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Student Research

Student Research Opportunities

The Green Bank Observatory offers STEM research opportunities for students  of most ages– starting from around grade three up through graduate school! Some require your presence here at the Green Bank site, but we also have some online opportunities

Pocahontas County Science Fair [1]

The Green Bank Science Center hosts the annual county-wide science fair for students in grade 3 and up. We’ll visit your school and help students design science and engineering experiments. On Fair Day, students spend the whole school day at the Observatory and participate in hands-on activities and demos, as well as having their projects judged of course!

Radio Astronomer for a Day


What sets a scientist apart is that they tackle questions that don’t yet have answers. You can’t just “google it” when you are doing science! The Green Bank Observatory Radio Astronomer for a Day program provides an authentic research experience for students in grades 5 and up. School groups and youth groups of all kinds and ages may visit the Observatory for an overnight stay. The central theme is conducting observations with a working radio telescope to investigate our Universe!   We supplement the program with tours and hands-on activities as well. It’s amazing what students can learn in just one day!  This program meets NGSS Nature of Science standards. And it’s free; only room and board costs are incurred. For more information visit our field trips page [2].

Skynet Junior Scholars [3]

Sharing the Universe with youth. That’s what Skynet Junior Scholars is all about. Youth Leaders and Educators sign up for Skynet Junior Scholars (SJS) and can then enroll students in an SJS Club. That’s when the fun begins!

Centaurus A imaged and processed by SJS member Surfer9

Centaurus A imaged and processed by SJS member Surfer9

Leaders and youth gain access to research grade telescopes around the world including a 20 Meter Radio Telescope here in Green Bank! Through a series of fun observational astronomy activities, you can take images and radio data, do experiments, earn online badges, and participate in research projects like tracking asteroids. Collaborate with others via our online forum and team projects. All the learning and observing is online, so what are you waiting for?   Visit the website to learn more [3].  Skynet Junior Scholars is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Physics Inspiring the Next Generation: Exploring the Cosmos with the Green Bank Observatory

The Physics Inspiring the Next Generation (PING): Exploring the Cosmos with NRAO program is a collaboration between the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), the Green Bank Observatory and Associated Universities, Inc.  to expose traditionally underrepresented minorities to science and engineering with a focus on physics and radio-astronomy. Launched in 2014, the the PING program focuses on multiple levels of the physics and astronomy pipeline, and includes a two week summer  camp that engages middle school students in physics and astronomy, and an eight-ten week internship program designed to cultivate interest in physics and (radio) astronomy research in undergraduate students.

The program targets specifically two White House initiatives, My Brother’s Keeper which is working to address the education needs of young men of color, and a second effort to promote interest in science among girls.  However, ALL current 8th graders are welcome to apply.

Questions about the PING program?  Please contact sheather@nrao.edu [6].

Pulsar Search Collaboratory [7]

The Pulsar Search Collaboratory (PSC) is a joint project between the Green Bank Observatory and West Virginia University (WVU), funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The goal of the PSC  is to give high school students, and their teachers experience doing  real research.  With this experience they gain the confidence they need to succeed in STEM majors in college!

Basics of a Pulsar CREDIT: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

Basics of a Pulsar CREDIT: Bill Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF

In 2007, the Green Bank Telescope was in need of repairs. Specifically, it needed a new track. While this track was being replaced, the telescope was unable to move and could only point at a fixed position in the sky. During this time, two astronomers from WVU, Dr. Maura McLaughlin and Dr. Duncan Lorimer used the Green Bank Telescope to observe the sky as it drifted overhead.

And as the sky drifted by, they took data. And more data. And more data!   And they want to use this data to search for new pulsars. In 2008, we teamed up to form the PSC, and students have analyzed more than 2,500,000 pieces of data, and made some discoveries along the way!

In 2015, we  expanded the program to include more than 10  colleges and universities around the country.  Would you like to join the team?  Twice each academic year we hold a six-week online course to prepare you to be diligent researchers.  High school teachers and students can sign up. Once you pass muster you will be granted access to “raw” data, and the research begins.  Active teachers and students may apply to summer camp and attend annual capstone events as well. We have a dedicated website for the project. [7]Learn more and apply to become a PSC member!

Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates

We have held a summer student research program since the beginning of the Observatory in 1959!  Undergraduate students spend 10-12 weeks on site participating in an astronomy, engineering or computer science research project. The project may involve any aspect of astronomy, including original research, instrumentation, telescope design, astronomical site evaluation or astronomical software development.  The program runs from 10-12 weeks over the summer, from late May to mid-August. At the end of the summer, participants present their research results as a short talk and submit a written report. Often, these projects result in publications in scientific journals [8]. Financial support is available for students to present their summer research at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society [9], generally at the winter meeting following their appointment.

Besides their research, students take part in other activities, including a number of social events and excursions, as well as an extensive summer lecture series which covers aspects of radio astronomy and astronomical research.

Typically applications are due on February 1.  We will accept and review applications in conjunction with the NRAO summer student program in 2017.  See their website [4]for important links!