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Guest Speakers at UNL

YouTube videos (and some other formats) are provided below of presentations by guests of the UNL Astronomy Education Group over the past several years. Some presentations have .ppt or .pdf versions available as well and we contend that running the YouTube version in one window and the slideshow in another is very advantageous.

The presentations are crudely classified as Astronomy (A), Physics (P), Education (E), and (instructional) Technology (T).

"The Stonehenge Observatory" – A  E
Daniel Reichart
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Ruckman Public Presentation on October 6, 2023

Abstract: Using a three-dimensional computer recreation of Stonehenge, we will explore the site's astronomical properties, primarily by inserting ourselves into the simulation and watching solar and lunar alignments in real time, as they occurred thousands of years ago. The program recreates all three major phases of Stonehenge's construction based on archaeological records, and the sun and moon simulations take into account atmospheric refraction, the gradually changing tilt of Earth's axis, and the sun's gravitational tug on the moon to ensure the utmost in accuracy.

“Repurposing Nebraska’s Cold War Infrastructure for Warm War Climate Science” – P  E
David Harwood
University of Nebraska
Plenary for the 2023 Nebraska Physics & Astronomy Fall Summit on October 7, 2023

Abstract: Obtaining past records of Earth’s climate history of temperature and ice sheet changes is vital to our ability to improve numerical models to predict the rate and scale of future changes as our world warms. Polar Regions preserve archives of past climate history within and beneath ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica that have been accessed by UNL drillers, engineers, and scientists since the 1970s via ice coring, hot water drilling, and sediment drilling. An ambitious project is developing as part of UNL’s Grand Challenges - the Ice Coring &Amp; Education (ICE) Silo – to repurpose an abandoned Atlas-F missile silo in the Lincoln area into an ice drill testing and design center where new tools and instruments can be tested before deployment to remote field sites. Science and Technology Literacy and Climate Resilience will be a parallel focus of the ICE Silo through innovative public education and outreach. This project’s broad scope will enhance education in Nebraska and provide a one-of-a-kind research and testing facility for US and international polar scientists and engineers.

Link to Michael's Presentation Slides (in .pdf format)

"Celestial Clocks and Ripples in Spacetime" – A
Michael Lam
Rochester Institute of Technology
Ruckman Public Presentation on October 21, 2022

Abstract: We are living in a sea of gravitational waves - ripples in spacetime predicted by Einstein’s General Relativity and observed directly by ground-based detectors over the last few years. Another method on the cusp of making its first observations uses objects known as pulsars, precision celestial clocks in space. I will discuss how we build our galaxy-wide observatory with pulsars and the largest radio telescopes on Earth, the current challenges and advances in our scientific understanding of pulsar timing, and the science we hope to learn about in detecting gravitational waves as we reach this new frontier of astronomy.

“Climate Change Resilience in Nebraska ” – P  E
Clint Rowe
University of Nebraska
Plenary for the 2022 Nebraska Physics & Astronomy Fall Summit on October 22, 2022

Abstract: Human-caused climate change is threatening the lives and well-being of billions of people and the vast majority of ecosystems via more frequent and severe weather, ocean warming and acidification, extended periods of drought and extreme temperatures, and other deleterious impacts. Many climate-induced hazards will be unavoidable regardless of the mitigation pathway humanity pursues. To prepare for, adapt to, and recover from these climate impacts while pursuing economic growth and development, society will have to engage in climate resilient development. Fewer than half of US states have, or are currently developing, a climate adaptation plan. These adaptation plans are notably absent in the Great Plains states.

Link to Yoni's presentation (in .pptx format)

Yoni is visiting UNL as a subject matter expert of NASA's Webb Community Events program.

"The Invisible Sky with JWST" A
Yoni Brande
University of Kansas
Ruckman Public Lecture on October 15, 2021

Abstract: The James Webb Space Telescope, launching Fall 2021, will revolutionize astrophysics as we know it. 100 times more powerful than Hubble, JWST will allow us to investigate the birth of the universe and search for the building blocks of life on alien planets, all in the infrared, a band of light totally invisible to the human eye. Much of the infrared isn’t visible from Earth-based observatories or space with Hubble, giving JWST unique abilities to do this groundbreaking science. For the last 30 years, Hubble has inspired a generation of Americans and others around the world with stunning images of the cosmos. JWST will continue this legacy for the next generation.

