Building Bridges by Building Telescopes

February 16, 2018

Using Virtual Exchange to Connect Robotic Clubs in Italy and the U.S.

Through the Virtual Communities Connect initiative, the ECA Collaboratory funded a series of pilot projects that allowed U.S. Embassies around the world to develop meaningful virtual programming with American communities and institutions that help advance American foreign policy goals.

The U.S. Embassy in Rome, building on their previous work in space and science programming, established a virtual exchange program between the Italian high school Istituto Tecnico Fedi Fermi of Pistoia and two U.S. high schools: Brunswick High School in Georgia and Northwest High School in Pennsylvania. All three schools built robotic telescopes with the assistance of the collaborative U.S. citizen-science project, PANOPTES (Panoptic Astronomical Networked Observatories for a Public Transiting Exoplanets Survey), which aims to build a worldwide network of low cost, robotic telescopes to detect transiting exoplanets.

The project included a series of virtual connections between the U.S. and Italian students to compare their builds, observations, and scientific discoveries. Between the synchronous connections, the students connect via social media platforms to tackle challenges they face throughout the build and observation processes.

As a result of their participation in the virtual program, students at the Fedi Fermi high school won the Tuscan Regional P.E.Z. (Progetti Educativi Zonali) First Award for best practices in creativity and promotion of self-entrepreneurship. The award included 6,000 Euros and an exhibition booth at Fiera Didacta in Florence, where the students showcased samples of the robotics telescope they are building along with their virtual exchange partners the United States to explore exoplanets.