Kauai News

Waipahu Students Win Telescope Time Through Maunakea Scholars Program

Posted February 21, 2022, 7:30 AM HST ·Updated February 20, 2:56 PM

Several students from an Oʻahu high school are the latest to be named Maunakea Scholars.

Astronomy haumāna (students) at Waipahu High School were commended for their research efforts and rewarded with observation time at some of Hawaiʻi’s leading telescopes atop Maunakea. The Maunakea Observatories announced four students will be given time to use a telescope on Maunakea on the Big Island or Haleakalā on Maui to conduct astronomical research that supports their submitted proposals.

Waipahu High Maunakea Scholars participants with UH Institute of Astronomy Director Doug Simons and Mary Beth Laychak with the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope. (Photo courtesy of University of Hawai‘i)

This is the fifth time since the inception of the Maunakea Scholars program in 2015 that student proposals from Waipahu High have been awarded. Throughout the history of the program, Maunakea Scholars has worked with more than 600 haumāna statewide, according to a press release from the University of Hawaiʻi.

“In the field of space and astronomy, it’s a huge huge huge field,” said Emily Phanphongsa, a senior at Waipahu High School. “I was very shocked at just being able to do the research about such large things and like the larger aspect of what the galaxy has to offer.”

The students were selected by a time allocation committee comprised of professional astronomers. Mentors from UH’s Institute for Astronomy worked with haumāma for months, analyzing data and preparing professional-style research proposals. The student observers were selected based on viability, creativity and potential.

Waipahu High students with winning proposals are:

  • Casey Alhambra, who was awarded observing time with the National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope for his proposal, “The Sun’s Wild Side.”
  • Troy Mendoza, who was awarded observing time with the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope using the Megacam and WirCam instruments for his proposal, “Barnard 68, The Bootes Void Imposter.”
  • Laureen Coleto, who was awarded observing time with the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope using the instrument SPIRou for her proposal, “Determining Minor Gases of the Cat’s Eye Nebula.”
  • Redgy Salanio, who was awarded observing time with the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope using the instrument ESPaDOnS for his proposal, “The Bright Star WR140.”

“Working with the Maunakea Scholars program opened doors for myself and my students that I never thought possible,” said Waipahu High science teacher Tessie Ford. “Watching our freshmen grow over the course of the year while working on their proposals has been so rewarding.”

Current Maunakea Scholars include students from seven schools: Kalani High School, Kapolei High School and Waipahu High School on O‘ahu; Waiākea High School and Kealakehe High School on the Big Island; Moloka‘i High School; and Lāna‘i High School. The Maunakea Scholars program works with education partners at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo and all the Maunakea Observatories facilities, Las Cumbres Observatory and the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope.

“Adding the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope observing time to the Maunakea Scholars program (this year) brings the sun closer to Hawaiʻi students,” said Institute for Astronomy Director Doug Simons. “It is exceptional that a local student from Waipahu High School will be amongst the first to view the sun’s activity with unprecedented resolution. Mahalo to the Inouye Solar Telescope team for making this possible.”

Designed to bring Hawai‘i’s high-schoolers into one of the world’s most advanced observatory communities, Maunakea Scholars helps aspiring astronomers envision their potential of pursuing a career in fields related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, according to the release. It is the first program of its kind internationally to allocate observing time at major observatories for the direct educational advancement of students.

To qualify, students in participating schools must conduct astronomical research and assemble a comprehensive proposal that can be conducted at an observatory. Selected proposals are then matched with graduate students from the Institute for Astronomy and telescope staff to individually guide them through their research.

The Maunakea Scholars program is an initiative by Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope and Gemini Observatory, and in partnership with the Maunakea Observatories and the state Department of Education.

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