“Exoplanet Science with the James Webb Space Telescope” A
Yoni Brande
University of Kansas
Plenary for the 2021 Nebraska Physics & Astronomy Fall Summit on October 16, 2021

Abstract: Exoplanet science is one of the most exciting applications of the James Webb Space Telescope’s unique abilities. Nearly a quarter of all the time spent in JWST’s first year of operation will be used to study planets around other stars, discovering new exoplanets, searching for their atmospheres, mapping their surfaces, and imaging them directly. Many of these programs will be conducting observations never made before, and these will form the basis for future work with the observatory as well. JWST will give us our best chance yet at finding traces of life on planets around other stars, and the basic science needed to do these investigations is accessible to everyone. I will give a quick overview of JWST, exoplanets, the techniques we use to study them, and what we hope to learn in the first year of JWST operations.

Link to Yoni's presentation (in .pptx format)

Yoni is visiting UNL as a subject matter expert of NASA's Webb Community Events program.

Matt is also the co-founder and chief science officer of Pivot Interactives.

“Harnessing the Power of the Cloud to make Teaching Better and More Efficient” P E
Matthew Vonk
University of Wisconsin–River Falls
Plenary for the 2021 Nebraska Physics & Astronomy Fall Summit on October 16, 2021

Abstract:The power and ease of cloud computing is changing how scientists do science. It should also be changing the way students learn science. Whether it’s the logistics of assigning tasks for students and providing feedback, the way that students collaborate synchronously and asynchronously, the location where data from experiments is stored, how students access simulations, or how work can be individualized for different students, nearly every step in the learning process can benefit from the affordances of the cloud. This talk will highlight how the confluence of new technologies, including Bluetooth sensors, customizable simulations from PhET, and the Pivot Interactives science platform integrate with the cloud to produce something new and special.

“Incorporating SDSS data into Astronomy Education”A E T
Britt Lundgren, University of North Carolina at Asheville
Workshop plenary given on October 24, 2020

Abstract: For nearly two decades the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) has made its professional astronomical data freely available to the world. The immense archival imaging and spectroscopic datasets of the SDSS, coupled with its multiple access points and interfaces suitable for users of all levels of experience, provide a novel sandbox for audiences from a wide range of backgrounds to explore and engage with the data while cultivating interests and proficiency in astronomy. These resources have facilitated inquiry-based activities for thousands of students learning science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, from elementary through graduate school, and through after-school and informal education programs. This talk will present the latest freely accessible educational activities from the SDSS, appropriate for high school and college level explorations.

Questions begin at time index 55:15 and go on for about 5 minutes.

Questions begin at time index 58:30 and go on for about 10 minutes.

“Sloppy Physics”P E
Gay Stewart, West Virginia University
Workshop plenary given on October 24, 2020

Abstract: Energy and systems are crosscutting concepts, and physics is the place to help students develop deep conceptual understanding. However, students hear what we say, not what we mean! Simplifying our discussions can generate increased confusion. What could be a single approach to solving a wide variety of problems becomes compartmentalized into many special cases to be memorized. Such descriptions were avoided in the AP Physics 1 and 2 framework, but are still commonly used. What we mean is so clear to those of us “in the club” that assessments are not always designed to elicit incorrect models many students hold. In Learning and Understanding (2002), the National Research Council presented design principles vital to improving the effectiveness of AP/introductory college physics. Focusing on key ideas and providing ample opportunities to explore them in depth is one recommendation perfectly served by a more careful (less sloppy) approach to defining the models we use. For four examples of common wording that can generate incorrect models, we share how small changes can help students develop a coherent conceptual model that significantly impacts their ability to use more robust problem-solving approaches and to describe and model physical situations.

“HTML5 Simulations in Physics and Astronomy”P E T
Andrew Duffy, Boston University
Interactive Workshop Session on October 24, 2024

Abstract: The workshop will begin with some show-and-tell, looking at various ways this collection of 200+ introductory physics simulations can be used. Examples include lab applications, online homework, and simulations embedded in an interactive e-book. They can also be used in class by you or your students to explore concepts (including gravitation, which is where these overlap with astronomy). We’ll then move on to talk about ways you can add value to them, either by modifying these or writing your own simulations, or by writing curricular materials, such as worksheets, to go with them. The main goal is to have everyone come away with something they can use in their own classrooms.

