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ZTF offers high school and college students summer research opportunities!

High School

ZTF collaboration has been involved with several programs which offer summer research opportunities to high school students. For example, the ZTF stellar variable group, including Tom Prince, Kevin Burdge, Jim Fuller and Jan van Roestel, have participated in the Summer Research Connection (SRC) program for high-school students, organized by Caltech's Center for Teaching, Lerning and Outreach (CTLO, https://ctlo.caltech.edu/outreach/summerprograms). 

The Caltech/ZTF SRC program targets the local Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD), which has a large population of underrepresented minorities with 60.2% Hispanic, 15.3% African American, 15.1% Caucasian and 5.9% Asian. 67.5% of the students are low income as determined by eligibility for the free and reduced lunch program. PUSD high schools offer academies and pathways focused on specific areas of study. 

This program has run in 2019 and 2020, and will continue for next three years. Each year it hosted 2 - 5 local Pasadena high-school students in 1-on-1 interactions. The students began the program with no astronomy or programming expertise. By the end of the summer, the students were coding data analysis projects in Python, had become familiar with use of scientific back-of-the-envelope estimation, and were comfortable going up to the white board and discussing their results quantitatively. 


High School Video


Image: Covid-19 pandemic did not stop the ZTF mentorship activities offered to high school students. In the summer 2020, several programs were carefully designed and carried out remotely via Zoom. At the end of the summer, each student presented their results. One example here is from Josie Enenstein, a senior high school student from Harvard-westlake in Los Angeles. She did a research project with Burdge and Prof Prince remotely this summer on a type of eclipsing binary system called HW Virginis. Her presentation is here https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kzYTq2pABV91wIbmk7LIJlFY9KIThEvJ/view




In the summer 2019, Dr. Lin Yan at Caltech with help from Dr. Ashish Mahabal, has mentored three high school students, two sophmore and one junior from high schools in Pasadena, California. They learnt how to identify real transient candidates from the artifacts produced by theZTF pipeline, and learnt how to write simple python programs to present their findings. Dr. Yan also gave them a tour on the remote observation using the Palomar 200 inch telescope during one of her actual observing runs.

In the summer 2020, another ZTF member, Adam Miller, a postdoc from Northwestern University, has worked with Xander Hall, a graduating senior from the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) on the ZTF Bright Transient Survey (BTS). He is analyzing both photometric measurements made by ZTF and spectroscopic observations taken by the SEDm. Xander is developing an analysis backend to feed data into a new citizen science program that will be hosted by the Zooniverse that will be used to classify supernova spectra with the help of volunteer scientists.


ZTF collaboration is deeply committed to teaching and training undergraduate students to become the next generation leaders in time-domain astromony. Each year, Caltech faculties and postdoctoral researchers take undergraduate students through several different mentorship programs, including Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), Freshman Summer Research Institute (FSRI) - Caltech Diversity (https://diversity.caltech.edu/fsri).  Below are some example college students in 2020, who carried out research projects with ZTF members (S. Anand and M. Coughling) and their research programs.

Summer Students Pic

In the collage: Top, from left to right - Mouza Al Mualla & Vishwesh Kumar from American University of Sharjah, Polina Petrov from Carnegie Mellon University; Bottom, from left to right - Priyadarshini Rajkumar from Texas Tech University, Jack Heinzel from Carleton College.

Vishwesh worked on Dynamic Exposures: a new technique for the electromagnetic followup of gravitational wave triggers for future ZTF observations during LIGO's 4th observing run. Priyadarshini Rajkumar worked on existing frameworks for estimating the kilonova luminosity function with ZTF.  Mouza Al Mualla's project was on optimizing the ZTF survey strategy for kilonova detection. She is working towards a proposal that will directly inform the Partnership survey strategy for ZTF Phase II. Polina Petrov worked on exploring scheduling strategies for detecting kilonovae from binary neutron star (BNS) and neutron star—black hole (NSBH) mergers with ZTF. Jack Heinzel: Jack’s project involved creating kilonova “surrogate” models from fixed model grids.  Using the Bulla radiative transfer kilonova model grid, Jack studied how different modelled geometries and effects such as reprocessing affect the observed light curve properties and the intrinsic properties of the kilonovae, inferred using MCMC simulations. He is working towards creating comparisons between the inferred source properties of GW170817 using different model geometries.

National Science Foundation provided the support to a five year program called "ZTF Summer Undergraduate Astronomy Institute''. The website is http://bryanpenprase.org/ztf-summer-undergraduate-astronomy-institute. This program ran from 2015 - 2019 by the joint effort of Dr. Eric Bellm (ZTF Survey Scientist) and Prof. Bryan Penprose from Pomona College in California. This program was designed to give college students the first hand research experience uing the data from the ZTF survey. They learn about cutting edge research topics on time-domain astronomy, new technology and computational skills dealing with large datasets. Each year the institute hosted about 25 students for 3 - 4 days. The program include talks, lab tours at Caltech, lectures, visits to the Palomar Observatory, and also hands-on observing at Pomona college planetaryium facility. 

Visiting the P200 inch telescope

Visiting the 200 inch telescope at the Palomar: the summer school attendees are also taken to visit the Palomar Observatory. Here they are at the 200 inch telescope.

Talking to Smith

Visiting Labs: The students during the summer schools also visit labs in Cahill to learn about the cutting edge technologies for telescopes and instruments. Here they are talking to Roger Smith, an engineer at Caltech who built the ZTF camera.

Summer Title Pic

Attending Lectures: Summer astronomy institute attendees are in  lectures given by professors and postdocs from the Caltech ZTF team.