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What if you had the chance to redefine the term “active learning?”
By being real scientists in creating the world’s largest telescope, students will reach a whole new dimension in learning. This telescope we’re talking about isn’t one you can buy or make, nor will it collect visual images. The ERGO Telescope is a hands-on project in which students and teachers in classes around the world will be pioneers in setting up a cosmic-ray telescope the size of the Earth!
The ERGO Telescope project was Inspired by the “TED Wish” made by Jill Tarter at the 2009 TED Conference in Long Beach, CA, “I wish that you would empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company.” In response to this wish, and to Jill’s passion for education and involving children in scientific exploration and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), Tom Bales and Euclid laboratories began the ERGO project. Sitting in the audience and captivated by Jill’s talk, Tom accepted the challenge. Tom combined his personal research in atomic clocks and detecting cosmic rays with the idea of putting sensitive detectors all over the planet, collecting data on when and where the cosmic rays are reaching Earth’s surface.
But, the main challenge isn’t to just collect data, it’s to inspire and engage students in a collaborative scientific project! At first, it seemed all that was needed was to build a bunch of experimental systems and put them in classrooms around the world. But, it turned out that there were some big challenges, both technical and organizational. The ERGO project is our first step in fulfilling Jill Tarter’s wish.
For over a hundred years we humans have known of energetic, charged particles coming from space. We call them “cosmic rays.” Most of these rays are high energy protons traveling near the speed of light. The ERGO Telescope project will allow students to gather and analyze patterns of cosmic rays events in real time. Students will encounter many areas of study such as astrophysics, nuclear physics, astronomy, electronics, mathematics, cosmology, SETI, and scientific methods of research.
What Exactly is the ERGO Unit?
Each ERGO unit is a single “pixel” in this enormous “camera” spread over the surface of Earth. These pixels contain a Geiger counter, to detect charged particles arriving at Earth, and a timestamp generator and a GPS receiver to provide the longitude, latitude, altitude, and precise time for each detected cosmic-ray particle. The data are then immediately uploaded to a central (“cloud”) internet server, giving students access to the data gathered not only by their own ERGO unit, but also by others located around the world. Acting together, all these pixels create a giant, spinning camera—an Earth-sized telescope!
An Unbelievable Learning Opportunity!
The ERGO project reinvents active learning and propels students into the adventure of discovery in a way that is engaging, fun, and relevant! Students will be looking for patterns of cosmic-ray events in time and space. They’ll study variations in the rays and see how they relate to natural variations in solar wind, time, and Earth’s orbital motions. Through exposure to the fields of astrophysics, nuclear physics, astronomy, electronics, mathematics, cosmology, SETI, and the scientific method of research, students will take learning into their own hands. They will learn not only about cosmic ray events, but also about Earth and space science, data analysis, statistics, politics, and writing.
The project is developing recommended lesson plans and hands-on experiments ranging from simple to complex, adaptable to every grade level. The students can even design their own experiments and creatively engineer their own learning.