Nearly 3,500 astronomers, educators, students, and journalists gathered in New Orleans last week for the 243rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Among them were four of our own SCH Academy students, led by teachers Peter Randall and Alissa Sperling, to present their original research. The joint conference featured various scientific presentations, workshops, town halls, and more.
“We prepared extensively for this conference,” said Devin Gibson ’24 who presented a poster alongside classmates Cameron Lyon ’24, Karina Chan-Van der Helm ’24, and Shaun Gupte ’24 based on the research they acquired during the first launch of their balloon through the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project (NEBP).
Gibson was also invited to present his observations and data collection on insect behavior through the Eclipse Soundscapes Project, a NASA Citizen Science project, which seeks to understand the impact of eclipses on wildlife. NEBP groups around the country received a kit from Soundscapes containing a device capable of recording frequencies from 8kHz (sound of a bird song) to 384kHz (ultrasonic sounds only specific creatures like bats can make/hear) that the teams set up at their respective locations during the annular eclipse in October.
“During our October balloon launch, I set up the device to record audio data, as well as an additional sensor to collect environmental data. Apart from our team, 53-plus other teams were recording audio data during the eclipse across the U.S.,” said Gibson. “The truly exciting part of this project is that all of the data we collected for Soundscapes is public, but I chose to run my own analysis of the data collected at only our launch site. Soundscapes is operating on a larger scale looking at all wildlife, but I’m passionate about entomology, which is why I wanted to only focus on how solar eclipses impact the vocalizations insects make.”
In preparation for his talk in front of an audience of more than 40 conference-goers, Gibson learned new software programs, practiced his elevator pitch, anticipated questions, and read additional research on insect behavior during eclipses. Additionally, classmate Cameron Lyon was featured on a student panel answering questions about the NEBP.
“The entire group put in countless hours over the past couple of months to ready themselves for the conference,” said Sperling, who noted that the SCH group presented alongside researchers, graduate students, and undergraduate students from top universities around the country. “They aren’t just learning what it means to conduct research, analyze data, and succinctly present content at a conference of this caliber, they’re also figuring out how to communicate and network in the professional sphere. ”
The students and faculty alike were thrilled to be able to hear from some of the top astronomers in the world during the plenary presentations, from getting first glimpses of new images from NASA’s James Webb Telescope to seeing the emerging evidence of a cosmic gravitational wave background detected by NANOGrav’s pulsar timing array.
“It was such a phenomenal experience,” said Gibson. “We got to meet the people behind the groundbreaking research you see on the news. You know that they have put a tremendous amount of work into their research, but here you got to see the passion behind it.”