FUSE Project Expected To Ignite Students' Interest In Sciences Emil Venere ---------------------------------- Homewood News and Information High school teachers in Baltimore will use a real space mission to inspire the future generation of scientists, possibly creating a course that students could take as an elective while working side-by-side with astrophysicists. Youngsters will soon be able to experience firsthand the thrill of using science to probe the mysteries of the universe. They will participate in a space mission called the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, managed by Johns Hopkins scientists and engineers. "So many times, students think science is not real; it's just something you read about in a textbook," said Justin Parke, a science teacher at Baltimore City College, a high school in the city. The FUSE spacecraft will provide an exciting window on the universe by making observations in the far ultraviolet range of the spectrum, a short-wavelength form of light that is invisible to people. During its three-year mission in Earth orbit, astronomers will use FUSE to pursue a broad range of goals, from observations aimed at learning more about the birth of the universe, to studies focusing on the evolution of galaxies, the nature of a star's outer layers and the dynamics of Jupiter's atmosphere. The satellite will be operated from a control room, to be built in the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy, at Homewood. Because FUSE's orbit will straddle the equator, putting it out of direct communication range from Baltimore, telephone lines will link the control center to satellite dishes in Hawaii and the Caribbean. It's got all the makings for the ultimate educational experience. In addition to getting high school students excited about science, the program will reach out to a population that is not well represented in the sciences: women, African Americans and Hispanics. "If we can get some of those students interested, that would be a big plus," said Gale Seiler, a science teacher at Western High School, an all-girls school in the city. Seiler and Parke--a 1994 Hopkins graduate in physics--are in the early stages of organizing the program, called the FUSE Outreach Initiative. They are planning to introduce FOI this fall with an extracurricular program, in hopes of developing a curriculum for an actual course next year. Students would earn science credits, just as they would by taking any other science course. Since the mission will last for three years, a high school student could conceivably stay involved from start to finish. "I think that's really the beauty of this; the students will really be able to immerse themselves," Seiler said. FUSE is planned for a November 1998 launch. If the project is given final approval by NASA this fall, scientists and engineers will begin a fast-paced timetable to meet demanding design-and-construction deadlines. And students could find themselves in the thick of the action. They might even build a simple instrument for the spacecraft, with the help of engineers, and retrieve data from their instrument during the mission. A grant from the Maryland Space Grant Consortium has enabled Seiler and Parke to begin planning FOI this summer. But new funding sources will be needed to train teachers from other schools and carry out the program. The idea is to make the program available to any school. Individual high schools will be able to decide how far they want to go with FUSE. For example, a school could decide only to organize an extracurricular activity based on the space mission, or it could create a FUSE curriculum. "Once the program gets running, we hope to have all the schools linked through the Internet," Seiler said. FUSE will enable astronomers to study the evolution of stars in the Milky Way, "basically taking an inventory of the galaxy," said Chuck Holmes, a Johns Hopkins physicist on the FUSE mission who is working with the high school teachers. Scientists plan to use information from FUSE to learn more about the evolution of our galaxy. The astrophysicists will then extrapolate information about the Milky Way to learn more about how the universe evolved, said Holmes, an associate research scientist and ground systems manager for the mission. A major goal for FUSE will be to probe the "intergalactic medium" of hydrogen and helium gas believed to have been produced in the Big Bang of cosmic creation, 15 to 20 billion years ago.
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