BOZEMAN –Teams from Indiana, South Carolina and Montana won top prizes at the third National Student Solar Spectrograph Competition held May 15 to 17 at Montana State University.
Held in conjunction with a NASA solar mission scheduled to launch June 26, the competition called for students to design and build optical instruments to answer questions about the sun or other scientific topics. They were judged in four categories: best science, best build, best design and best presentation. Each member of the winning teams won a $3,000 scholarship (up to $12,000 per team) from NASA and the opportunity to watch a launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
During the first two days of competition, teams took turns collecting data from the roof of AJM Johnson Hall, then used that information to carry out experiments they designed. The “Hoosiers” from the University of Southern Indiana, for example, used their spectrograph to measure the concentration of potassium permanganate in water. “Team Charleston” from the College of Charleston investigated temperature differences in and near sunspots.
Some teams needed bright sunlight for their experiments and were fortunate to get it. Other teams were disappointed by clouds. Others got by either way because they had designed experiments that didn’t require direct sunlight.
At one point on the roof, Giuseppe Caltabiano shouted, “The sun is coming out. The sun is coming out.”
Caltabiano and his wife, Jamie, had come down from Whitefish, Mont., to root for their son, Ian, who was competing on the team from Flathead Valley Community College. Ian, 12, started taking college classes when he was nine. He skipped high school and is now a full-time college freshman who joined the “Chief Rays” this year.
“It was really fun,” he said of the spectrograph process.
Mustafa Al Momin of Bangladesh, Israt Jahan Disha of Bangladesh and Devinka Edirrisinghe from Sri Lanka made up one of MSU’s four teams. Adviser for the “Oriental Kaleidoscope” team was Sarah Jaeggli, one of several MSU physicists involved with NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) which is set to launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It was because of MSU’s involvement in IRIS that the Montana Space Grant Consortium has hosted the competition for three years in a row, according to organizers.
IRIS consists of a telescope and spectrograph working together to help scientists figure out how energy is transferred through the sun’s atmosphere. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics built the telescope that allows the IRIS spectrograph to observe the sun. MSU supplied the spectrograph optics and participated in its design. The spectrograph team is headed by Lockheed Martin.
Spectrographs collect sunlight and separate out the wavelengths. Prisms are a simple form of spectrograph that breaks apart visible light, producing rainbows on walls and other surfaces. Other types of spectrographs, such as IRIS, break apart ultraviolet light, which is invisible to humans.
Besides operating spectrographs, the students in this year’s National Student Solar Spectrograph Competition made three presentations during the competition. They explained how they designed and built their spectrographs. They talked about an outreach event they held. They presented their scientific results.
“It’s just a great project,” said Drew Moen, one of the student judges, an MSU graduate student, and a competitor on one of last year’s winning teams.
“I really enjoyed the whole design process and everything,” he said. “I never built something like this from scratch before. It was neat. It was a fun experience for sure. It kind of helped you dive into the design process.”
Sixteen teams from Arkansas, California, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, South Carolina, New York and Washington participated in this year’s competition. Besides MSU and Flathead Valley Community College, other Montana teams represented the University of Montana and Miles Community College. Out-of-state teams represented Harding University in Searcy, Ark., Bakersfield College in California, San Diego State University, the University of Southern Indiana, Brigham Young University in Rexburg, Idaho, the College of Charleston in South Carolina, Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., and Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash.
Categories and winners of this year’s competition were:
Best Presentation of Results Award – “Hoosiers” from the University of Southern Indiana. Team members were Tanner Hayes of Evansville, Ind.; Danielle Eckert of Jeffersonville, Ind.; Eric McCord, of Velpen, Ind.; David Bruce of Oakland City, Ind.; Jesse Rhodes of Evansville, Ind.; Aaron Williams of Washington, Ind.; and Luke Maurer of Evansville, Ind. Team adviser was Glen Kissel.
Best Science Observation Award – “Team Charleston” from the College of Charleston. Team members were Derek Tuck from Bristol, Tenn.; Stephen Gorman from Hastings, N.Y.; Ryan Sullivan from Summerville, S.C.; and Luther Meyer from Charleston, S.C. Team advisers were Jeffrey Wragg and James E. Neff.
Best Spectrograph Design Award – “Redshift” team from MSU. Team members were Gavin Lommatsch, from Columbia Falls, Mont.; Ryan Hammang from Algonac, Mich.; Scott Miller from Kalispell, Mont.; Seth Wendt from Bozeman, Mont.; and Nichole Murray from Parker, Colo. Team adviser was Nathan Pust.
Best Spectrograph Build Award – “Red Haze” team from MSU. Team members were Jacob McDonald from Sidney, Mont.; Matthew Vanek from Moore, Mont.; Tim Basta from Great Falls, Mont.; and Eric Bogenschutz from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Team adviser was Wm. Randall Babbitt.
Honorable mention categories and winners were:
Civility Award – “Redshift” Team from MSU, the team that won the Best Spectrograph Design Award.
Engage Award – “SDSU” team from San Diego State University. Team members were Scott Patterson, Michael Baude, and Emily N. Mitchell, all from San Diego, and Trevor Ames Gregg from Tuolumne, Calif. Team adviser was Matt Anderson.
Inspire Award – “Mass Effect” team from Bakersfield College. Team members were Alfredo Arevalo, Joanna Moraza, Andres Leyva, and Marco Guerra, all from Bakersfield, Calif. Team adviser was Dan Kimball.
da Vinci Honorable Mention Award #1 – “Hot Spots” team from MSU. Team members were Brandon Smith from Billings, Mont.; Warren Colomb from Williston, Vt.; Joe Guerri from Whitefish, Mont.; Kenny Ng from Billings, Mont.; and Pushkar Pandit from Pune, India. Team adviser was Kevin Repasky.
da Vinci Honorable Mention Award #2 – “GrizSpec” from the University of Montana. Team members were Wesley Harmon from Polson, Mont.; Jonathan Wagner from Princeton, N.J.; Allison Mueller from Brainerd, Minn.; Chantanelle Nava from Billings, Mont.; and Daniel Lehman from Missoula, Mont. Team advisers were Nate McCrady and Jaylene Naylor.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or email@example.com