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Best Projects for Nerdy Father-Nerdy Daughter Team

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#1 Peter Glus

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Posted 20 August 2019 - 07:57 AM



My daughter has really gotten into astronomy lately, and am I wondering if there is any quasi-research stuff she could be doing?  She is a smart HS student (junior this year) and has already gone to an astrophysics camp this summer.  


I was thinking about something with variable stars or spectroscopy?  I have a 16" LX200 on a Los GM-200 in the back so I have plenty of firepower to support her interests. 


Thanks for your help!



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#2 happylimpet



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Posted 20 August 2019 - 08:02 AM

I never got massively into variable stars but always found monitoring CVs the most exciting...nothing like checking SS Cyg one night to find its gone from mag 12.2 to 8.5 in one night!!!!


If she wants to do photometry, you can even see variability on the orbital timescales of some CVs (a few hours usually i think) as the accretion disk passes into view and gets eclipsed. Depends on viewing geometry.

Edited by happylimpet, 20 August 2019 - 08:03 AM.

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#3 Augustus


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Posted 20 August 2019 - 08:05 AM

Asteroid occultation timing would be cool. There's also photometry, or I suppose you could do imaging of double stars to measure their orbits (speckle imaging for close ones would be cool if you can get the software).

Edited by Augustus, 20 August 2019 - 08:11 AM.

#4 Eric Horton

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Posted 20 August 2019 - 08:19 AM

I dont know if it is still out there but once upon a time the minor planet survey was taking volunteers to help collect data on asteroids. At the time I participated it was being conducted out of Harvard
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#5 S.Boerner



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Posted 20 August 2019 - 08:23 AM

The AAVSO has a page that lists various manuals to get you started:  https://www.aavso.or...serving-manuals  If you have access to a DSLR you can do exoplanets and various variable star types.


You can also measure separation and position angles of double stars.  A good reference for that is the Journal of Double Star Observing at http://www.jdso.org/.  If you look through a few issues you can get some ideas about how to do it.  The cool thing there is that the Journal accepts articles from amateurs so you could cooperate and try to get an article published.


The Astronomical League has recently started a Citizen Science program.  You can find a number of both active and passive programs that you might be interested in here:  https://www.astrolea...science-program

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#6 PirateMike



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Posted 20 August 2019 - 08:52 AM

Wow, so many incredible things that can be done! laugh.gif


And I was going to suggest that she view all the Messier objects! But that idea sounds kind of lame now. frown.gif




Miguel   8-)



Edited by PirateMike, 20 August 2019 - 08:52 AM.

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#7 AhBok



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Posted 20 August 2019 - 09:28 AM

Exoplanets! Read an article recently about amateurs joining the hunt.
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#8 markb


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Posted 20 August 2019 - 09:57 AM

Great suggestions above for a self-directed amateur project!


But why restrict herself to 'quasi-research' (real research for amateurs) why not professional level research? After 7 years of running a college credit granting, high school science research program associated with a university, I would suggest she do what my students had to do.


Research possible projects to find one that interests her; the traditional amateur crossover projects are a great place to start. Write a short synopsis or proposal of what she wants to research.


Find, through online searches and searches of professional and popular articles/papers, the names and email addresses of professionals working and publishing in that area.


Send an email with her proposed project and ask if the researcher can suggest a college or lab that might work with her on the project, or would be willing to accept her help with an ongoing project already in place. It is also acceptable to call the researchers, but spam calls force many folks to screen nowadays.


I would absolutely include the equipment available to her, given that it is way beyond what folks normally can access.


This takes work on her part (my students were most successful when they sent 100+ emails), but it does sound like she might well be up to the task. Now is a good time to start this, as professors return to their labs and classes start. Late March through May are 'bad' times due to the huge uptick in high school programs sending out this type of email.


I would also have her start with making contact with the AP camp folks, to see where they can refer her.


Whatever she decides to do, if she finds the research intriguing, she will enjoy whatever level at which she is able to participate.

