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Science Night Exhibits Gladstone High School's LIGO Research Portfolio

Science Night Exhibits Gladstone High School's LIGO Research Portfolio

- Contributed by Fred Raab

On May 28, 2002, students from grades 9-12 described their contributions to LIGO research to a packed audience of community members at Gladstone High School. The LIGO Hanford Observatory and Gladstone High School have been partners since 1999 in an adventurous initiative to teach science by involving students in ongoing research based at the high school. Mr. Dale Ingram is the innovative (and fearless!) teacher of physics, chemistry and integrated science, who took to heart my challenge to involve the "typical" high school student in scientific research. Funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF) allowed Mr. Ingram and some selected students to intern at the observatory in the Summers of  '99 and '00 to provide the experience needed to move the research into the school curriculum. With support from the Gladstone School District and the community of Gladstone, Oregon, the program has gained momentum over time. This year approximately 80 students participated in research projects.

New LIGO-GHS web banner.
Demonstration projects. Student research presentation.
(At top) Gladstone High School's newly-designed web page banner; (above left) demonstration projects, and (right) student research presentation.

Royace Aikin at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) invented the idea of a Student, Scientist, Teacher program that would use participation in research to teach science. The NSF funded his idea, allowing PNNL to involve about a dozen teams of teachers and students for several summers. During the 8-week summer program, the teams would work a 4-day week with their research mentor and work with other teams each Friday to develop plans for incorporating the research into their school. Royace's idea resonated with me. In my opinion, trying to teach science without involving students in research is like trying to teach swimming without getting people wet! I also saw an opportunity to address another perplexing irony. Although the information age has radically changed almost every workplace in America,  the high-school classroom has been largely untouched, despite the fact that the students sitting in the room comprise the most computer-literate population in the world. Most of their savvy is acquired through discovery-based learning (read that to mean gaming, e-mailing, web browsing, downloading music and video, etc.) outside of school. Why not tap into the terrific assets of the internet for discovery-based learning of science? The resource is huge.

How huge is it? Well, let's just talk about LIGO. My observatory produces approximately six megabytes/second of data--enough to fill four floppies each second or a full CD in a minute and a half. Even the 350-member LIGO Scientific Collaboration, distributed around the globe, is not going to look in detail at all of this data. Key data channels, like the gravity-wave channel, will get analyzed in excruciating detail, and many other channels will be quickly reviewed to identify large disturbances that come from the environment. But the data also represent a great opportunity to teach students how science works while also enlisting more trained eyes to examine the data. Yes, this costs the scientist some time to do analyses with less experienced help. But there can be enough helpers to allow studies which are extremely useful even if not top priority. There are many other large data producers worldwide from NASA to NOAA, and the worldwide web was invented for seamless transfer of such scientific data, as well as to help researchers interact with each other. Why not use it to teach science? Of course, you also need data analysis software and computing machinery. Some may be surprised, but MS OFFICE has sufficient resources to do very sound statistical analyses of data and the spreadsheet format of EXCEL is far more visual and transparent for student learners than most "black-box" number crunching programs. Once the students get the math under their belts, they can acquire C compilers and many other programming tools either as freeware or for modest prices and then write their own custom software. As for computing machinery, today's typical high school has better computing resources than most scientific laboratories had not that long ago.

A Sampling of Student Presentations:
  • Development of Electronic Detection Systems
  • An Electronic Temperature Sensor
  • Analog to Digital Conversion
  • Getting Started With LabView
  • Accelerometer Measurements through a LabView Interface
  • Looking at Motion in an Electromagnetic Field
  • The Michelson Interferometer
  • Simulating Physics Experiments with Software
  • Writing C Programs for Custom Calculations
  • Information Management with PERL
  • A Mountain from the Molehill - "Hello World" in Borland C++
  • Numerical Recipes in C as a Programming Tool
  • More Applications in C
  • Using C++ to Update Gladstone's LIGO Software
  • Running a LIGO Earth Tide Calculator at Gladstone
  • Processing LIGO Microseism Data in MS Excel
  • Processing Microseism Differences
  • Opening the Oyster and Finding the PERL
  • Modeling the GHS Microseism Software using MATLAB
  • Twenty Years of Wave Heights and Wind Speeds from Pacific Ocean Buoys
  • Examining the Magnetic Field of the Earth in Southeastern Washington
  • Writing Graphical Interfaces for Command Line Programs
  • Composing an Improved Web Site for GHS Science Research
  • Keeping the Wheels on the Bus--the Life of a Project Administrator
  • Students present findings.
    Live video projection.
    (At left) Topics of POWERPOINT presentations given by students on their projects; (top right) integrated science students present methodology of a study of ocean wave activity over the last twenty years using buoy measurements found on the NOAA web site; (above) live video projection allows community members to view interference fringes from a Michelson interferometer students built.

    But how do you make the science and engineering of something like LIGO more than a virtual experience? Mr. Ingram developed a solution to a key problem for establishing broad participation by students back at the high school. He realized that the three students who interned at LIGO each summer had developed hands-on contact with instrumentation that grounded their ability to understand the data produced by this equipment. They could provide some of this grounding to their student colleagues on research teams back at the school. But how could that hands-on feel be communicated to more students? Ingram's solution was to devote a fraction of the student work to building "demo" instrumentation for the school, so that everyone could get a chance to play. It was a brilliant move because students could now get their hands onto equipment without any of the risks that might be involved with research-grade instrumentation. Still, the intellectual environment of a research lab is worlds away from the school environment, and we also wanted to immerse students into an authentic atmosphere. So each year students spend a day visiting the LIGO Hanford Observatory to meet with scientists and engineers to get to know them, and each year I make a couple of visits to Gladstone. We also made a very important purchase for the classroom--a phone with a good speaker--that allows me to meet with students in their classroom every third week to discuss their research projects. Using the web, students can show me their work as we chat on the phone and plan how to solve problems they encounter. We can quickly call in high-powered technical expertise as needed with an e-mail or a phone call.

    So, what has been the scientific output of the students? Well, when we started LIGO one of our requirements was to design actuation systems that would reduce the effect of the microseism on LIGO's interferometers. The microseism is a shuddering ground motion with a period of eight seconds that corresponds to the largest ground velocity experienced in a quiet location like the Hanford site. (The Gladstone student web site has a good primer on the microseism.) We knew a "typical" magnitude of the microseism at Hanford from an early seismic study, but we also knew that it was highly variable (by factors of 10) and related to ocean wave activity which changes in response to storms at sea. Unfortunately, there was no long-term record of microseisms for the area. We really wanted a record spanning decades to understand how the microseism might vary during LIGO observations. A program written by the students runs on a computer at Hanford to compute seismic spectra from seismometers in each of LIGO's buildings, and then drops the results into a file that students can download to the high school for further analysis. Students also use the web to access data from other sources, like seismic stations, ocean buoys, magnetometers, etc. Students have prepared multi-year records of LIGO's seismic activity that show the variability of the microseism. From their data we see, for instance, that microseism activity is typically larger in winter and early spring. But to establish a decades-long data base on the microseism would take us...decades. To address this, students have tried to identify a correlation between the microseism data they analyzed and other geophysical data that cover decades. They identified a number of ocean buoys that measure wave heights in the Pacific from Oregon to Alaska, whose data over the decades is available on the web. They found the wave heights were useful in predicting the largest of the microseism periods in the seismic data they had analyzed at Hanford. Students in integrated science were then delegated the task of compiling a 20-year record of ocean wave activity in the North Pacific.

    Graph of microseism variability. Day- and night-time seismic activity plot.
    (At left above) Gladstone students produced this graph showing variability of microseism over several months at the Hanford Observatory; (at right) a student investigation showed that this variability was not due to human activity by plotting average daytime (red) and nightime (blue) seismic activity in the microseism band. Later analyses by students showed a correlation with ocean wave heights likely caused by weather in the North Pacific Ocean.

    As shown from the titles of the presentations listed earlier in this article, not all students work at this analysis. Like any real research endeavor, the Gladstone research group takes a large, intimidating problem and factors it into units so that each individual has autonomy and responsibility to solve focused problems and can contribute to the team's success. The students band into subgroups that work on instrumentation, computing hardware set-up and maintenance, software tool development, data compilation and analysis, special investigations using the data, as well as administration, web design and maintenance. This year Mr. Ingram even drafted some students who were taking design classes to give the Gladstone web site a more appealing look and better organization. And over the years, as they graduate, the students leave behind a little more sophistication in the school's capabilities. For instance, the students have now achieved a level of sophistication in writing software that makes them far more expert at it than I am. In research, when a student surpasses her teacher, that's known as Success! Students have also built a number of electronics projects, a laser interferometer, accelerometers, fiber-optic coupling circuits, a homebuilt analog to digital converter interfaced to a laptop computer through the printer port, and more. All in all, their achievement has been very impressive.

    Acknowledgements: LIGO support for this work comes from NSF Cooperative Agreements PHY9210038 and PHY0107417. The NSF also supported the PNNL SST program under grant ESI-97-312334. The Gladstone School District Board of Directors remains highly supportive of student research at GHS, as does the district's administrative team. GHS principal Stu Evans and vice-principle Molly Knudson have provided close support at Gladstone High School. The Gladstone Educational Foundation has provided critical financial support to GHS science research through generous grants in 2001 and 2002. The Clackamas County Technical Education Consortium (C-TEC), under the direction of Mr. John Quiggle, has generously provided grant funds for the development of electronics and instrumentation projects. The Meyer Memorial Trust has also supported the school's electronics and instrumentation program. Mr. Roy DeRousie, developer and leader of the technology curriculum at Gladstone High, has provided invaluable consultation and instructional resources to the technology projects that were displayed on "Science Night." Special thanks also to the education specialists and personnel at PNNL who helped Fred Raab and Dale Ingram on a variety of outreach projects over the years, especially Eric Leber, Jeff Estes, Royace Aikin and Norm Anheier.

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