“Educational Activities using SDSS Plates”A E
Britt Lundgren. University of North Carolina at Asheville
Gail Zasowski, University of Utah
Interactive Workshop Session on October 24, 2020

Abstract: Thousands of iconic aluminum spectroscopic plug plates, used by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to make the largest-ever 3D map of the night sky, are finding new life in astronomy classrooms and outreach centers. This interactive workshop will demonstrate the latest hands-on activities (available in both English and Spanish), which use these physical pieces of the survey as a starting point for introducing students to fundamental concepts in astronomy. Attendees will be able to order a plate for their own classrooms after the workshop at no charge.

“Stars, Galaxies, and the History of the Universe: Two Decades (and Counting!) of Exploration with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
Gail Zasowski”
Gail Zasowski, University of Utah
Ruckman Public Lecture on October 23, 2020

Abstract: The stars in the night sky have inspired questions about our place in the Universe throughout recorded history. The invention of the telescope showed us that the stars visible to the naked eye merely hint at the vast tapestry of stars within our own Galaxy. As telescope design has advanced, energy signatures invisible to the human senses have been revealed. We now know that there are billions of stars in our galaxy, billions of galaxies in our Universe, and nearly 14 billion years of cosmic evolution that have led to where and what we are today. Over the last 20 years, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) has had an unprecedented impact in its efforts to systematically study the stars, galaxies, and history of the Universe, and to make its data available for the world to use. I will describe some of the key insights that the SDSS has provided into the nature of our Universe, along with the big questions that we are excited to tackle next.

“Teaching: The Best Kept Secret”P E
Gay Stewart, West Virginia University
Physics/Teacher's College Colloquium on October 22, 2020

Abstract: Did you know that teachers in the United States rate their lives better than all occupation groups, trailing only physicians?

In this presentation, we will dig into some data many students and faculty find surprising about the teaching profession. We will also share strategies and resources for sharing the facts about the profession so that students will have accurate information about their career prospects. Get the Facts Out is excited to work with faculty on their teacher recruitment efforts and provides customizable resources including student presentations, posters, brochures, program flyer templates, and presentations for faculty and staff who advise students. In addition, resources include how to talk to students about the profession, a listing of venues for reaching students, and recommendations for sharing the facts at your institution. All materials are professional quality, research-based, and have been extensively user-tested.

“Bringing Physics Back to Life”P E T
Robert Hilborn, Associate Executive Officer, American Association of Physics Teachers
October 10, 2019

Abstract: In many colleges and universities, the introductory physics course for students majoring in the life sciences (including the health sciences) constitutes the largest (or one of the largest) service courses that physics departments offer. Developing a physics course that explicitly serves the needs of those students is challenging because of the wide variety of professional interests of life science and health science students and because most physics faculty have little background in applying physics to those areas. The Living Physics Portal project was started in 2017 to establish a vetted and curated online set of resources for faculty teaching such courses. In this talk I will provide several examples from the Portal of “authentic” applications of physics to problems in the life and health sciences. Here, authentic means that the physics leads to a deeper understanding of the processes and properties of living systems. I will also provide a brief survey of the Living Physics Portal (www.livingphysicsportal.org) resources and how faculty can contribute to the collection of resources.

Questions begin at time index 58:30 and go on for about 10 minutes.

Link to Dr. Hilborn's PowerPoint presentation (in pptx form)

This work is supported by NSF grants 1624185, 1624478, 1624017, 1624374, 1624158, 1624007, 1624006, 1624549, and 1624192.

Link to Dr. Hilborn's PowerPoint presentation (in pptx form)

“Gravitational Wave Polarization: Did Einstein Get it Right and Why Should We Care?” A P
Robert Hilborn, Associate Executive Officer, American Association of Physics Teachers
October 12, 2019

Abstract: Until recently, there has been no direct evidence for the character of GW polarization. Einstein’s theory of gravity (general relativity) predicts that the polarization will have a “tensor” character. Other theories predict “vector” and “scalar” forms of polarization. To-date, the most compelling data to sort out these possibilities come from the binary neutron star merger event GW170817 seen by the three LIGO-Virgo observatories. Surprisingly, the data seem to support “vector” polarization over Einstein’s “tensor” polarization. In this talk, I will explain how the GW data can be used to determine the GW polarization and why we conclude that the GW170817 data strongly favor “vector” polarization. Why should we care? In the words of noted astrophysicist Clifford Will, such a conclusion “would be disastrous for general relativity.” This work has been carried out in collaboration with A. A Svidzinsky, Texas A&M University.

