Hawaii Astronomer Receives $1 Million Award to Build Sharper Eyes for Maunakea Telescope

The University of Hawaiʻi’s 2.2 meter (88-inch) telescope on Maunakea will soon be producing images nearly as sharp as those from the Hubble Space Telescope, thanks to a new instrument using the latest image sharpening technologies. Astronomer Christoph Baranec, at the UH Institute for Astronomy (IfA), has been awarded a nearly $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to build an autonomous adaptive optics system called Robo-AO-2 for the UH telescope.

The ultraviolet Robo-AO laser originating from the Kitt Peak (Arizona) 2.1-meter Telescope dome. Although the laser is invisible to the human eye, it shows up in digital SLR cameras once the internal UV blocking filters are removed. The apparent color of the laser beam is a result of the UV light leaking through the camera’s red, green and blue pixel filters by slightly different amounts. Image credit: C. Baranec

Construction of the new instrument starts at the IfA’s Hilo facility in September, and it will be operational in just two years. The instrument will take hundreds of high-resolution images of planets, stars and asteroids every night without operators on the summit. “The new Robo-AO-2 will usher in a new age of high-resolution science in astronomy,” says Baranec, “and we’re doing it with one of the oldest and smallest telescopes on Maunakea.”

The Robo-AO-2 system will take advantage of recent renovations to the UH 2.2-meter telescope, and the superior atmospheric conditions above Maunakea, to make some of the sharpest visible-light images from the Earth’s surface. “Because Robo-AO-2 will be so versatile and capable, we’ll be able to undertake surveys of an unprecedented number of exoplanet host stars and candidate lensed quasars, and even monitor the nightly weather of our planetary neighbors — all in high-definition color,” says Baranec. The latter is particularly timely as NASA is now planning to send probes to Uranus and Neptune in the coming decades. Knowing what to expect ahead of time is a crucial element of mission planning.

Baranec is also planning to use Robo-AO-2 to support education efforts in Hawaiʻi. “UH Hilo in particular has guaranteed time for their students on the UH 2.2-meter and I’m excited to see our local youth operating this cutting-edge technology for both classes and summer research projects,” says Baranec. In addition, time with Robo-AO-2 will also be made available to high school students through the Maunakea Scholars program, a partnership involving the Maunakea Observatories, Hawaiʻi State Department of Education and UHi, and led by Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope (CFHT).

The new instrument is based on the prototype Robo-AO system developed by Baranec at Caltech, and later used with telescopes at the Palomar Observatory and Kitt Peak National Observatory. It has been an indispensable tool in confirming or revising the thousands of exoplanet discoveries made by NASA’s Kepler mission, and in measuring the rates at which different types of stars are born into single, double, triple and even quadruple star systems.

All Robo-AO systems use an invisible ultraviolet laser to create an artificial guide star in the sky to measure the blurring caused by Earth’s atmosphere. By measuring how the atmosphere affects this artificial star, a flexible mirror in the system can be deformed to remove its blurring effects. Because light from the laser and celestial objects pass through the same atmosphere, and both are reflected off of the deformable mirror, images of celestial objects are similarly de-blurred, leading to very sharp images limited only by the same laws of physics that limit the sharpness of space-based telescopes.

More information on the Robo-AO projects can be found on the Robo-AO Website.

National Science Foundation Awards $20 Million Dollar Grant to UH System for Clean Water Research Project

Today, Hawaii’s Congressional Delegation announced that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $20,000,000 grant to the University of Hawaii System for a clean water research project. The project, titled Ike Wai from the Hawaiian words for knowledge and water, will address the critical needs of the state to maintain its supply of clean water, most of which comes from groundwater sources.

Ike Wai

“This grant will greatly improve our understanding of one of Hawaii’s most precious natural resources,” said Representative Mark Takai (HI-01). “Through public-private collaboration with federal, state and local agencies, we can increase the efficiency of our state’s water management, and ensure that we have the federal resources necessary to promote a workforce capable of conducting this type of research for generations to come.”

“Due to our volcanic origins, our system of aquifers is far more complex than we once thought,” said U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i). “This grant will allow scientists to use modern mapping tools to provide policymakers with critical information about our water resources, and help ensure that there is enough for the needs of people, agriculture, and future generations.”

