Professor Alyssa Goodman

Harvard Professor Alyssa Goodman gave the keynote address, “Astronomy: From Aristotle to AI,” at the STEM week event hosted by the Center for Astrophysics.

Photos by Niles Singer/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Celebrating Mass STEM Week with astrophysics and AI

3 min read

Center for Astrophysics shows high schoolers that the sky’s the limit when choosing a career

The Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian opened its doors for its first public lecture since the pandemic began with a nod to the future. “Astronomy Is for All of Us: Celebrating Women Astrophysicists and the History of Cosmic Discovery” on Oct. 19 recognized Mass STEM week, a statewide effort to raise high schoolers’ interest in and awareness of careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School students who attended were members of the Harvard-MIT Science Research Mentoring Program, a program that gave them the opportunity to work on a yearlong independent research project under the guidance of a CfA or MIT astrophysicist.

“I have immense gratitude in my heart tonight for our partnership with the Harvard-MIT Science Research Mentoring Program — their generous support of our students to reach their dreams and their goals,” said Cambridge Public Schools Superintendent Victoria Greer. “The opportunity for our young minds to participate in such a wonderful program, guided by brilliant minds, is nothing short of transformative.”

Guest speaker Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll said that creating such opportunities to connect students and researchers is the purpose of STEM Week.

“We see the Massachusetts economy growing in the innovation sector; 40 percent of all new jobs are going to be tied to innovation in Massachusetts,” said Driscoll. “We say to our business community, if you want to see what your future talent looks like, come visit our high schools.

Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll (left) speaks with CRLS students.
Superintendent Victoria Greer

Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll (left) speaks with CRLS students. Cambridge Public Schools Superintendent Victoria Greer praised the Harvard-MIT Science Research Mentoring Program during her address.

“We need to do a better job of connecting our workforce, our pathways, our early college opportunities for young adults with the opportunities we know are going to be here in this state.”

In her address, “Astronomy: From Aristotle to AI,” Alyssa Goodman, the Robert Wheeler Willson Professor of Applied Astronomy at Harvard and a research associate of the Smithsonian, said, “Whenever I talk to the public like this, I just want them to see that we’re just regular people who get to do this amazing job. I’m from New York and I used to love going to the Hayden Planetarium as a kid. Now my team has permission to use its huge dome to test our 3D imaging maps.

“If someone had told me as a kid that I would one day be handed the keys to the Hayden Planetarium, I would never have believed it,” she said. “You just never know what will spark that kind of excitement in someone, which is why I love these kinds of events.”

The evening’s program included an exhibit of vintage photographs showing the women who worked as astronomical computers in the Harvard Observatory during the 19th and 20th centuries, coupled with a visit to the CfA’s historic Great Refractor telescope, and hands-on activities in the courtyard. The evening was capped with a reception and viewing of  Jupiter and Saturn from the CfA rooftop.

“This whole night was amazing,” said student Sabrina Urbancik. “Dr. Goodman is an amazing lecturer. She’s excited about her work, and that makes me excited too.”

For more information on the mentoring program visit its website. To learn about other University initiatives to support STEM education and to build college and career awareness among local youth, click here.