“You Can Map the Milky Way”A E T
Dr. Kathryn Williamson, Teaching Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, West Virginia University
October 11, 2019

Abstract: How do we figure out the shape of our galaxy if we’re stuck inside of it? The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, right? How do you know? Most light from the far reaches of the galaxy is blocked from ever reaching us by interstellar dust clouds. But using radio telescopes, we can tune in to hydrogen signals from beyond the clouds. With some basic tools in your tool belt, you can map the Milky Way for yourself.

Questions begin at time index 33:40 and go on for about 7 minutes.

Link to Dr. Williamson's PowerPoint presentation (in pptx form)

Questions begin at time index 27:50 and go on for about 5 minutes.

Link to Dr. Williamson's PowerPoint presentation (in pptx form)

“Innovating Astronomy Education with Robotic Telescopes”A E T
Dr. Kathryn Williamson, Teaching Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, West Virginia University
October 12, 2019

Abstract: We are on the cusp on an astronomy education revolution. Robotic telescopes are now bringing the excitement of authentic astronomy practices and concepts to large numbers of students and educators far and wide. With internet access to a worldwide network of remotely controlled, research-quality telescopes, even the most novice student can obtain accurate position measurements of asteroids, collect and analyze images of planetary systems to test Kepler’s Laws, and map the invisible universe through radio astronomy. In this talk, I will provide an overview of the Skynet Robotic Telescope Network, a collection of dozens of telescopes positioned around the world and operated out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I will discuss how the Skynet Juniors Scholars project engages young students, including those with visual or hearing impairments, in astronomical discoveries. I also will discuss how I have used Skynet in my introductory college astronomy course, Astro 101, in both lecture and lab settings at West Virginia University. Student comments and independent project examples will show the amazing possibilities and profound impact of access to robotic telescopes and one’s very own astronomical data.

“Bringing Citizen Science Zooniverse-based Research Experiences into Introductory Science Courses”A E T
Laura Trouille, VP of Citizen Science, Adler Planetarium & Research Associate, Northwestern University CIERA Center for Astrophysics
October 6, 2018

Abstract: Working with a national collaboration of astronomy educators and researchers at a range of institution types (R1, SLAC, Community College), we have developed a suite of active learning materials incorporating a citizen science based research experience into introductory astronomy courses for non-STEM majors. The in-class activities and group research experience engage the students in citizen science through Zooniverse and employ custom extensions to Google sheets to provide a student-friendly interface for data analysis and interpretation, all while addressing core Astro 101 topics. In this talk, I will provide an overview of the curricular materials and approach as well as highlight key results to-date in terms of usability and impact on students’ attitudes and learning. I will also discuss our upcoming effort to adapt the framework, infrastructure, and tools for other disciplines and for K-2. This work is supported by the NSF-IUSE award #1524189.

There are several introductions given in the video. Laura's presentation begins at time index 4:50 and the Q&A section begins at 52:55.

Link to Dr. Trouille's PowerPoint presentation (in pptx form)

The Q & A portion of the presentation begins at time index 43:30.

Link to Dr. Trouille's PowerPoint presentation (in pptx form)

“Unlocking Data through Zooniverse:Science with 1.7 Million Volunteers”E T
Laura Trouille, VP of Citizen Science, Adler Planetarium & Research Associate, Northwestern University CIERA Center for Astrophysics
October 5, 2018

Abstract: Processing our increasingly large datasets poses a bottleneck for producing real scientific outcomes and citizen science - engaging the public in research - provides a solution, particularly when coupled with automated machine learning efforts. Zooniverse.org is the world’s largest platform for online citizen science, engaging more than 1.7 million people around the world in over 80 active projects; tagging animals in wildlife images, identifying new exoplanets, transcribing artist’s notebooks, detecting gamma rays, tracking resistance to antibiotics, and much more. In this talk I will share a few of the exciting discoveries and highlights from how Zooniverse has helped transform the way we do research and engage the public in science, including through classroom experiences. The talk will close with the open questions and new opportunities that citizen science faces and the unique solutions Zooniverse is exploring.