“Hawaii’s water is a precious resource, and this competitive funding will support the University of Hawaii’s research into protecting our fresh water sources for future generations,” said Senator Mazie K. Hirono, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power. “Ike Wai and other projects that build an innovative, sustainable future are essential to understanding and finding solutions for our island state’s unique needs, and also underscore the importance of significant federal investments in research in these critical areas, something that I strongly support.”

“Pollution, fracking, unsustainable farming practices, and over development have put serious pressure on our clean water supply across the globe. It is essential that we protect and maintain access to fresh and clean water in Hawaiʻi due our isolated location in the Pacific,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02). “There is still much unknown about how water flows through the unique landscapes and volcanic foundations of our islands. This grant from the National Science Foundation will help us to better understand how to use our precious natural resources to ensure a continuous and high quality water supply.”

Ike Wai Valley

The Ike Wai project, awarded under the NSF’s Research Infrastructure Improvements Program, will greatly improve understanding of where the water that provides for the needs of Hawaii’s cities, farms, and industries comes from and how to ensure a continued, high quality supply. This supply is under increasing pressures from population growth, economic development, and climate change. The funding provided by the NSF will encourage collaboration with federal, state, and local agencies and community groups concerned with water management.

Coast Guard Icebreaker Visits Honolulu

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star made a scheduled port call to Honolulu Friday as it transits to conduct missions in the Antarctic.

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, home-ported in Seattle, made a scheduled port call in Honolulu, Friday, as it transits to conduct missions in the Antarctic. The Polar Star departed Seattle Dec. 3 for Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze for the first time since 2006 with the vital task of resupplying the National Science Foundation Scientific Research in McMurdo. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Tara Molle)

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, home-ported in Seattle, made a scheduled port call in Honolulu, Friday, as it transits to conduct missions in the Antarctic. The Polar Star departed Seattle Dec. 3 for Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze for the first time since 2006 with the vital task of resupplying the National Science Foundation Scientific Research in McMurdo. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Tara Molle)

The Polar Star departed Seattle Dec. 3 for Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze for the first time since 2006 with the vital task of resupplying the National Science Foundation Scientific Research Station in McMurdo.

For more than 50 years Coast Guard icebreakers have deployed to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze. They will assist by creating a navigable shipping lane through the layers of ice in McMurdo Sound. Approximately eight million U.S. gallons of fuel will be sent to McMurdo residents through the channel and be delivered to Winter Quarters Bay. This fuel allows the Station to remain manned and ready during the freezing winter months.

This past summer Polar Star conducted sea trials in the Arctic to test all of the ship’s equipment and train the crew prior to embarking to Antarctica this winter. During the summer trip, Polar Star spent weeks in the Beaufort Sea north of Barrow, Alaska, testing propulsion machinery, conducting emergency drills and qualifying crewmembers in individual watchstations.

With a tumultuous schedule leading up to Polar Star’s Deep Freeze Deployment, the crew have not only overhauled many vital pieces of equipment from the bridge to the engine rooms, but have successfully completed a number of assessments to achieve their fully reactivated status.

Polar Star is a 399-foot polar class icebreaker with a 140-person crew. The cutter is recently out of a three-year, $90 million overhaul, which is part of the Coast Guard’s plan to reactivate the heavy icebreaker.


UH Manoa Joins Network of Pacific Rim Research Universities

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has been elected to membership in the Association of Pacific Rim Universities, the leading consortium of research universities for the region. APRU represents 45 premier research universities—with a collective 2 million students and 120,000 faculty members—from 16 economies in the most dynamic and diverse region of the world.

UH Manoa Campus

To join APRU, a member university must be rated as a leading university of the country or a premier university within its geographical region. It should have attained broad excellence in carrying out the activities of its educational mission, must embrace and achieve a mission of promoting research and scholarship and have a strong international orientation. APRU universities are located in Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Thailand and the U.S.

“We are honored by this news, and to be one of only 12 U.S. universities in this impressive international roster of membership,“ said UH Mānoa Chancellor Tom Apple. “We thank our students, faculty, staff, alumni, lawmakers and supporters for their efforts in helping us to achieve research and academic excellence, culminating in this honor.”

UH Mānoa is classified by the Carnegie Foundation as a research university producing “very high” research activity, with extramural funding averaging $333 million per year over the past five years. It is among the top 30 public research universities in the nation for federal research funding in engineering and science (National Science Foundation) and ranks 51st overall. UH Mānoa is one of only a handful of land-, sea- and space-grant universities.

