For more than a decade, Tohoku University has hosted an astronomy camp that gives teenagers across Japan an opportunity to be researchers for a week and to live their dreams of studying the universe.
The seven-day, hands-on programme is called "Moshiten," which is short for もしも君が杜の都で天文学者になったら, meaning "What if you were an astronomer in Sendai City."
Participants live together on campus, set their own research themes, present their research proposals, acquire data, and draw conclusions through data analyses and discussions. Astronomical observations are performed over the course of several nights using the 1.3-meter Hitomi Telescope at the Sendai City Observatory.
Twelve high school students from nine prefectures were selected for Moshiten 2023, which was held from December 22 - 28. The students were divided into three groups and guided through their tasks by instructors, as well as undergraduate and graduate volunteers known as Student Learning Advisers (SLA).
Rena Shimizu, a high school student from Kobe, said her interest in astronomy began when she was 4 years old, after a trip to the mountains with her family. "We looked at the stars, and I thought it was so beautiful. Then Santa gave me a telescope when I was in elementary school and every night I would look at the skies."
When she started reading about galaxies, she said, she was drawn to their many mysteries. "I realised there are many things we still don't understand. I'm really motivated to learn more, so it's exciting to be here."
"In Moshiten, we tell the students to find something about the universe that intrigues them, and then try to get answers through their research," said Makoto Hattori, associate professor at the Tohoku University Astronomical Institute. Hattori, along with assistant professor Yoshifusa Ita, founded the Moshiten programme in 2011.
"The students learn to turn what they don't know into a question, and then set out to find the answers. That is what research is," added Hattori. "It is very different from simply studying in a class where the questions and correct answers are usually given to the students."
Junichi Hasegawa, a high school student from Aichi, said it was eye-opening to learn what researchers have to go through. "It's actually quite difficult to come up with a good research theme, a good proposal and a good approach to finding the solution," he said. "I realised that being a researcher is quite difficult, but I think the challenge is also very interesting."
After several days of group work and consultations with the Moshiten instructors, the three student groups settled on their names and research themes. The members of would explore the relationship between rotation curves and the characteristics of the galaxy; Gyalan-chu members would study arm branching in spiral galaxies; and those in Project HAS would do spectroscopic analysis of Jupiter's material concentration.
"It's been great making new friends and meeting other people who are also interested in astronomy," said Victor Ryoma Figueroa, a high school student from Hiroshima. "I really enjoy the discussions, especially talking about our research with the SLAs."
The SLAs too, appeared to enjoy the week. For some, it was an opportunity to give back to the programme. "I joined Moshiten in 2019 when I was a high school student and I loved it," said Saori Endo, currently a physics undergraduate at Tohoku University. "On the final day of our camp, I said if I could come back to Tohoku University, I will work at Moshiten."
Natsuko Matsushita, another Moshiten alumna who is currently an undergraduate at the Faculty of Science, added that "there is a lot to do in one week, but everyone works hard. These students are so determined, I feel inspired talking with them."
In addition to moderating the discussions and supporting the students in their research, the SLAs also planned activities outside the classroom, such as getting to know the campus, having cakes at Christmas and taking a trip downtown to see the Pageant of Lights.
On the last day of camp, the groups gave their final presentations and Project HAS won the award for best report.
Although the students admitted to being nervous, Hattori said that the instructors were impressed with all the presentations and the quality of the discussions that followed. "Critical thinking based on scientific evidence is always important," he said, "but so is having a lively exchange of opinions in order to get multiple perspectives."
Moshiten is organized by the Tohoku University Astronomical Institute. It is held annually with support from Miyagi University of Education and the Sendai City Observatory.
- Moshiten Homepage: https://moshiten.studio.site/
Tohoku University Astronomical Institute