“The Hidden Ocean of Europa: Exploring a Potentially Habitable World” A
Robert T. Pappalardo, Senior Research Scientist and Europa Study Scientist Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
April 15, 2014 (Multi-Departmental Colloquium)

Abstract:: Galileo spacecraft data suggest that a global ocean exists beneath the frozen ice surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Magnetometry data indicates an induced magnetic field at Europa, implying that a salt-water ocean exists today. A paucity of large craters argues for a surface on average only ~40–90 Myr, and two multi-ring structures suggest impacts punched through an ice shell ~20 km thick. Europa’s ocean and surface are inherently linked through tidal deformation of the floating ice shell, and tidal flexing and nonsynchronous rotation may generate stresses that fracture and deform the surface to create ridges and bands. Dark spots, domes, and chaos terrain are probably related to tidally driven ice convection, along with partial melting within the ice shell. Europa’s geological activity and probable direct contact between its ocean and rocky mantle may permit the chemical ingredients for life to be present within the ocean. Fascinating geology and geophysics, combined with high astrobiological potential, make Europa a top priority for future spacecraft exploration. The Europa Clipper is a mission concept currently being studied by NASA, which would make multiple flybys of Europa from Jupiter orbit, to investigate its potential habitability.



Link to Dr. Pappalardo's presentation (in pptx form)

Dr. Pappalardo's visit to UNL was made possible through the Harlow Shapley Visiting Lectureship Program of the American Astronomical Society


Link to Dr. Pappalardo's presentation (in ppt form).

Dr. Pappalardo's visit to UNL was made possible through the Harlow Shapley Visiting Lectureship Program of the American Astronomical Society

"Ices and Oceans in the Outer Solar System" A
Robert T. Pappalardo, Senior Research Scientist and Europa Study Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
April 14, 2014 (Student Union Public Talk)

Abstract: On Earth, essentially everywhere there is liquid water, there is life, so it is reasonable that the search for extraterrestrial microbial life in our solar system focuses on the search for water. The solar system’s most promising candidate for a potentially habitable ocean beyond Earth lies beneath the surface of Jupiter’s ice-covered moon Europa, which is one of the most geophysically and astrobiologically fascinating and complex bodies in our solar system. Its exploration is key in advancing our understanding of habitable zones, in our solar system and beyond. Water oceans may also exist within other icy moons, including within Ganymede and Callisto at Jupiter, Enceladus and Titan at Saturn, and Triton at Neptune. We will take a tour of the solar system’s icy worlds that might contain watery oceans within. The interior oceans of icy worlds may be the most common habitats for life in the universe.

“The Smallest Free Particles in Saturn’s Rings” A
Dr. Rebecca Harbison, recent grad of Cornell University
February 31, 2014 (Jorgensen Hall Public Talk)

Abstract: The Cassini spacecraft, which entered orbit around Saturn in 2004, has provided a wealth of observations at resolutions and geometries unavailable from Earth, thereby expanding our knowledge of the Saturnian system. In particular, observations of Saturn’s rings not only give us an understanding both of this remarkable system, but a close look at the nearest debris disk to the Earth, offering insight into the behavior of these disks in an astrophysical context.

Cassini’s orbit about Saturn allows for solar occultations of the rings, a geometry impossible to achieve from Earth. During these occultations, the icy particles making up the rings diffract infrared light at angles detectable by the Visible‐Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument onboard, thus giving information about the size distribution of ring particles. Using VIMS, I have measured the minimum free ring particle size of the A and C Ring. While the C Ring result agrees with other studies, my observations of the A Ring show particles smaller than one millimeter, conflicting with previous results. However, I also discovered that including the A Ring’s self gravity wakes – temporary 50‐100 meter‐sized aggregates of ring particles – makes a noticeable difference in any attempt to model the ring’s particle‐size distribution,and previous studies did not account for this non‐homogenous ring structure.



Link to Dr. Harbison's presentation (in pdf form)


"What do Successful Problem Solvers do when Solving Complex Problems?" E
Dr. Wendy Adams, University of Northern Colorado
October 26, 2013 (Astronomy Education Workshop Plenary)

Abstract: As part of our work to create a physics problem solving evaluation tool, we have undergone extensive studies to determine the scope and detail of what it is that experts do when solving problems. We have identified 44 separate skills within three major divisions - 1. knowledge, 2. beliefs, expectations and motivation and 3. processes - that are used when solving complex problems. We have also shown that a person's strengths' and weaknesses' when solving problems in everyday life are the same as in the physics classroom. Here we will describe the process of identifying these skills, categorization of these skills, studies validating their use in physics, and discuss implications for teaching.

Link to Dr. Adams' presentation (in pptx, in pdf).

