WSSU purchases telescope, upgrades observatory
New equipment is only professional telescope in Forsyth County
Grant award, $200,000. Observatory upgrades, $115,000. Attracting more African American STEM students to study astronomy, priceless.
That’s the overall goal in the purchase of Winston-Salem State University’s new telescope inside its observatory perched atop Hill Hall, said Dr. Lei Zhang, physics professor since 2005.
WSSU received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation back in 2021 for the purpose of “infusing evidence-based hands-on activities into general education science core courses” through the observatory.
The grant provided resources to upgrade the John Arthur Fountain Observatory, which was built in 1992, including purchase of a 17-inch PlaneWave telescope. It is the only professional telescope in Forsyth County, Zhang said.
“Most students in liberal arts colleges are interested in taking the fundamental astronomy courses for their general education science requirements, so this project is serving our students’ interest,” he said.
Involved STEM faculty members have developed their own hands-on in-class research projects for students in physics, chemistry, biology, computer science and math courses by using the observatory/telescope and are ready to implement them, he said.
Beyond academia, the upgraded observatory and telescope will be used for community engagement to nurture an interest in STEM with young and high-school students. Zhang envisions field trips to the observatory from local schools and groups. He also looks forward to the university resuming its partnership with the Forsyth Astronomical Society.
“Dr. Zhang, who served as principal investigator of the grant, is to be commended for his devotion to this project that supports student recruitment into STEM majors,” said Dr. Manju Bhat, dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, Business and Education. “It is a novel approach to enhance the educational experiences of our students.” There is still testing to be done on the telescope, which should be completed over the next few weeks. Additionally, Zhang is completing a policy for safety guidelines and regulations for use of the observatory. But he’s wishing upon a shooting star (pun intended) that all systems will be a go before the next celestial event, which is a solar eclipse on April 8.
About Winston-Salem State University: Winston-Salem State University fosters the creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and depth of character needed to transform the world. Rooted in liberal education, WSSU’s curriculum prepares students to be thought leaders who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Founded in 1892, WSSU is a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina with a rich tradition of contributing to the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic growth of North Carolina, the region, and beyond. Guided by the motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” WSSU develops leaders who advance social justice by serving the world with compassion and commitment.