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iSGTW Feature - GEMS Stargazing in bright daylight

Feature - Stargazing in broad daylight

Dr. Connie Rockosi, Assistant Professor of Astronomy 
and Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and an Assistant
Astronomer at UCO/Lick Observatory, engages the
audience via video-conference.
Image courtesy of NCSA. 

Girls are getting ready for careers in science and mathematics at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) in Urbana, Illinois.

The Girls Engaged in Math and Science (GEMS) program at NCSA has partnered for a second year with the Department of Astronomy at the University of Illinois to bring grid-based digital astronomy to about 40 local middle-school girls. 

The GEMS program was created in 1994 through a partnership of the Champaign Community Unit School District and NCSA to encourage local girls to consider a wide range of mathematics and science-oriented careers.  Recently, GEMS has turned its focus to astronomy, making use of the largest-ever digital astronomy database, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).

The SDSS hosts a public data interface, known as the SkyServer, and a wide range of research projects appropriate for students in grades 5-12.  Over the course of the GEMS after-school program and summer camp, the girls investigate the universe.  They make multi-wavelength images of galaxies, measure the colors of stars and quasars, detect asteroids and black holes, and even measure the expansion of the universe—using the same data professional astronomers use.

“It’s really great to see girls emulating real astronomy research and enjoying it so much,” notes the GEMS program director, Edee Wiziecki.

Future scientists at work.

Image courtesy of NCSA.

GEMS also introduces the girls to successful women scientists, giving them role models in the field. GEMS has hosted local scientists and video-conferenced with others from as far away as England and Australia. 

The GEMS program is growing to include the use of emerging technologies and communication tools.  The Girls on the Grid component of GEMS uses Access Grid technology to link girls in grades 6-12 to peers and leading women in science and mathematics world-wide.

-Britt Lundgren, UIUC

GEMS is directed by Edee Wiziecki of NCSA, and funding is provided by NASA through a grant to Professor Robert Brunner of the UIUC Department of Astronomy.  The GEMS digital astronomy program is designed and led by UIUC PhD student Britt Lundgren and postdoctoral researcher Dr. Brian Wilhite.

Click here for more information on the GEMS digital astronomy program, please visit:

Please visit the SDSS SkyServer educational materials designed by Jordan Raddick and Robert Sparks for more.

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