Tennessee teacher selected to work on NASA research

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – There are millions of stars in the night sky, but not all of them emit the same amount of light.

Class M stars, which are cooler and smaller than the sun, will be the focus of an astronomy research project led by North Greene High School chemistry teacher Olivia Kuper.

According to a press release from the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), Kuper is one of nine teachers selected across the country to work with astrophysicist mentors at IPAC in the 2022 class of educators in the program. NASA/IPAC Teachers Archive Research (NITARP). .

“Our project will look for M-class stars that emit excess infrared light,” Kuper explained. “I don’t know exactly how we’re going to do it yet. We just had our kick-off meeting on (January 16) on Zoom, and we have more meetings coming up, but I know we will have access to data from the Spitzer and Gaia telescopes.

Kuper, who has been on the program before, teaches chemistry and physical science at North Greene, but she said she will involve a small number of interested students who can work with her before or after school on the project.

Kuper and his group will work with Dr. Varoujan Gorijan, while another group of teachers will work with Dr. Luisa Rebull.


“They won’t be easy on us just because we’re high school teachers and students,” Kuper said of the scientists the groups will work with. “They’ll be there to share resources and tools and answer questions, but they’re not saying, ‘this is the first step, do this.’ They expect us to do our job, and it’s not easy, but it’s good because the bar is high.

She said the groups are meeting virtually until July, when the program will pay for each participating teacher and two of their students to travel to Pasadena, Calif., to work in person at IPAC for a week. The program also pays teachers and students to travel to Washington, DC, to present their findings at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), usually held in January but canceled for 2022 due to the COVID-19.

“I would have thought the free trips would have been the highlight for the students, but my student who worked with me in 2017 repeatedly said the biggest takeaway for her was working side-by-side with me. as a colleague,” says Kuper.

She said she first participated in NITARP in 2017 and has continued to conduct research as an alumnus of the group ever since. This year, she is a mentor teacher, which means that she receives funding and her mandate this time will be for two years, which will allow her to involve two groups of students.

“This program changed the way I teach,” Kuper said. “Of course, I’ve done inquiry-based science in my classes, where there’s a known answer and a known path, but with that, I’m learning with them. I realized that I didn’t always have to be the expert to teach students.

Kuper started teaching in North Greene in 2020 after moving to the Texas area. She called her work a “dream job” in part, she said, thanks to the support of principal Amanda Weems, a former science teacher, as well as because of her students.

“I love it here. I appreciate the support from my manager and the kids are great,” Kuper said. I’m so excited to involve them in this amazing opportunity.

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