Independent Study Profile: Sam Cabot '13
I had been very interested in astronomy before coming to Berkshire School. I think it just crept up on me somewhere between raising butterflies and sailing during my pre-Berkshire summers spent in Vermont. Upon enrolling I was thrilled to find the Dixon Observatory on campus but then a little disappointed to find I did not have time to fit astronomy into my class schedule. However, I was able to volunteer and assist Mr. Spear in preparation for his astronomy classes during my first year. While working with Mr. Spear, we found the observatory has some incredible resources but some of the equipment was not working properly and it was not clear how to setup, align, configure and use a lot of the other equipment. My independent study just seemed to grow out of my interest in helping to get everything organized and working.
The scope of my study involves four basic phases:
- Creating a detailed, computerized inventory of the resources, including notes that describe what various components do, and instructions about how to create, align and adjust different configurations.
- Identifying and having non-working equipment repaired, then re-assembled and aligned; this phase also required interfacing certain electronics, such as connecting the camera to the computer and astro-imaging software.
- Publicizing the Dixon Observatory as a school and local community astronomy resource, creating local interest in astronomy with presentations at local schools and community centers.
- Using the Dixon Observatory equipment to create exemplary photographs to showcase this incredible local resource to further generate interest about astronomy within the school and local community; and last, but not least, create technical instructions for other Berkshire students to follow and hopefully improve upon.
The experience has been absolutely great. The equipment we have is state-of-the-art and comparable to that of most colleges (I have been checking them out during my college visits), and the physical facilities are second to none. I only wish I had more time to spend in the observatory. Unfortunately, most of the aligning and imaging work can only be done at night when the skies are clear, so even when I plan my homework to leave a block of evening time open, I am still dependent on the weather.
I have particularly enjoyed the community presentations. While the main telescope was out for repair, I prepared and made astronomy presentations to local schools and retirement groups in the area. Seeing how excited everyone got about hearing about planets and dark energy, plus fielding all the questions, for which many required that I do more homework to find answers, was really a lot of fun. I would have to say I enjoy the public side of astronomy just as much as the solitary part.
Editor's Note: Sam will present his research at the Sheffield Senior Center on Friday, April 20 at 6 PM. After the one-hour talk, Sam will open the Observatory at 8 PM for visitors. Both events are free and open to the public.
Mr. Spear has been my primary mentor and it has been great working with him. Not only is he knowledgeable in the field, but he dedicated countless, sub-freezing, late nights to tedious and repetitive adjustments to the equipment with me. We are now nearing completion of the term and I believe he is as thrilled as I am to see everything working at its potential.
I very, very much appreciate the opportunity Berkshire School has afforded me through this independent study to really put my interests in astronomy to the test. I am planning to major at college in astrophysics and to hopefully devote my working days to studying cosmology.