From UCSC: “Global SPHERE Network promotes research opportunities for high school students”

UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz

November 29, 2017
Tim Stephens

Coalition of top U.S. educational institutions launches mentor network and online database to increase access to STEM research opportunities for high school students.


A coalition of U.S. educational institutions has launched an online database of opportunities around the world for high school students to get involved in research in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The database is part of a global network of STEM programs and mentors for high school students.

By promoting “STEM Programs for High-Schoolers Engaging in Research Early” (SPHERE), the Global SPHERE Network aims to increase both the number of mentors (researchers who engage high school students in their research) and the number and diversity of high school students who participate in authentic STEM research.

Founding partners in the coalition include the University of California, Santa Cruz; the New York Academy of Sciences; the Bay Area Teen Science Program at UC Berkeley; American Museum of Natural History; RockEDU Science Outreach at the Rockefeller University; and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Since 2015, the Global SPHERE Network has connected with 120 organizations in 20 countries, said cofounder Puragra (Raja) GuhaThakurta.

“As a STEM researcher, I feel it is very important to mentor today’s youth and get them deeply immersed in authentic research so they can get a taste of how exciting it is to tackle some of the open-ended problems facing the world today,” said GuhaThakurta, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and founder of the UCSC Science Internship Program (SIP). He and SIP partner liaison Emily Entress Clark cofounded the Global SPHERE Network.

The network’s new online database lists available opportunities across the world for high school students to engage in research. It also serves as a networking space for programs and mentors who are already offering research opportunities or are looking to do so. Member programs are encouraged to use the database on an ongoing basis to network with other programs, share resources, and engage with high school students.

The database will initially offer a few hundred research projects across a dozen established programs in a wide range of STEM disciplines. The goal is to grow the database to five to 10 times its current size over the next few years, GuhaThakurta said. High school science teachers and students interested in these projects can access the database through the student portal on the Global SPHERE Network web site.

“Many students on a STEM track at school are keen to do research projects, not only for their school work, but to also enter some of the science competitions that offer college scholarships, but they often don’t know how to get started,” said Celina Morgan-Standard, senior vice president of global business development at the New York Academy of Sciences. “The Global SPHERE Network initiative will help to address this opportunity gap while providing a great resource to teachers who’d like to give their students STEM related research projects.”

GuhaThakurta noted that most established programs find that they have to turn away many qualified students and generally have no systematic way to redirect them to alternate programs. Meanwhile, parents and students tend to be aware of only a small fraction of the available programs. The Global SPHERE Network provides valuable resources for programs and mentors as well as for students, parents, and teachers.

The network will host the first in a series of webinars on Wednesday, November 29 (1:30 to 2:30 p.m. PST), to give an overview of the network and answer questions for organizations that are interested in joining. Free registration for this and subsequent webinars is available through the prospective partner questionnaire on the network’s web site. Institutions, professionals, and educational groups are encouraged to register to receive invitations to webinars and find out ways they can benefit from the network.

Additional information about the Global SPHERE Network is available online at

See the full article here .

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition

UCO Lick Shane Telescope
UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
Shane Telescope at UCO Lick Observatory, UCSC

Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

UC Santa Cruz campus
The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

Lick Observatory's Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building
Lick Observatory’s Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building

Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
March 23, 2015
By Hilary Lebow
The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch) UCSC Lick Nickel telescope

Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

“Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

UCSC alumna Shelley Wright, now an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego, discusses the dichroic filter of the NIROSETI instrument. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

“The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

“We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

“This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

“Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.


Stem Education Coalition