Online Game Sparks Girls Interest in ST Image 2
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Online Game Sparks Girls Interest in S&T (Image 2)

May 10, 2012
In the online virtual world of "The Universe Quest Game," young girls can create characters that interact with one another and operate a virtual telescope as if it were real, obtaining actual images through a small telescope at the Ironwood North Observatory (INO) in Queen Creek, Ariz. The girls are part of a team that includes Susan Murabona, an educator and astronomer in Nairobi, Kenya, and Lech Mankiewicz, an astrophysicist in Warsaw, Poland, who are assembling the online game to help girls around the world explore the cosmos, and instill an interest in software development and information technology that could lead to future careers. During one of the team's online meetings, the girls reviewed images of the galaxy M51, a collection of stars about 35 million light years from our own galaxy. The images were taken by Murabona from her lab in Kenya using the remote INO in Arizona. Murabona was assisted on-line by Mankiewicz in Poland, who talked her through the process step by step of how to use the telescope and take the images. Murabona, in turn, taught the girls how to use a French software program called SalsaJ, so they could combine three images--taken with red, green and blue filters--into one, true color image of the galaxy. The Oakland Girl Scouts will use the M51 image and others to build and populate "The Universe Quest Game." During the process they'll learn about astronomy and interact with students from around the world who will be creating their own games. All of the students will learn how to use the remote telescopes, process images, search databases and discover and monitor such astronomical puzzles as quasar variability. Development of the game was made possible by a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation's Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program, awarded to the University of California, Berkeley. Carl Pennypacker, the UC-Berkeley principal investigator for the grant, wants to target girls that have traditionally been left out of the pipeline to technology careers and African Americans as well. "We know we can inspire the students, and we know from research that inspired children learn more and achieve more," says Pennypacker. Credit: Carl Pennypacker, UC-Berkeley

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