Robotic Telescope Labs for Survey-Level Undergraduates

Dan Reichart
Professor of Physics and Astronomy
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Over the past two decades, UNC-Chapel Hill has built one of the largest networks of fully automated, or robotic, telescopes in the world, significantly advancing this new technology. These telescopes are used both for cutting-edge research and for cutting-edge education: Funded by a series of NSF and DoD awards, (1) we have developed unique, student-level, observing and image-analysis interfaces, allowing students, of all ages, to use this globally distributed, research tool, right alongside the professionals; and (2) often in partnerships with professional educators and education researchers, we have developed a sequence of observation-based curricula and experiences that leverage these hardware and software resources, from the elementary-school level through the graduate-school level, reinforcing and strengthening the STEM pipeline.“Our Place In Space!”, or OPIS!, is a Skynet-based laboratory curriculum in which students use the same research instrumentation as professionals to collect their own data. They then use this self-collected data (astronomical images and spectra) to reproduce some of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the past 400 years, and gain technical and research skills at the same time. Although students are not carrying out cutting-edge research, they are using cutting-edge research instrumentation, and consequently there is great overlap with the Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) pathway model.