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Award 1516269 - Final Project Report

January 28, 2022 | Public Programs, Informal/Formal Connections

This is the final annual report for the AISL project: Collaborative Research: Developing STEM self-efficacy and science identities through authentic astrophysics research in online and face-to-face environments (STEM-ID).

Impact Statement:

At 100 meters in diameter, the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, is the largest radio telescope in the United States. It is also one of the most sensitive telescopes in the world for searching for radio signals from exotic stars called pulsars. Pulsars are roughly the size of a city but weigh more than the Sun, making them the densest known objects aside from black holes. They have very high magnetic fields, which produce beamed radio emission. As pulsars spin, these beams are detectable as radio pulsations, much like the pulses of light that appear to be emitted from a lighthouse.

Pulsars have a host of applications, including studying the gas in our galaxy, measuring stellar masses, and even detecting invisible gravitational waves predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity. Therefore, the GBT had devoted significant amounts of time towards carrying out searches for pulsars in our galaxy. These searches are very computationally expensive, and produce an extremely large number of candidates which must then be assessed to determine whether they are pulsars or some other radio signal. This is very time intensive and requires many, many hours of work to discover a single pulsar.

The Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC) was formed in 2008 with funding from the National Science Foundation. The PSC is an informal science education program in which high-school students and teachers can learn to search for pulsars in data from the GBT. Since that time, over 2000 students have participated and they have discovered seven new pulsars. The PSC received a second NSF award in 2015 to extend the reach of the PSC program by establishing PSC hubs associated with colleges and universities throughout the United States. In this new PSC model, high-school students and teachers can attend a six-week after-school online course, at the end of which they take a test to become certified pulsar hunters. They then search for pulsars through a new online interface, funded by this new award. They have the opportunity to visit WVU or another hub institution for a three-day Capstone event and Green Bank Observatory for a week-long pulsar camp. This award also funded undergraduates students at the hub institutions to serve as mentors to high-school students.

High-school teachers who participated in this informal science education program showed significant increases in their confidence in conducting research and in their expertise in discussing the research process with their students. High-school student participants showed significant increases in their science identity. In addition, undergraduate students who acted as mentors demonstrated significant increases in their research knowledge and research confidence, and in their research. communication, leadership, and collaboration skills. These outcomes were measured through surveys of over 400 high-school student and 107 high-school teacher participants at 195 high-schools and 79 undergraduate and 31 faculty participants at 16 hub institutions. Over the course of the three-year program evaluation, three summer camps, eight Capstone events, and five online training sessions were held. We believe the PSC model could be used to include students in data analysis for a host of STEM projects.


  • REVISE logo
    Principal Investigator
    Green Bank Observatory
  • 2014 08 18 meagain
    Principal Investigator
    West Virginia University
  • Citation


    Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
    Award Number: 1516269
    Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
    Award Number: 1516512
    Resource Type: Reference Materials
    Discipline: Space science
    Audience: Youth/Teen (up to 17) | Educators/Teachers | Museum/ISE Professionals
    Environment Type: Public Programs | Afterschool Programs | Citizen Science Programs | Informal/Formal Connections | K-12 Programs

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