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#9 StarmanDan



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Posted 20 August 2019 - 10:04 AM

My club is very involved in various projects: Variable star monitoring via AAVSO, exoplanet observations with data submitted to Exoplanet Transit Database and we are also getting certified to make follow up observations of TESS objects of interest, Asteroid Occultations via IOTA (where two club members have discovered an unknown moon around 113 Amalthea).  

#10 descott12


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Posted 20 August 2019 - 10:05 AM

You should check out doing stellar spectroscopy using the RSpec software and a Star Analyzer grating. Amazingly simple to do some very interesting work.




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#11 John Rogers

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Posted 20 August 2019 - 10:42 AM

You might consider checking out the Society for Astronomical Sciences:  http://www.socastrosci.org/

#12 TelescopeGreg



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Posted 20 August 2019 - 01:08 PM

For spectroscopy, perhaps build one of these, and aim it at the sky?  I've been thinking of building one using an astro OSC camera (one of the lower-end planetary ones) instead of a webcam, so it would have greater sensitivity.




If nothing else, it would teach a lot about the visible spectrum, emissions, and such, even if never used with a telescope.

#13 jsrj98



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Posted 21 August 2019 - 03:06 PM



All of these are great suggestions, and I think you should 'feed the beast', as it were, as much as you can. I was in the same situation with my daughter 10 yrs ago. She had always been interested in astronomy-- I bought her a small telescope when she was in the 3rd grade-- but she wanted to do more when she was a junior in HS. I started buying time on some of those remote imaging systems-- and we learned together the process of CCD imaging, both the technical aspect of the systems, but also processing data-- lights, darks, flats, calibration, etc. Eventually, my wife said 'enough' to the expense, and so in response, I sold all my visual gear and we bought a rig to do it ourselves. We learned together.


Doing this work, plus taking astronomy classes at the local college, helped my daughter make the decision to pursue astronomy in college. She attended UCLA and majored in Astrophysics. Once she was there I kept pushing her to get some research experience (and Mark above is spot on about getting research experience). Eventually she approached a number of professors about working on some projects-- and one took her on as an assistant (for no pay) primarily because she knew the process to calibrate data from imaging-- stuff she and I had learned together. She loved it, and the professor mentored her and she contributed to his work and that of his graduate students. By the time she graduated she had been published as the lead author in a scientific paper.


This experience helped her to get accepted into the PhD program at Caltech, and now she is now less than a year away from graduating. She studies galaxy formation using the Keck telescopes in Hawaii. She invited me to Hawaii last year and I got a personal tour of the Keck telescopes by the Operations Manager-- it was incredible, and very surprising how many technicians it takes to run an operation like that. Earlier this year she invited me to the Keck control room at Caltech and I got to watch how they calibrate the scope, take calibration frames, etc. It's amazingly similar to what we amateurs do, just on a bigger scale.


I'm telling you this not to tout my daughter, or say your own daughter should pursue the same path, but that you never know. 10 yrs ago I had the same instinct you do now, and I'm so glad I did something about it.



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#14 markb


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Posted 21 August 2019 - 08:31 PM

John is absolutely on point.

In leading the students through the 'locating a mentor' experience it became obvious that more professional researchers than you might expect are more than happy to bring a high school student into an ongoing research project. They view it as paying it forward, or as simply encouraging the next generation of scientists to take the leap onto the pool.

I have also noticed a trend for researchers to make a extra effort to bring young women into the 'fold'. They often want to extend a helping hand to ofset the barriers that still exist for female professional scientists in many fields.

My mentored students grew in confidence and maturity. The last worked 2 summers with a professor at Barnard, and the maturity difference between her and her classmates was astonishing.

They do prefer that the student has started to read (struggle, looking up every term at first) papers in an area of interest to the student. Some papers are available free as full text, and researchers will usually send a full text version of an abstract-only teaser. And then there is sci-hub... no further comment thereon.

My daughter had a more circuitous route to her PhD, but her last undergrad college had very strong support for professional-level student research, and that is what gave her the direction she needed to go into cognitive science.

Again, it is worth the effort to 'go big'.
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#15 Peter Glus

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Posted 21 August 2019 - 08:49 PM

All, this is HUGELY helpful...HUGELY.  Very inspiring.  Maria and I will take it to heart and put it into action!

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