APRU was established in 1997 by the presidents of Caltech, Berkeley, UCLA and USC. Henry Yang, chancellor of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and chair of APRU, wrote in his welcome letter, “I congratulate you and look forward to engaging with you and your colleagues as, together, we advance the cause of higher education and research through the activities of this important alliance.”

UH Hilo Students Earn Prestigious Internships

Two University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo students pursuing double majors in Astronomy and Physics have earned prestigious and highly competitive national internships in their respective fields.

Junior Robert Pipes has been accepted to the National Undergraduate Fellowship through the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).

The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

This summer, Pipes will attend a one-week series of lectures on plasma physics at Princeton University before beginning a nine-week research project with Dr. David Pace at the General Atomics DIII-D tokamak in San Diego, California. His project will involve tracking high-energy ions to model heat loss along the walls of the reactor.

Jordan Bledsoe, a sophomore, has accepted an offer of a Maria Mitchell Observatory summer internship in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Maria Mitchell Observatory

Maria Mitchell Observatory

She was one of just six selected out of 180 applicants for the internship, which is part of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program supported by the National Science Foundation. Bledsoe leaves at the end of May for her 10-week internship. She expects to be assigned a research project on “Quasars as markers of distant galaxy clusters” or “structure and evolution of clusters of galaxies.”

Dr. Marianne Takamiya, UH Hilo assistant professor of astronomy, said both internships are highly coveted, and being among the few who are selected is a great, personal achievement that sets up future success.

“Robert is the first student from UH Hilo to be admitted to the PPPL Internship, where students typically go on to top-notch universities or companies following their undergraduate work,” Takamiya explained. “The Maria Mitchell Observatory Internship is of similar caliber and Jordan and a small, select number of students will be mentored by visiting astronomers from renowned universities like Harvard, Yale and the University of California.”


Free Astronomy in the Classroom Workshop Offered for Teachers All Middle and High School STEM Teachers Invited

What makes the Sun a star? What are the impacts of sunspots on Earth? What are the Earth’s defenses against the sun’s harmful rays? How can the Faulkes Telescope be used in educational programs? These are just a few of the many questions to be answered in a free Teacher Training and Astronomy in the Classroom Workshop slated for this Friday, October 26 and Saturday, October 27 at Kealakehe High School’s Cafeteria and Science Lab (G-203).

“Studying the sun is a good beginning for science, technology, engineering and math education. Students feel comfortable because they are familiar with it. And Super M math is an exciting way to engage students in math. These workshops are designed to provide more resources to our dedicated Hawaii Island  teachers. Furthering STEM education will help our children be qualified for the next generation of 21st century jobs,” said Sandra Dawson, Thirty Meter Telescope Hawaii Community Relations Manager.

Faulkes Telescope Project Teacher Training
Friday, October 26 • 6-8 pm
Friday evening’s program will feature a Faulkes Telescope Teacher Training exercise and star gazing for the entire family. Middle School and High School teachers will be able to test drive the large, research-grade Faulkes Telescope and learn how to obtain and use it in their classroom. The evening program runs from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at Kealakehe High School.
In addition, the Hale Pohaku Visitor Information Station (VIS) will bring telescopes and the community is invited to participate in stargazing with the VIS volunteers.

Teacher Training: Heliophysics in the Classroom
Saturday, October 27 • 8:30 am-3:30 pm
The term heliophysics was coined in the early 1980s to denote the physics of the entire Sun. The teacher training will focus on hands-on activities and demonstrations to be used for grade appropriate science courses answering the following questions. How does the Sun get its energy? What are sunspots? How do you count them? How does the Earth’s
magnetic field protect us from the sun’s radiation? What happens on the Sun to cause the hazardous solar storms?

The astronomy teachers workshops are funded through an existing NASA heliophysics education and public outreach grant for these heliophysics topics to be shared with secondary science and mathematics teachers on all the islands. Follow up with the participating teachers after the workshop is planned.

Teachers will also be provided training in the innovative SUPER-M program. SUPER-M is a project at the Department of Mathematics <http://www.math.hawaii.edu/>  of the University of Hawaii at Manoa and funded by a National Science Foundation <http://www.nsf.gov/> , Graduate STEM Fellows in K–12 Education program <http://www.gk12.org/> . SUPER-M creates partnerships between graduate mathematics students and K-12 teachers to design innovative, developmentally appropriate, and engaging activities for K-12 students.

Childcare and astronomy, and fun math activities for the teachers’ children will be available, as well as Gemini Observatory’s mobile planetarium. Continental breakfast and lunch will be served on Saturday.

These astronomy teacher workshop events are sponsored by the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy and the Thirty Meter Telescope.

To reserve your spot contact Laura Aquino at 326-7820 or email: laquino@current-events.com.

Big Island Students Representing at White House Science Fair – Take First Place in “We Can Change the World” Challenge

On Tuesday, February 7th, President Obama will host the second White House Science Fair celebrating the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. The President will also announce key steps that the Administration and its partners are taking to help more students excel in math and science, and earn degrees in these subjects.

Click to view their proposal

At the fair, the President will view exhibits of student work, ranging from breakthrough research to new inventions, followed by remarks to an audience of students, science educators and business leaders on the importance of STEM education to the country’s economic future.

The President hosted the first-ever White House Science Fair in late 2010, fulfilling a commitment he made at the launch of his Educate to Innovate campaign to inspire students to excel in math and science.  As the President noted then, “If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too.” In addition, over the past year, the President met with the three young women who won the Google Science Fair, met a student robotics team on his bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia, and made a surprise appearance at the New York City Science Fair.

Senior Administration Officials Attending
John Holdren
, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)
Subra Suresh, Director, National Science Foundation (NSF)
Lisa P. Jackson, Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Charles F. Bolden, Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Jane Lubchenco, Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Patrick Gallagher, Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Carl Wieman, Associate Director for Science, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)
Stephen Van Roekel, Federal Chief Information Officer
Harold Varmus, Director, National Cancer Institute

Additional Information on the Exhibits, Students and Competitions at the White House Science Fair
The second White House Science Fair will celebrate over 100 students from over 45 states, representing over 40 different competitions and organizations that work with students and inspire them to excel in STEM. More than 30 student teams will have the opportunity to exhibit their projects this year, almost twice as many as the first White House Science Fair.

Students from Kohala Middle School Students won the following category and will be representing Hawaii:

• Improving the Environment One Community at a Time. Isabel Steinhoff, Rico Bowman, Genevieve Boyle, and Mina Apostadiro, of Kohala Middle School in Kapaau, Hawaii, took first place in the grade 6-8 division of the Siemens “We Can Change the World” Challenge, for their household battery recycling effort to collect 6,000 batteries in 60 days.  The team, named 6000 in 60, embarked on a campaign to improve their community’s use and disposal of batteries by giving local people information on the environmental harm of batteries disposed improperly along with providing local opportunities for recycling.

UH Professor Awarded Nearly $1 Million Grant to Study Social Networks

UH Release:
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Information and Computer Sciences Associate Professor Scott Robertson has been awarded a four-year, $948,537 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the use of social networks and new media in political deliberation, voter decision-making, and civic participation.
Scott Robertson

Scott Robertson

Use of the Internet and social networking sites to get information about politics is increasing dramatically, especially among young people. It is important to understand what information people are getting from social software and how it influences their opinions and choices.

According to the project abstract on the National Science Foundation website, browsing political material is a direct way of acquiring knowledge about civic activities, the operations of government, and the issues of the day. This project examines a fast growing, but little understood new type of political participation: online information seeking, deliberation and decision making in the context of Web 2.0 technologies.

The funding will support two graduate students and a post-doctoral researcher. The team will study how people use social software to find information, measure how social information influences the understanding of traditional media, and observe how social information influences choices.

One part of the research will follow people through several election cycles and changes in technology. The team will also design better online searching, browsing and deliberation tools. Better tools in the area of digital politics, and insights into how they work, will broaden opportunities for civic participation in the 21st century, helping to bridge the digital divide.

Robertson serves as the director of the Hawaii Computer-Human Interaction Lab at UH Mānoa.  He has a PhD in Cognitive Psychology (Cognitive Science specialization) from Yale University. His research interests include digital government, e-Democracy and e-participation, social computing, and natural language processing.

Related articles:

UH Awarded $1 Million to Improve Inter-Island Connectivity Speeds

Students at UH Campuses are about to see an increase in their internet speeds:

…This RII C2 award will enable the University of Hawaii System, which comprises all public higher education institutions in Hawaii including community colleges, to provide new inter-island connections among four specific locations that are most critical to Hawaii’s research program in biodiversity, as well as to Hawaii’s overall S&T and STEM education agendas. The project will provide 10 Gbps connectivity among these key locations, and the design will be extensible to all public higher education institutions in Hawaii…

More Here: Improving Cyber Connectivity, Scientific Collaboration Among Institutions.