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Educational Programmes at the Nordic Optical Telescope


Overview of the NOT Educational Programmes

In the era of 8m telescopes, it makes good sense to use part of the time on a 2m-class telescope as a tool to attract and train the next generation of observational astronomers. The NOT is particularly well placed to fill this need: First, it can serve all five Nordic countries, with a combined population of ~25 million and with astronomical communities that are very diverse and individually too small to maintain research-class telescopes for educational purposes. Second, NOT is designed for ease of access and simplicity of operation for the observer, and students can observe on their own after just a couple of hours of instruction. Third, our family-style group has proved to be a fertile environment for students to spend a period of hands-on training at an international observatory. We have used these strengths to design a coherent set of educational services that can be offered to students ranging from the undergraduate to the PhD level.

A general overview of the Educational use of the NOT in the form of student training is provided here, and is briefly described below. A detailed description of what is offered to groups that want to use the NOT for an observational course, including general guidelines which describe the various steps in the preparation, is given here.

On-site training courses

On-site training courses in observational astronomy have been held at NOT for several years. In such courses, groups of up to 12 students spend 1-2 weeks on La Palma, observing with NOT for typically 6 nights. Because only ~3 students can be accommodated in the control room at the same time, the sitting room in our service building is converted into a classroom with a large projection screen, tables, and network connections (see above). In this way, instruction in the use of the telescope - or in any other subject - can be given to the entire group at once, and the students who are not actually at the controls can follow the observations as if they were watching in the control room itself. During and after the observations, the students can reduce the data already obtained with help from the teachers; we provide a set of powerful laptop computers with all the required software packages pre-installed and tested for this purpose. Often, students choose their observing projects before the course by filling out proposal forms as if they were actually applying for observing time, and prepare their final reports as a professional research paper for one of the main journals - some of which are in fact published.

See below for links to some recent Nordic and national schools of this type, which are typically aimed at students at the PhD level.

Remote observing for off-site courses

On-site courses are very popular with the students because of the hands-on experience and the excitement of travelling to the Canary Islands. They do, however, come at a significant price in terms of travel cost and time for both students and teachers, and our capacity is limited. Using the capabilities of our new Telescope Control System, we therefore now also offer a remote observing option for off-site courses. This may be motivated by a wish to use NOT in parallel with other telescopes, such as the Molétai Observatory in Lithuania, or our optical/NIR/mm radio training courses at Tuorla Observatory, Finland in June 2009, and at Onsala Space Observatory, Sweden in June 2010 supported by NORDFORSK. Alternatively, the number of students in a class may exceed our capacity, or the amount of observing time needed may be insufficient to warrant a group trip to the Canary Islands. In such cases, a classroom of any size, and in principle anywhere in the world, can be set up as a remote observing room, provided it has proper network connections and projection equipment. The layout is similar to that shown above, but students will actually be at the keyboard and conduct their observations themselves under the supervision of an on-site staff member. In this way, students may perform a few hours of observation without interrupting their regular studies, also at the undergraduate level, and a backup night can be provided in case of poor weather. These options are also described in the paper Educational use of NOT.

Research studentships at NOT

As a final step in their education, a few students are offered the opportunity to spend a period of the order of a year with the NOT group on La Palma during their PhD studies or in the final year of their MSc. The group of ~5 NOT Research Students are fully integrated in our team and divide their time between their thesis project and practical work at the telescope, such as further development of ourservices or support to visiting astronomers. The hands-on experience with advanced instrumentation and added maturity gained by the students in an international setting have proved to be an important asset in the future careers, not only in astronomy or related sciences (over 80% of them), but also outside astronomy. See the description of life as a NOT student by one of them on p. 26 of our Annual Report 2007 and the links below for further information.


Observing schools
Research Studentships
Other activities

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