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Priscilla & Bart Bok Awards for Astronomy Presented to High-School Students at Intel International Science & Engineering Fair

One American high school student and one high school student from Slovakia are the winners of the 2013 Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards for their astronomy projects presented at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in May. The awards were presented by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) in partnership with the American Astronomical Society (AAS), supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Priscilla and Bart Bok Awards are in recognition of scientific merit. Observational, instrumental, theoretical, and interdisciplinary projects involving physics, mathematics, computer sciences, and engineering in support of astronomy are eligible.

The first prize of $1,000 went to Arjun Raghavan for his project entitled “Photometric Evidence of Changes in Pulsation Characteristics of Hot Subdwarf B Stars.” Rapidly pulsating subdwarf B stars (sdBVR stars) vary their brightness in time periods ranging from 80 to 600 seconds—the fastest pulsating periods for any class of stars. These rare stars are especially important because the multiple pulsation frequencies they display provide astronomers with an opportunity to study the internal structures of stars. Raghavan’s study examines changes in the pulsation characteristics of 8 of the 70 known sdBVR stars. Information about these variations suggests that evolutionary changes inside of stars may be occurring at a drastically faster rate than the changes that are visible externally.

The second prize of $500 went to Michaela Brchnelova for her project entitled “X-Ray Measurements of Tycho Supernova Remnant’s Dynamics.” She presented x-ray measurements of Tycho’s supernova remnant. Observations and spectra from 2005 and 2009 retrieved from the data archive of the European Space Agency (ESA) orbiting x-ray observatory XMM Newton were compared to determine differences caused by collision of remnant material with the surrounding “interstellar medium” of free gas and dust, and by the remnant’s own expansion. These comparisons revealed regions in which the x-ray energy had increased and decreased over the four-year period.

Representing the ASP and AAS as Bok Award judges were Dr. Katy Garmany from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), Dr. John Glaspey, NOAO (retired), and Dr. Chris Groppi, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University.

The awarded funds are intended for use by the recipients to further their education and research efforts, and are augmented by support for travel to the next winter meeting of the AAS.

The Bok prize is named for Bart and Priscilla Bok. Bart Bok was an accomplished research astronomer who made important contributions to scientific understanding of the Milky Way and star formation. He received the ASP’s Bruce Medal in 1977 for lifetime achievement in astronomy. Throughout his life, and especially as an ASP Board member, Bok was a strong advocate for education and outreach in astronomy as was his wife, Priscilla, also a distinguished astronomer. They are co-authors of a celebrated book on the Milky Way.

Upon his death in 1983, the ASP established the Bart Bok Memorial Fund to support educational projects. The activities supported by the Bok Fund were expanded to include the joint ASP/AAS sponsorship of an astronomy award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, funded in part by support from the National Science Foundation.

Founded in 1889, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that works to increase the understanding and appreciation of astronomy–by engaging scientists, educators, enthusiasts, and the public–to advance science and science literacy. The Society produces scholarly and popular publications, education programs, resources and professional development opportunities, and has a national and international membership open to all interested parties.

The American Astronomical Society, established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America and also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the American Astronomical Society is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe.