This is a guest post by William N. Brandt (Penn State).

One of the many university outreach programs with SDSS-IV connections is the Penn State Science Workshops for Educators. This longstanding program at Penn State, with more than 20 years of successful history, provides week-long summer workshops for 10-20 high-school and middle-school teachers, aiming to help them teach their students better about astronomy and astrophysics. Each of these teachers will teach hundreds of students in the coming years.

The first 2018 summer workshop (July 9-13) focused on “Black Holes: Gravity’s Fatal Attraction”, a topic where the SDSS has made fundamental contributions. The lead instructors were Prof. William N. Brandt (Penn State), Dr. Chris Palma (Penn State), and Mr. Glenn Goldsborough (Pennsbury High School). The workshop program included lectures on the subject material; discussions about pedagogical approaches; hands-on activities (inexpensive classroom labs, PC-based software activities, WWW-based labs); examinations of curricular materials; and guest presentations by professional astronomers. The workshop introduced teachers to the predicted properties of black holes and the astronomical evidence for their existence. Along the way, they studied modern ideas about the nature of space, time, and gravity. Topics covered included the predicted properties of black holes, stars and their fates, stellar-mass black holes in our cosmic backyard, supermassive black holes in galactic nuclei, active galaxies and jets, Hawking radiation, and singularities.

Among the guest lecturers, Dr. Kate Grier (Penn State) gave a talk on the exciting results from the SDSS Reverberation Mapping Project, which has now measured direct black hole masses over half of cosmic history (see attached image). Observations for this project are ongoing as part of SDSS-IV, and this work was recently featured in an SDSS-IV Press Release. Dr. Vivek Mariappan (Penn State) furthermore presented a guest lecture on the variability of quasar winds as probed by SDSS and how these winds can provide feedback into quasar host galaxies. Observations of such wind variability continue presently as part of the SDSS-IV Time Domain Spectroscopic Survey. The attending teachers had a chance to inspect SDSS plug plates and learn about how these are used to conduct the massive SDSS spectroscopic surveys (see image below).


These workshops were partly funded by the “Broader Impacts” component of an NSF  grant supporting studies of quasar winds with the SDSS.

Further information about the workshops is available at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *