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Exoplanet Transits

This seminar provides practical experience in astronomical research and an understanding of the nature of scientific research. Participants, who need no previous experience, plan a team research project, make observations, analyze results, and write a paper for publication. This fall’s (2018) InStAR Research Seminar will focus on Exoplanets, specifically collecting transit data and creating a light curve.


Upcoming InStAR Exoplanet Transits Research Seminars:


The STAR Handbook is the required textbook for the Double Star Astronomy Research Seminar and is included in your registration for the seminar.


Click for more info.


Overview of the Seminar

This 10-week InStAR Research Seminar is open to anyone interested in astronomical research, though traditionally most seminars have been directed toward undergraduate and high school students. The seminar will engage you as a researcher in a team research project that will result in a published paper. If you are a student, completing actual research will help you understand how all the individual lecture courses and technique labs you have and will be taking will, in the end, come together in a usable, coherent manner.


You will be immersed, as a member of a research team, within an existing, community of practice that consists of both professional and amateur astronomers as well as former seminar participants who were bitten by the research bug and continued on with research projects after completing their first seminar. Your team will prepare and submit a research proposal, manage your own research, write up your results, send your co-authored paper out for external review, and submit your final paper for publication. Being a co-author of a published research paper will boost your career with respect to admissions and scholarships if you are a student, opening up many doors for you. The seminar student teams have produced some 150 published papers with 500 co-authors. Over half of the seminar’s participants have been high schools students, many of them taking the seminar on the side as their first college course.

Over the past decade we have learned how to reliably produce team research papers and send them off for publication within the constraints of the time period of a semester or less. We:


  • Conduct research within a student-friendly area of scientific research that features a very supportive professional-amateur (pro-am) community of practice.

  • Immerse research teams within this supportive, pro-am community of practice.

  • Form diverse teams with a wide range of participant talents, backgrounds, and experience. Such variation, it should be noted, is also the norm within professional research teams.

  • Encourage varying levels of participation; participants have different skills and some have more time than others. The same is true in professional research. Justice, with respect to the degree of participation, is handled by author order, as is the case with professional research teams.

  • Have teams take ownership of their projects and manage their own projects.

  • Make sure that teams plan their projects, make their proposals, and collect and analyze their data in a prompt manner, leaving ample time for writing and rewriting team papers and giving a final PowerPoint presentation.


Exoplanet Research Seminar Learning Outcomes

Participants who successfully complete the Astronomy Research Seminar will have:

  • Gained an understanding of the nature of scientific, astronomical and exoplanet research

  • Planned a team research project that will be completed during the seminar

  • Gathered and analyzed exoplanet transit observations

  • Written a team research paper

  • Incorporated an external reviewer’s suggestions into a final paper submitted for publication

  • Described the team’s research findings in PowerPoint presentation


The Roles of the Participant Researchers and Instructor Supervisor

Participants are:

  • Online primarily solo participants for the first two weeks of the seminar as they develop an understanding of the nature of scientific, astronomical and exoplanet research through textbook readings, online videos, and short, objective self-assessment quizzes

  • Online team research scientists for the last six weeks of the seminar


The role of the research supervisor in this seminar is quite different than classroom instructors. The research supervisor:


  • Monitors assignments, answers questions, etc.

  • Provides guidance to the research teams, connects them with both professional and amateur astronomers outside of the seminar for assistance, and critically reviews their research in weekly staff meetings starting with the third week.


Seminar Structure Phase I (of II): Individual Participant Study

  • Unit 1  Introduction to the Seminar and Astronomical Research

  • Unit 2  Exoplanet basics


The first two of eight units are devoted to individual study. These two units provide participants the needed background in scientific research, astronomical research, and exoplanet transit photometry to work effectively as a researcher within a team.


The first unit familiarizes participants with different types of scientific and astronomical research, how to work within a pro-am community-of-practice, the key concepts of the Astronomy Research Seminar, and what they will gain by participation in the seminar.


The second unit provides the basic concepts of exoplanet photometry participants need to begin meaningful research. On completion of the second unit, participants will be certified as researchers. They will also, at this point have been assigned to a team based on their response to a questionnaire about their skills, preferences for type of work, and their availability for online, synchronous team meetings. Once certified, seminar participants are researchers and are treated as such by the research supervisor in the weekly staff meetings with each team.


It should be noted that most professional astronomical research is done by teams of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. While these research teams manage their own research, they do report to a research supervisor who provides guidance as well as assistance when requested by the team leader. Seminar research teams are just the same and treated in the same manner as professional teams except: (1) they are not paid to conduct research, and (2) the research projects they take on must be modest in scope because they must be completed in a semester or less by part-time researchers.


Seminar Structure Phase II (of II): Team Research

The last six of eight units are devoted to team research. Individual study is still required of the researchers to prepare them with the knowledge they will need to tackle each unit’s team deliverable. The individual study is tailored to and restricted to just what is required for producing the unit’s team deliverable.


  • Unit 3  Form Teams and Plan Team Research Projects

  • Unit 4  Project Management

  • Unit 5  Write Team Research Paper

  • Unit 6  Rewrite and Edit Team Research Paper

  • Unit 7  External Review / Final Paper

  • Unit 8  Present Team Research Findings / Individual Reflections


Research Supervisor Rachel Freed works via Zoom Conferencing, with the InStAR Astronomy Research Seminar teams at Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington-Spring 2018.

Team Research Unit Process

While the seminar’s first two units are entirely individual learning, the seminar’s remaining six units involve both individual learning and team research activities. The individual learning, which consists of readings and/or pre-recorded online lectures, prepares each researcher to work as an effective team member for the unit. Individual readiness for the unit’s research is assessed by an objective, automatically-graded, unit preparation quizzes.


Each of the six team research units has a specific, well defined team deliverable that the team must produce (otherwise there will be little to discuss at the weekly staff meeting). The unit’s individual training material, mentioned above, and each Unit Overview, describes how to produce each unit’s deliverable. Each of the six team research units follows the same process and weekly schedule (except the first and last units as the first unit has no previous research deliverable to discuss, while the last unit has no future research to discuss).


The staff meetings are absolutely central to the success of the research projects, as they are for research projects at professional research institutions. This is especially the case for the Astronomy Research Seminar, as most of the team researchers are novices when it comes to research. Thus, the seminar requires that the research supervisor take an especially active role in the staff meeting. As is the case for professional staff meetings, three basic requirements must be met: (1) all of the team members should attend, (2) participants should show up a bit early, and (3) research teams need to have submitted their deliverable (which will be discussed at the staff meeting) to the research supervisor prior to the staff meeting. 

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Research Supervisor:
Rachel Freed,, (707) 326-8310


Canvas Learning Management System Coordinator:
Dr. Cheryl Genet,, (805) 438-4088

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