10 years bringing Astrophysics to the school community of La Palma

Students of the Colegio Santo Domingo de Guzmán during the visit to the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) of the programme "Nuestros Alumnos y el ORM" (Our Students and the ORM). Credit: José Fernández / Colegio Santo Domingo de Guzmán
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This academic year the educational programme “ Our students and the Roque de los Muchachos” has reached its tenth anniversary. The project, started within the framework of the International Year of Astronomy in 2009, is an activity designed for all the students in the 4th year of secondary education in La Palma, whose aim is to introduce the telescopes of the Roque de los Muchachos observatory (ORM) and to popularize the research which is carried out there among the school community on the Island.

The programme includes a lectura, given in the schools, and a visit to the Observatory, where the students participate in a practical workshop which deals with light and its use in astronomical observation. All the activities are carried out voluntarily by research personnel from the scientific institutions represented in the ORM. Since the start of the programme a total of almost 7,000 students from 14 educational centres on La Palma has participated.

Juan Carlos Pérez Arencibia, the manager of the ORM explains to us that “ These ten years of unbroken activity have shown the consolidation of this interesting educational project, which not only lets the students know about the science carried out with the telescopes, but also reinforces the good relations, via outreach, with the people of the Island, and teaches the value of the magnificent sky of La Palma.

The Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) and the National Galileo Telescope (TNG) are amont the user institutions which participate most actively in the programme. In the past year the MAGIC group of telescopes, and the new Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) have joined the project. The company Transporte Insular La Palma (TILP) and the Cabildo Insular of La Palma collaborate in taking the students up to the observatory.

A collective success

For Antonio Cabrera, the head of scientific operations of the GTC “This programme is an impulse to awaken scientific and technological vocations among the young people on the island, so that all the time spent by our staff on the project is time well spent.” Cabrera also guarantees the continuity of the avialability of the telescope for the project during the coming years: “ Outreach is a intrinsic part of the development of astronomical activity, so that our involvement in the programme is assured for as long as it is needed”.

Marc Balcells, the director of the ING pointed up the social and pedagogical value of thie programme. “We started the “Our Students” programme to help with two principal aims: to bring the Observatory closer to the population of the Island and to stimulate the young students who might be inclined to study science. The positive results are clear”. Balcells also noted the mutual benefit which this interaction with the school community gives to both parties. “There is no doubt that we too have learned a lot from our contact with the secondary school student population”.

Ennio Poretti and Gloria Andreuzzi, the director and support astronomer of the TNG respectively, agree with Balcells and Cabrera. “ The participation of our telescope in the programme shows out wish to be a part of the educational activites, and as staff of the TNG we feel ourselves to be an integral  part of the social fabril of the La Palma community” explains Poretti. Andreuzzi confirms the collective success of this project “ which is shown, above all, in the questions asked by the boys and girls, and the looks on their faces when they discover the Observatory. From my point of view this enthusiasm is the main reason to continue with the project in spite of the effort it entails”.

From September the programme will start again with those schools which request it. During the coming school year it is planned to renew some of the contents of the lectures and of the workshops to incorpórate up to date informatino about the scientific research and the technological projects being developed at the ORM, such as the new Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA).

As well as activities aimed at students in the 4th grade of secondary school, there will continue to be a specific programme for those students of the Bachillerato and Professional Training (in their last two years at secondary level) who are studying subjects related to Technology and Informatics. For this programme there will be a visit not only to the ORM but also to the Centre of Astrophysics of La Palma (CALP) which houses the supercomputer LaPalma, one of the nodes of the Spanish Supercomputation Network (RES).

The Observatories of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) are part of the network of Singular Scientific and Technical Infrastructures (ICTS) of Spain.

More information:

Web of the programme “ Our Students and the Roque de los Muchachos”


Juan Carlos Pérez Arencíbia, manager of the ORM and coordinator of the programme: adminorm [at] iac.es (adminorm[at]iac[dot]es)

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