West Virginia Students Use One of World’s Largest Telescopes

Governor’s STEM Institute brings nearly sixty rising 9th graders to Green Bank Observatory

This July 2022, nearly 60 students gathered in Green Bank, West Virginia, for the Governor’s STEM Institute (GSI.) These rising 9th graders competitively applied for this opportunity to experience science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through exciting hands-on experiences. 

Students traveled to Green Bank Observatory (GBO) from across the state and for many this two-week sleep away summer camp was their first experience away from home. Any nervousness or fears quickly disappeared after arrival, as there were many opportunities to make new, life-long friends. Students attending GSI are nicknamed “Govies.” A full day of camp includes morning and evening lectures, hands-on afternoon seminars, and small group research.

Students learned to master the controls of the 40-foot telescope, the world’s first fully automated telescope that went into service at the Observatory in 1961. Since 1987, it has been used exclusively to train youth and adults in the fundamentals of radio astronomy.

Govies were even trained to use the Green Bank Telescope, the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world. Much like scientists well over twice their age, the students wrote proposals for their research time, and learned to use software to control the massive telescope to collect and process their data with the support of Observatory staff.

The Govies worked alongside students their age, along with college aged counselors and science teachers who return to camp year after year. “I really enjoy working at GSI because I get to teach students that are hungry to learn. It’s really fun to do that,” shared teacher Chelen Johnson, who has been a part of the program since its inception in 2005,

and now travels back to Green Bank each summer from Washington state, “I also love the allure of Green Bank, and my GSI teacher family.” A core group of teachers has been working alongside each other to lead the camp for several years, along with GBO head of education and public outreach, Sue Ann Heatherly.

GSI allows students to not only learn science facts but also learn from experiences. Govies explored the region through hiking to Seneca Rocks, swimming in Sherwood Lake, and caving in Slatyfork. They also chose from nearly fifty seminars, sharing the wide range of skills of their counselors, teachers, and Observatory staff, from songwriting to baking, bicycle repair, stream ecology, drawing, yoga, and even writing this press release!

“Talking first hand with astronomers, getting to calibrate and control a radio telescope, and to analyze data we collected ourselves surpasses anything you can learn from textbooks,” shared Govie Alina Holliday.

This press release was written by Govies Vic Chen, Alina Holliday, Isabel Miller, and Claire Salisbury and edited by GBO Public Information Officer Jill Malusky.

Learn more about GSI and future opportunities for students at https://govschools.wv.gov.

To learn more about Green Bank Observatory Observatory science and to see research opportunities visit our website.

The Green Bank Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation and is operated by Associated Universities, Inc.



Jill Malusky, Green Bank Observatory Public Relations, ude.o1709517572arn@y1709517572ksula1709517572mj1709517572