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office
Pupin 1327

email
marcel at astro.columbia.edu

phone
+1 212 854 6814

fax
+1 212 854 8121

mail
MC 5246
550 W120th St
NY NY 10027

CU astronomy »


I have always enjoyed public education and outreach work. After completing my M.Phil. at the University of Cambridge in 1998, I worked for a year as the public education coordinator for the University's Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory (MRAO). MRAO is a unique place: on its grounds are long-mothballed instruments, such as the aerials used for the 3C survey (first completed in the late 1950s), and much more modern telescopes, such as the Cosmic Anisotropy Telescope, a prototype for the Very Small Array, an interferometer designed to map the Cosmic Microwave Background. It is therefore an ideal place to teach the public about the history of astronomy and about modern astronomical research, and as the first person to occupy my position I was given great freedom to decide exactly how to do so. The high point of this experience was undoubtedly organizing the observatory open days, which had not been held in close to five years. Over one weekend in July 1999, 3000 visitors explored the observatory.

Occasionally I go out to schools to give talks, but sometimes it's more fun to just run an activity. In March 2008 I did the Project Astro "Create A Constellation" activity with four 7th grade classes at Albert Leonard Middle School in New Rochelle, NY. Unfortunately I didn't get to save many of the constellations the students produced, but here and here you can see a couple of my favorites. (The constellation they're playing with is actually Ursa Major, by the way.)

Since 2008, I have run what was initially a NASA/Chandra-funded teacher-training program, Rooftop Variables (RV). Together with what is now a small army of graduate students, I prepare public school science teachers to conduct observational astronomy research with small (6-inch) telescopes from the roofs of their schools. We provide participant teachers with the skills required to acquire, reduce, and interpret science-quality observational data. Once the teachers are ready, we assist them in the creation of astronomy clubs at their schools, with the goal being to engage these clubs in observational campaigns (our current focus is on flaring low-mass stars). We purchase telescopes and CCDs for the clubs, and serve as a resource to the teachers as they set up these clubs. The clubs' activities can be monitored here.