The Vatican Observatory Summer School (part 2)

Posted by David Eicher
on Saturday, June 30, 2007

Vatican Summer SchoolAs I mentioned in my last blog, 27 graduate students from 22 countries are attending the Vatican Observatory Summer School (VOSS) this year. It continues until July 6. During my visit last week, I talked with many of the students, who represented such diverse nations as New Zealand, Armenia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Brazil, the Ukraine, Taiwan, South Africa, Mexico, and Indonesia.
The students were all effervescent in voicing their opinions about what VOSS means to them. "It's great coming to a meeting like this to see what's happening in the whole field," says Sarah Calbio of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago. Most of the students are working on their Ph.D.s, some on master's theses. "It's a great opportunity that I really looked forward to," says Nathan Deg of Halifax, Nova Scotia, "I've really learned a lot talking with other students from different cultures and with different personalities. It's a great group of students."
"It‘s an amazing topic in an incredible place," says Maria Duplantic Videla, from San Juan, Argentina. "It's a great opportunity to get to know people from different cultures with different backgrounds in a unique place." "It lets you get to know the latest on an incredible topic, among spiritual people, in a spiritual place," says Lisseth Gavilan, who hails from Peru but attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
Each day at VOSS featured review talks about exoplanets and brown dwarfs from the faculty, and some days featured a guest lecture from an outside presenter in the evening. On Thursday, June 21, I was privileged to present my talk, "Shots from the dark: How astronomy enthusiasts have reacted to exoplanet discoveries." Taking a different approach from a straight-on discussion of academic subjects, I reviewed how amateur astronomers have been excited by exoplanets — largely driven by the idea that one day we may find life or civilizations orbiting one — from the first discoveries 15 years ago until the present.
The students were terrific and enjoyed the talk greatly, and, to my surprise, asked 45 minutes' worth of questions mostly centered on Astronomy magazine, how it works, who writes for it, how articles are chosen, and all manner of things about it. To finish a wonderful day, we all escaped into the town square for pizza and gelato after the talk.
It was a memorable experience, and after meeting and getting to know these students, I know the future of exoplanet research will be in very good hands.

Click here to see more pictures from VOSS. You may need to disable your pop-up blocker to view this gallery.

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