"Invisible Galaxies" A
Dr. Beth Willman, Haverford College
October 26, 2013 (Astronomy Education Workshop Plenary)

Abstract: In the past five years, more than a dozen dwarf galaxies have been discovered around the Milky Way that are 100 times less luminous than any galaxy previously known, and a million times less luminous than the Milky Way itself. These objects are effectively invisible in images of the sky. Such ultra-faint galaxies provide a unique tracer of dark matter, and might also be the most numerous type of galaxy in the universe. This talk will focus on i. how astronomers can see invisible galaxies, ii. what invisible galaxies may teach us about dark matter, and iii. the roles that current and future sky surveys will play in the accessibility of this research to scientists and students at any type of institution. I will also highlight the contributions of undergraduates to invisible galaxy research at Haverford College.

Link to Dr. Willman's presentation (in pdf form)


"What is a Galaxy?" A E
Dr. Beth Willman, Haverford College
October 25, 2013 (Ruckman Dinner Presentation)

Abstract: The stars in our night sky belong to the Milky Way galaxy. When we see a picture of a galaxy on TV or in a magazine, it is often a galaxy similar to how the Milky Way might instead appear from the outside: possessing beautiful spiral structure, with an easily visible conglomeration of stars, gas, and dust. Despite the impressions given by these typical depictions, the vast majority of the galaxies in the universe are puny dwarf galaxies much smaller and dimmer than the Milky Way. In fact, ~20 dwarf galaxies possessing only one millionth the number of stars in the Milky Way have recently been discovered. These discoveries have made astronomers question the very meaning of the word “galaxy”. This talk will highlight some basic history of astronomers’ understanding of galaxies, how computer simulations can help us understand galaxies, and how invisible galaxies are now guiding our understanding of what makes a galaxy, a galaxy.

Link to Dr. Willman's presentation (in pdf form)

Abstract: Since the discovery of the first Kuiper Belt object (KBO) in 1992 these objects have become key components to understanding the outer regions of our Solar System. Observations of both the dynamical and surface properties of these objects provide insight to the migration history of the giant planets. I will discuss various observational strategies for discovering and dynamically classifying KBOs and summarize our current understanding of the overall structure of the belt. Additionally, I will present the results from a compilation of studies on the colors (photometric properties), lightcurves and binary properties of sizable samples of KBOs in a variety of locations within the belt. Links between the dynamical and photometric properties of these objects may help to distinguish between various source populations and the range of conditions present in the protoplanetary disk.

Dr. Benecchi's visit was funded by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Outer Planets Colloquium Series.

Link to Dr. Benecchi's presentation slides (in pdf form).

"Solar System Archaeology: What we Learn from Small Bodies in our Solar System A
Dr. Susan Benecchi, Carnegie Instition of Washington and Planetary Science Institute
April 19, 2013 (Dept. of Physics & Astronomy Colloquium)

"The New Horizons Mission: Pluto and Beyond" A
Dr. Susan Benecchi, Carnegie Instition of Washington and Planetary Science Institute
April 19, 2013 (Student Union Public Talk)

Dr. Benecchi's visit was funded by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Outer Planets Colloquium Series.

Link to Dr. Benecchi's presentation slides in .pdf form.

Abstract:"The outermost region of the Solar System has yet to be explored by spacecraft. Pluto sits inside of the Kuiper Belt, a region of icy objects in the outer solar system that we believe is a relic of the Solar System's formation and evolution. The New Horizons (NH) spacecraft launched in January 2006, and will fly through the Pluto system in July 2015. We hope to visit a Kuiper Belt Object (yet to be identified) afterward, in the 2018-2020 timeframe. Since launch an additional four moons have been discovered orbiting Pluto. Instruments on the spacecraft will study the surfaces of Pluto and Charon with optical broadband and multicolor images to resolutions of a few hundred meters, as well as near-infrared spectral maps with a few kilometer resolution sensitive to volatiles such as water ice, methane ice and ammonia. We will also collect UV spectra and particle data sensitive to active volatile loss. I will present an overview of what we know about the Pluto system currently, the goals of the NH mission and our efforts to find a Kuiper Belt Object to visit after the Pluto system encounter.”

