Summer Science Program of 2008 Begins at New Mexico Tech, June 19, 2008

By Roger Renteria

SOCORRO, N.M., June 18, 2008 – The Summer Science Program (SSP) returns to New Mexico Tech for its sixth summer. Three dozen top high school science students from 16 states and seven foreign countries have arrived on campus for the six-week intensive science program.

Students will spend their days in college-level lectures, and their nights measuring the positions of near-Earth asteroids, using New Mexico Tech’s Etscorn Observatory.

This year, the program will focus on observing near-Earth asteroids rather than, as in previous summers, asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter. These near-Earth asteroids have the potential to strike our planet because their orbits cross Earth’s.

The SSP students will learn the job of a scientist, by taking observations, making calculations, and making predictions. Working in teams of three, they take digital images of the night sky to measure precise positions of asteroids. They calculate orbits by learning a computer programming language to write software. Once the orbit is known, the future path of the asteroid is determined.

In addition to conducting their asteroid project, SSP students attend class throughout the program and are also treated to ten guest speakers from many different disciplines of science. The lectures are open to the New Mexico Tech community and take place in Weir 102. The schedule of lectures is:

    • June 19, 2:30 p.m., Dr. Elizabeth Simmons of Michigan State speaks on "Particle Physics in the LHC Era."
    • June 20, 2:30 p.m., Dr. R. Sekhar Chivukula speaks on "Gravity from Newton to Einstein."
    • June 23, 2:30 p.m., Dr. Susan Bilek of New Mexico Tech speaks on "Large Earthquakes and Tsunami: The Global Reach of 2004 Sumatra."
    • July 1, 2:30 p.m., Dr. Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute speaks on "What Are Planets and How Do They Form?"
    • July 5, 10:30 a.m., Dr. Larry Sverdrup of Ophthonix, Inc., speaks on "Mad? Science!"
    • July 8, 2:30 p.m., Dr. Penelope Boston of New Mexico Tech speaks on "Caves: Exploring Life Underground from Earth to Mars and Beyond."
    • July 11, 2:30 p.m., Dr. Sherry Nelson of the University of New Mexico speaks on "Sivapithecus: Reconstructing the Life of a Fossil Ape."
    • July 12, 7:30 p.m., E. Bruce Held of Sandia National Laboratories speaks on "Espionage in New Mexico."
    • July 15, 2:30 p.m., Dr. Kimberly Thomas of Los Alamos National Laboratory speaks on "Things Nuclear in Our Lives."
    • July 18, 2:30 p.m., Dr. Nicholas Suntzeff of Texas AM University speaks on "The Ultimate Fate of the Universe."

The Summer Science Program began in 1959 in Ojai, California. SSP is renowned for its high school summer enrichment program in which students get a hands-on approach to observe asteroids, calculate its orbit using software they write, and attend college-level lectures. In 2003, SSP opened a second campus at New Mexico Tech.


During their breaks from the classroom and telescopes, the Socorro-based SSP students also get to tour facilities in and around Tech, such as Magdalena Ridge Observatory, EMRTC, the Very Large Array, and Trinity Site

Students find that this experience is one-of-a-kind and profoundly inspires them to pursue further interest in science or engineering. They are given the opportunity to learn the necessary skills to prepare them for college work. SSP alumni call the program an “educational experience of a lifetime.”

Find out more information about SSP at www.summerscience.org.