Physics Students Secure Telescope Donation From MIT to Further Research Opportunities

Return to Issue of April 6, 2009

This telescope will soon help Kent State students search the heavens.
Aaron Slodov is not the average senior physics major. After becoming frustrated with the lack of equipment for student use, he devised a plan to obtain a radio telescope for the Department of Physics.

Slodov says the initial goal was for students to construct a telescope from scratch to conduct observations of our spiral galaxy, but a donation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Wellesley College created a hands-on opportunity for students to refurbish a telescope for student use.

"I had an internship with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence last summer, and the main mode of research was using radio telescopes," Slodov says. "The lack of resources here at Kent State bothered me, and I began thinking that building a radio telescope should be a project."

After many phone and e-mail conversations between Slodov and MIT's administration, MIT chose to donate the telescope, which had been in use at Wellesley College. Wellesley also agreed to the donation to the enterprising Kent State students. Slodov made arrangements to pick up the equipment and transport it from Boston.

"The project started out with three people and grew to 10," Slodov says. "We told the chair of our department, Bryon Anderson, and he became as excited as we were about the opportunity."

The students have received several thousand dollars from the physics department to transport, refurbish and build a platform for the telescope.

Dr. Bryon Anderson, chair, Department of Physics, says the department is supportive of student-research efforts. "Research, primarily at the graduate level, but also at the undergraduate level, is one of the basic missions of the department and is needed to provide students with the experience necessary to compete in physics employment situations of the modern, high-tech world," Anderson says.

Theodore Riffe, senior physics major, is one of the students refurbishing the telescope.

"This project is giving all of us a hands-on experience," Riffe says. "It's a good long-term investment for the university."

The project is being overseen by Anderson and Brett Ellman, associate professor.

"We are the two physics faculty who are most interested in this project and can provide the students the needed help and direction," Anderson says.

The telescope, measuring nearly eight feet in diameter, is expected to be completed by the end of the spring semester and will be housed next to the existing Kent State/NASA observatory, located behind the WKSU-FM Broadcast Center.

"Education and research is what the department exists to do, and this project involves both very nicely," Anderson says. "The students benefit from the experience in many ways. They have had to mostly organize the project themselves and have obtained the equipment from outside the university. The experience of seeing what is needed to plan and implement a project of this size is very important for their preparation for similar research and development work after graduation."

Visit the Department of Physics Web site to find out more about the donated radio telescope.

By Shantae Rollins

Return to Issue of April 6, 2009

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