Episode 10: Amber Straughn

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Episode 10: Amber Straughn
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This episode is a part of the NASA
Student Opportunities podcast series.

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Show Notes

Special Guests: Amber Straughn, NASA Jenkins Predoctoral Fellow

(0:00) Intro

(0:20) The application deadline for the Phoenix Student Interns Project  → is April 25, 2007. [Deadline extended to May 9, 2007.]

(1:32) Interview with Amber Straughn. Arizona State University doctoral student Amber Straughn, a recent winner of the American Astronomical Society's Chambliss Award, discusses her NASA research activities.
       Harriett G. Jenkins Predoctoral Fellowship Project  →
       Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Project -- Microgravity University  →
       American Astronomical Society Chambliss Award  →
       Article about Amber Straughn's space science award

(8:49) Results of the Great Moonbuggy Race include recognition of a couple of the teams featured recently on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.
       Great Moonbuggy Race  →
       News release: high school results
       News release: college results

(10:23) End

Send your comments or questions to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

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Deana Nunley: This is NASA Student Opportunities -- a podcast connecting high school and college students with learning opportunities inside America's space agency.

Episode 10. April 18, 2007. I'm Deana Nunley.

NASA is sending the Phoenix Mars Lander to the Red Planet this summer, and high school teachers and students can be part of the mission from launch through landed operations. The Phoenix Student Interns Project will give a creative, dedicated group of high school students and teachers from across the nation the chance to join Phoenix Mars Mission scientists in their investigations. Teachers who become part of the Phoenix project will choose two students each to be mentored by a member of the Phoenix Science Team.

Selected teachers and their chosen students will work with scientists to prepare for surface operations on Mars, analyze data during the mission, and reach out to other students, teachers, and the public through presentations, articles and Web sites. Following preparation and special training, teachers and students will spend one week in the summer of 2008 at the Science Operations Center in Tucson, Ariz., during landed operations, to help investigate the surface of Mars. The application deadline is April 25, 2007.

For more information, go to www.nasa.gov/podcast. Click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast, and check out the show notes for this week's episode.


Amber Straughn is a NASA Jenkins Predoctoral Fellow studying physics and astronomy at Arizona State University. During the recent American Astronomical Society annual meeting in Seattle, Amber won the Chambliss medal, which recognizes exemplary research by undergraduate and graduate students who present posters at the Society's meetings. I talked with Amber about her space science award and her ongoing research.

Amber Straughn: My research right now is focusing on a study of emission-line galaxies in some Hubble data. This is a relatively new project that I've been working on for the past several months to detect these special galaxies that we think are actively undergoing star formation or other types of physical processes that would produce emission lines.

I'm working with a special type of HST [Hubble Space Telescope] data, which is grism data, which basically allows us to get thousands of spectra all at once. So it's really a unique type of data.

Deana: Was this research the topic of your winning poster?

Amber: For my AAS poster, I selected a few of the emission-line galaxies that we had detected in the Hubble data, to show some examples of these special types of galaxies that are displaying the emission lines. Basically, my poster was a methods poster, in that we have developed a new method to detect these types of galaxies. The data is very rich; there are lots of spectra, and so it's sometimes a challenge to actually find the things we want to [find] in the data. This is developing a new method. I'm working with a professor at Johns Hopkins to select out these galaxies. I'm trying to incorporate this project into some past work that I've done, to round out the research for my dissertation.

Deana: Does the poster help to communicate the importance of the research?

Amber: I think that this is part of what this poster award was about. I think one of the really important things in science, in general, is to be able to convey what you're doing to the public and to other scientists. I really have a passion for the education and outreach side of science, especially towards the younger students. I enjoy giving lectures and these sorts of things to elementary and high school kids. I've been heavily involved in outreach projects here at ASU. We do a monthly astronomy open house, and I've been active in helping with that, in developing some new things to do at that. I've recently become involved with the Arizona Science Teachers Association and hope to be able to give some presentations and do those sorts of things for some schools around here before I graduate.

Deana: What do you enjoy discussing with students?

Amber: Usually when I do outreach projects, I'm talking about the actual science. Of course, it depends on the age of my listeners. When I was an undergrad, I actually got to participate in the NASA Reduced [Gravity Student] Flight Opportunities Program at my undergraduate institution at the University of Arkansas. I was the Outreach Coordinator for that team. We did presentations to lots of elementary schools, and those kids just loved to see the videos of us doing our experiments in zero gravity. I think that those types of exciting things that NASA has to offer really inspire students.

Deana: What was your first experience with NASA?

Amber: My undergrad research experiment with the zero-gravity team was my first involvement with NASA. I was on a team with three or four other students, and we designed an experiment to test asteroid conditions, actually, in zero gravity. Our proposal got selected, and we got to go down to Johnson Space Center and do the training and do the experiment in zero gravity, which was so much fun. That was my first experience with any NASA programs. Since then, I've been involved in several other things, including the Harriett Jenkins Fellowship Program, which I'm a fellow of now, and that has been just a wonderful experience. It's a wonderful fellowship. It is aimed at women and minorities in the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] disciplines. Overall, I've had a very good experience with that. The Jenkins program pairs up the fellows with a mentor at a NASA science center. This past summer I worked at the Goddard Space Flight Center, and that's actually where I started the research that was on my poster this year.

Deana: What are your plans for the future?

Amber: I hope to finish up my Ph.D. work and defend my dissertation in May of next year. I'll be applying for probably postdocs this fall. I hope to get a postdoc in observational cosmology. Cosmology's really my passion and what my main interests are in. So I'm going to go for a postdoc short-term. Long-term, I really enjoy the research. Day to day, things can get a little hectic, but the overall, seeing the big picture is always a lot of fun. So I really hope to be able to continue with research in my future. And also, definitely include the education and outreach as part of my career. I'll definitely be looking for opportunities within NASA. Also possibly in academia.

Deana: At this point in your education, what insights have you gained that might be helpful to students just starting college?

Amber: I would say that, just starting college, a lot of times it can be intimidating and scary, and you're in new territory, you don't know quite what to do. I came from a very small high school in Arkansas and went to college where there were so many more people, and I felt like I didn't quite know what was going on or what to do. Finding mentors is really the big thing that I think helped me. People who can encourage you and help you, and help you find funding and help you find good programs along the way. So find a good mentor, and really just stick with it and believe that you can do these things.

Deana: For more information about NASA learning opportunities and the Chambliss Award, go to www.nasa.gov/podcast, click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast, and follow the links in this week's show notes.

If you've listened to our podcast the last couple of weeks, you've heard conversations with some of the students competing in the Great Moonbuggy Race. We want to give you a quick update on the results of the race held last weekend.

The Huntsville Center for Technology from Huntsville, Ala., won the high school division. The award for "Best Design" went to the German Space Education Institute in Leipzig, Germany, for best solving the engineering problem of navigating the lunar surface. The German team earned the "Rookie Award" for posting the fastest first-year time in the competition.

The winner of the college division was Rochester Institute of Technology of Rochester, N.Y. Carleton University of Ontario, Canada, received the Crash and Burn Award for braving the most spectacular crash on the brutal, "lunar" terrain. The team we featured in last week's podcast -- Alabama A&M University -- ran into difficulty on the rain-drenched course and did not finish with a winning time.

You'll find links to more information about the Great Moonbuggy Race in this week's show notes. Go to www.nasa.gov/podcast, and click on the NASA Student Opportunities podcast.

We'd like to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments about NASA learning opportunities, send an e-mail to: educationpodcast@nasa.gov

Thanks for listening.

NASA Student Opportunities is a podcast production of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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