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“Some colleges don’t even have facilities like this.”

James - Upper Andover, MA

On a clear Wednesday night, you can find James gazing into the stars. As the leader of the open houses at the Phillips Academy Observatory, James is an astronomy ambassador and in charge of welcoming the PA community to the Gelb Science center for glimpses into outer space. He collects data and positions telescopes to capture unique views of such celestial bodies as the moon and Andromeda galaxy.

“I started early in my junior year [at the Observatory],” says James. “I went to the open houses, learned the ropes of the telescopes and computers, then took over during my lower year. I’ll continue until I graduate.”

James’ passion for astronomy blossomed once he arrived at Andover as a day student. He has taken both astronomy classes offered by the science department (PHYS-440, Astronomy; PHYS-530, Astronomy Research) and is currently working on an IP with a fellow student. “We’re taking images of asteroids through different light filters, to see which light wavelength reflects the best,” James says. “From that, we can make inferences on the composition.”

“It’s been great working with Mrs. Odden, who is our IP advisor and oversees the Observatory,” says James. Odden’s connections with NITARP, a NASA-affiliated program that teams educators and students with professional scientists to pioneer new astronomical research, allowed James to travel to the California Institute of Technology to conduct research with the program. This past winter he returned to California for an American Astronomical Society meeting where he presented a poster of his own work.

When James is not studying planets and nebulae he is participating in Outdoor Pursuits and passing along his expertise via community service, helping out with YDO Astronomy and YDO Science Olympiad—two programs that help expose middle school students to science.

“To have a telescope like this is very unique,” says James appreciatively, reflecting on the access he has. “Some colleges don’t even have facilities like this.”