Abstract: Since 2003 we have been using the astronomical observing facilities at Luther College to observe the half-degree square field containing open star cluster M23 each clear night from February to October.  The work has resulted in approximately half a million images that have passed photometric quality tests from about 350 different nights.  The unprecedented temporal coverage of this data set allows us to search for apparent stellar variability on timescales from ranging from tenths of seconds to nearly a decade, including subtle or rare phenomena that might be missed otherwise.  We have confirmed variability in 58 of the approximately 1600 stars visible in the field.  The work has been the basis of more than 20 student/faculty collaborative projects.  In addition to our science goals we have goals for student learning ranging from the acquisition of specific techniques (e.g., statistical analysis tools) to a better appreciation of the way we achieve incremental growth in understanding the universe.  I will discuss our technique and results with a particular emphasis on the rewards and challenges of building an ongoing research project around individual student projects.

"Ten Years of Watching the Sky with Students" A E
Dr. Jeff Wilkerson, Luther College
October 6, 2012 (Astronomy Education Workshop Keynote)

Unfortunately, the first few minutes of Jeff's presentation were lost due to technical difficulty.

"Our Dangerous Universe" A
Dr. Brian C. Thomas, Washburn University
October 5, 2012 (Ruckman Presentation)

Abstract: We live in a big, old, dangerous universe, on a planet that has seen many extinctions, several of them major. From asteroids to gamma-ray bursts, there are a variety of extra-terrestrial events that may have serious implications for life on Earth. I will start with a short introduction to our place in the universe and then discuss several potentially devastating events, how they would affect the Earth and how frequently they might occur.”

Abstract: The value of in-class Internet technologies to student attentiveness, engagement, and learning remains both controversial and filled with promising potential. In this study, students were given the option to use LectureTools, an interactive suite of tools designed specifically for larger classes. The availability of these tools dramatically changed the mechanics of the course as more than 90 percent of students attending lecture voluntarily brought their laptops to class. On one hand, surveys over multiple semesters show that students believe the availability of a laptop is more likely to increase their time on tasks unrelated to the conduct of the course. On the other hand, the surveys also ascertained that students felt more attentive with the technology, significantly more engaged, and able to learn more with the technology than in similar classes without it. LectureTools also led to a dramatic increase in the number of students posing questions during class time, with more than half posing at least one question during class over the course of a semester, a percentage far higher than achieved in semesters prior to the use of this technology. These results suggest that while having laptops in the classroom can be a distraction to students, students of today show confidence that they are capable of productive multitasking, showing that they not only can handle this technology when applied through “deliberate engagement” using tools like LectureTools, but thrive with it, as seen through improved attentiveness, learning, and overall engagement even in larger classes.

"Making Big Classes Seem Small" E T
Dr. Perry Samson, University of Michigan
November 9, 2011 (Student Union Public Presentation)

"The Science of Exoplanets" A
Dr. Jason Wright, Penn State University
October 22, 2011 (Astronomy Education Workshop Keynote)

Abstract: I will discuss the methods we use to detect exoplanets, and the sorts of planets we have detected so far, including planets in the so-called "Habitable Zone".  I will also discuss how recent discoveries have informed our theories of how planets like the Earth formed, and how abundant they are in the Universe.

"Finding Supernovae" A
Dr.Travis Rector, University of Alaska
October 9, 2010 (Astronomy Education Workshop)

Abstract: A short presentation providing an overview of observing at Kitt Peak and making observations to detect novae in the Andromeda Galaxy.

"The Aesthetics of Astronomy" A T
Dr.Travis Rector, University of Alaska
October 8, 2010 (Ruckman Presentation)

Abstract: Modern telescopes, like the Hubble, generate stunning pictures of the Universe. How are these pictures generated? Why are they so beautiful? And are they real? As part of my talk I will describe how these telescopes work and how astronomers use the data from them for their research. I will also describe how the data are transformed into the beautiful color images we see. I will also discuss the authenticity of these images and why the images are so meaningful to us.

"Research-Based Science Education" A E
Dr.Travis Rector, University of Alaska
October 7, 2010 (UNL P&A Colloquium)

Most science classes are focused on teaching science content (e.g., Newton's Laws, phases of the moon) with the assessment primarily focused on how well they understand this content. As a result students don't understand the origins of this scientific knowledge. And it can lead to misconceptions about what scientists actually do. For example, students often think scientists are people who have simply memorized existing knowledge rather than being the ones who create new knowledge. To address this problem, we have developed a curriculum for "Astro 101" courses, where non-science, introductory level students learn science by doing authentic astronomical research projects. They analyze real data using authentic analysis tools to answer outstanding questions in modern astrophysical research. As part of my talk I will describe the curriculum, how it is implemented, and student gains as a result of participating.

"Astronomy Demonstrations" A E
Dr. Dale Stille, University of Iowa, and Dr. Cliff Bettis, UNL
October 3, 2009 (Astronomy Education Workshop)

Abstract: Drs. Stille and Bettis present a wide variety of classroom demonstrations that illustrate astronomy related physics principles.

"Archeoastronomy for the Classroom" A E
Dr. Tyler Nordgren, University of Redlands
October 3, 2009 (Astronomy Education Workshop Keynote)

Abstract: In this presentation, Dr. Tyler Nordgren shows how archeoastronomy can be used to lead students into making their own observations of the sky, thereby reinforcing what they've learned in the classroom.

"Sky Above, Earth Below: Astronomy and the National Parks" A
Dr. Tyler Nordgren, University of Redlands
October 2, 2009 (Ruckman Presentation)

Abstract: The dark night skies over our nation’s national parks are fertile grounds for learning about the world of astronomy. The same environmental protections that maintain our wilderness on the ground also preserve the “wilderness” of a dark starry sky where the Milky Way can still be seen. Through direct “eyes-on” viewing opportunities in the park the public can learn about and appreciate current astronomical research. In addition, many of the geological formations our parks were built to protect are excellent examples of features and processes on other planets.

Abstract: This professional development seminar provides results from research into how the successful implementation of active engagement instructional strategies can improve students’ understanding beyond what is achieved by traditional instructional methods, even when used in the lecture portion of the science classroom.

From questioning in the classroom to small group collaborative activities, many forms of interactive teaching are modeled and discussed. Members of the Center for Astronomy Education (CAE) at the University of Arizona have been developing and conducting research on the effectiveness of learner-centered instructional strategies and materials that put students in an active role in the traditional lecture classroom. The results of this work have been incorporated into a series of “Teaching Excellence Workshops” that members of CAE have been conducting around the nation as part of the NASA Spitzer Education and Public Outreach Program, JPL Navigator/Exoplanet-Exploration Public Engagement Program and the NSF CCLI Phase III Collaboration of Astronomy Teaching Scholars (CATS) Program. The goal of these workshops is to improve participant’s implementation and pedagogical content knowledge of research-validated interactive learning strategies.

"Are You Really Teaching if No One is Learning?" E
Dr. Edward Prather, University of Arizona
September 25, 2009 (Student Union Public Presentation)

"Chicken Little Was Right, the Sky IS Falling!" A
Dr. Terry Oswalt, Florida Institute of Technology
February 5, 2009 (Student Union Public Presentation)

Abstract: Asteroids and comets may preserve the only records of the physical and chemical processes which marked the beginning of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago. Most asteroids revolve about the sun between the planets Mars and Jupiter and are believed to be the rocky remnants of the minor bodies from which all planets accrete. Comets are bodies that come from far outside the orbit of Pluto, in a dark realm called the Oort Cloud, a large icy debris zone which surrounds the Sun. Over the last decade, the risk of impacts from comets and asteroids has been recognized as substantial and a number of research programs have been undertaken to find and categorize the most dangerous Near Earth Objects (NEOs). Dr. Oswalt will discuss how NEOs are found, the way impact risks are assessed, what the effects of an impact can be, and how the human species might respond to the threat of a major impact.

Dr. Oswalt's visit to UNL was made possible through the Harlow Shapley Visiting Lectureship Program of the American Astronomical Society

"Citizen Science: From the Sky to Your Desktop" A E T
Dr. Pamela Gay, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville
October 10, 2008

Abstract: Real science for the people, by the people, and of the sky. For well over 100 years, amateur astronomers have been making major contributions to the field of astronomy through backyard observations of the different classes of astronomical objects. Today, major contributions are being made by armchair astronomers working at their desks. In both cases, contributions by people like you have lead to Hubble Space Telescope observations and once in a lifetime discoveries. In this talk you'll learn about the science results coming out of the AAVSO, Galaxy Zoo, TransitSearch.org and other community collaborations.

"Podcasting As Podteaching" A E T
Dr. Pamela Gay, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville
October 10, 2008

Abstract: Technologies come and go, and the question is, do any of them actually facilitate real learning? In this talk Dr.Pamela L. Gay discusses ways to use podcasting that work, don't work, and how you do evaluation to make sense of it all.