Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Island Astronomy Institute

I've spent part of the morning working on a grant which, if successful, would result in an astronomy class being taught at COA this spring. We've been trying for quite some time to get an astronomy class, so I'd be very pleased if we could get one. I'm far too busy with physics and math classes to think about doing astronomy. And, er... , I don't really know any astronomy.

The grant will be submitted to the Maine Space Grant Consortium. This is a funding arm of NASA. So far as I know, every state has something like this. I think the idea is to spread NASA funding around all 50 states. MSGC has awarded some nice grants to COA the last few years. Helen Hess received a small grant to conduct biomechanics workshops with area teachers, and I received a grant to add a laboratory component to my Chaos and Fractals class. Nishi Rajakaruna got a larger grant to conduct research on plants that hyper accumulate metal.

The lead organization in the astronomy grant is the Island Astronomy Institute, (IAI) which is a relatively new organization on Mount Desert Island. They have a small observatory and have given a bunch of seminars and talks locally. Since IAI is the main organization, I don't have to do the final editing of the proposal, which is nice.

Anyway, I hope we get the grant. Writing this morning has gotten me re-energized about astronomy. We're proposing a course that will interweave the history of ideas with the history of astronomy. And, perhaps more importantly, the class will focus the observational underpinnings of astronomy: how naked-eye and simple telescope-aided observations are used to draw inferences. At every stage, the emphasis will be basic epistemological questions: How do we know the moon shines because of reflected light? Why do we believe the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around? What evidence is there for the fact that Venus revolves around the sun and not the earth? Sounds like fun to me.

[A clarification: If the grant is successful, it won't be me who teaches the class. I'm not really qualified to do so. The teacher will be Peter Lord, the founder and director of the Island Astronomy Institute.]


Jessica said...

Hi Dave, I'm reading some of your old posts here (instead of, oh, I don't know, writing cover letters and being productive.) This sounds really exciting! I would have loved to have taken an astronomy class. Well, except for the whole part of standing outside for hours in the freezing cold Maine landscape... Yeah, other than that.

Dave said...

It'll be in spring term, so it won't be that cold. But it won't be southern-california-warm, either. The instructor got the grant, btw, so the course is all set to go.