Astronomy Student Stars Start Maunakea Scholars Awards Season

November 29, 2017, 3:36 PM HST

Director Doug Simons of the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope (CFHT) met with students, teachers and family at Kealakehe High School on the Big Island to award the winners of the Maunakea Scholars program on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017.

The program selected the first four student observers of the 2017-18 school year. These students are awarded observing time at one of the world’s most powerful telescopes for their scientific research.

Simons shared his personal story of how STEM education opened incredible doors for him and Principal Murakami congratulated the students on their remarkable achievements. The observatory leadership from the selection committee talked with each project team in detail about the merits of their proposal, each of which was creative, sophisticated and ambitious.

“In our first year here at Kealakehe, we’ve been so impressed by the caliber of the student’s imaginative research proposals,” said Mary Beth Laychak, program lead for Maunakea Scholars and outreach program manager at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT). “Like the other students in our Maunakea Scholars cohorts, the limiting factor for their projects is our technology, not their creativity. Even the most advanced instruments in the world of astronomy, right here on Maunakea, can’t keep pace with our local students’ groundbreaking ideas.”

The telescope time awarded yesterday will facilitate advanced research by the students whose projects were deemed most creative, scientifically promising and technically viable. The students have been at work for months alongside mentors from the University of Hawai‘i’s Institute for Astronomy, analyzing data and preparing professional-style research proposals. The committee selected the first three winning proposals for observation:

  • Shanen Arellano: “Is There a Relationship Between the Metallicity of a Nebula and its Shape and Size?”
    Nathan Weir and Mason Solmonson: “NIR Spectroscopy of Accretion Disks of Different Black Holes”
    Amanda Schiff: “Composition and Formation of Secluded Starburst Galaxies”

This first awards announcement is the opening of the Maunakea Scholars awards period, where student projects will be selected from each of the participating schools including Honoka‘a, Kohala and Waiakea on the Big Island, King Kekaulike on Maui, Moloka‘i High School and Kalani, Waipahu, Kapolei and Nanakuli on O‘ahu.


The Maunakea Scholars program was created to bring Hawai‘i’s aspiring young astronomers into the observatory community, competitively allocating observing time on a world-class telescope to local students. This is the first program of its kind internationally, leveraging the most powerful collection of telescopes in the world for the direct educational advancement of Hawai‘i’s high school students.

About the Maunakea Observatories
The Maunakea Observatories are a collaboration of independent institutions with telescopes located on Maunakea on the island of Hawai’i. Together, the Observatories make Maunakea the most scientifically productive site for astronomy worldwide. The Maunakea Observatories include: Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, Canada-France-Hawai’i Telescope, Gemini International Observatory, James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (EAO), NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, Subaru Telescope, Submillimeter Array, United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, University of Hawai’i Hilo Educational Telescope, University of Hawai’i 2.2 Meter Telescope, Very Long Baseline Array, W. M. Keck Observatory (Keck I and Keck II).


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