astronomy and atmospheric science. Participants will also have the opportunity to attend weekly seminars focusing on various areas of research conducted at Haystack. The goal of the program is for the teachers to develop a unit of inquiry-based lesson plans for a particular high school level, based on their summer research internship.

Project for 2014: The Earth isn’t flat, but it isn’t round either

Mentors Michael Hecht and Arthur Niell

Imagine a world where the stars aren’t fixed in the sky, but change position from week to week – how would we navigate? A world that doesn’t spin smoothly on its axis, but wobbles around, and slows down or speeds up when the wind blows – how would we know what time it is or describe our location? As it happens, though these effects are small, we do live in that world. A world, moreover, where both the land and the water go up and down with the tides, and where the level of the ground is still recovering from being crushed by glaciers thousands of years ago. These phenomena and more form the subject matter of Geodesy. Using advanced radio telescopes, the geodesy program at MIT Haystack Observatory plays a key role in a little known infrastructure that informs the world about the instantaneous shape of the Earth, its orientation in space, and the absolute position of GPS and other satellites.

While high school students are aware, for example, that our oceans are rising, they likely don’t understand how we arrive at that conclusion; the internet may tell them how we measure the ocean surface from a satellite, but not how we know where the satellite itself is located. High school students may understand how the stars allow us to navigate spacecraft to other planets, but probably not how we know exactly where those stars are in the sky, or where the planets themselves are relative to Earth. High school students are certainly familiar with the movement of tectonic plates, but not how we track those movements. The goal of this RET project is to produce materials that will motivate and enrich parts of the Earth science curriculum, teaching students to ask “how do we know?” even when the textbook tells them what we know. More practically, the curricula developed under this program will expose students to methods of precision measurement that are relevant to many of today’s STEM job opportunities in fields such as global navigation, space exploration, climate change, resource utilization, and geophysics.



We plan to host two high school science teachers for seven to eight weeks during the Summer of 2014 who will work at the research facilities of the MIT Haystack Observatory. Studying with MIT scientists at Haystack Observatory, the teachers will acquire sufficient background information to develop lesson plans at the requisite grade level for students in the classroom. The teachers will interact with staff and students, and learn about special research projects as they attend the summer seminar series and activities planned for students and teachers. As they begin their project, scientists will guide them in their studies of the subject.

The goal of the program is for the teachers to develop introductory lesson plans for a particular K-12 level based on their summer research internships. These plans can then be followed by other teachers interested in using these units or by students pursuing independent study. The lesson plans will be placed on the Haystack Web site and will be linked to a rich base of other research and educational materials located there. Links will also be provided to other sites associated with Haystack's research disciplines and to educational materials relevant to the effort. This will simplify access to the materials by all teachers and students in the future. Haystack will encourage all interested teachers to take advantage of these materials and to apply them to their class activities prior to visits or interactions with our group.

During the summer, stipends of $1,000.00 per week will be paid to the participating teachers. Scheduling of time is somewhat flexible, but requires a joint starting date. While the project is in progress teachers will have the use of working space equipped with a personal computer connected to our network. Opportunities are also available for the participants to report on their projects at selected professional meetings. Participation in this program requires a commitment from each teacher to integrate some part of this experience into his or her classroom activities. Participants are usually invited to return to Haystack for two to four weeks the following summer to refine their materials.

A meeting will be held at Haystack Observatory on Thursday, March 20, 2014, at 4:00 PM to provide more information and answer any questions related to this program. Attendance is encouraged but not required for participation in this program. Directions to the Observatory can be found on the Haystack Web site. In the event of severe weather, please check this page to learn whether the meeting has been postponed. Questions about the program can be e-mailed to or addressed to Michael Hecht or Arthur Niell at 781-981-5400.

Application deadline is March 31, 2014 . All applications must include the following items:

The application should be addressed to:

RET Program

MIT Haystack Observatory

Off Rte. 40

Westford, MA 01886

Application may also be submitted via email at:

The decision on teacher selection is expected to be made in early April.


The results will be a series of inquiry-based lesson plans to be used as an introduction to the research discipline described above not only by the participating teacher but also by other teachers. These lesson plans will also be made available through the Web to all teachers as part of our expanding education program. Teachers are also encouraged to present the results of their experiences at professional forums such as the AAS, AAPT, NSTA or AGU meetings.


The primary staff mentors and coordinators of the RET program at Haystack Observatory include the following key personnel. Summaries of their vitae with emphasis on their educational experience and interests are outlined briefly.

Vincent Fish, Ph.D., 2004, Harvard University. Research Scientist, specializing in radio astronomy, with emphasis on science and techniques using interferometry. Co-coordinator of Haystack RET and REU programs.

Michael Hecht, Ph.D., 1983, Stanford University. Assistant Director, specializing in planetary sciences, with emphasis on precision techniques  for remote and in situ measurement of geophysical properties.

Arthur Niell, Ph.D., 1971, Cornell University.  Principal Research Scientist, specializing in geodesy with empahsis on high precision Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI)