Internship Program Wraps with Student Symposium at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center

Hilo, Hawaii (August 2nd, 2006) – The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, which is dedicated to showcasing astronomy and culture in Hawaii, was an ideal venue for the 2006 Akamai Observatory Internship Symposium on Friday, July 28.

In the center’s planetarium, usually a venue for celestial star shows, 13 stars from the educational universe were seated in the front row. Although they had each successfully overcome serious challenges during their eight-week internships at an astronomical institution or observatory, they were still nervous as they presented the results of the projects they worked on to a gathered audience of mentors, colleagues, friends and family.

Under the cool blue light of the planetarium dome, Lisa Hunter welcomed the audience and introduced herself as Education Director at the Center for Adaptive Optics, a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center (CfAO) at the University of California, Santa Cruz, which funds the Akamai Internship Program on the island of Hawaii. The program, now in its third year, places university and community college students with mentors at Big Island observatories for a paid, project-based summer internship. The students all have Hawaii ties and are studying some aspect of science, engineering or technology.

The first speaker, Cherie Kinoshita is a sophomore this year at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, majoring in mechanical engineering. Cherie grew up on Oahu, where among other activities she is an assistant coach for high school varsity girl’s basketball. As Cherie accepted a lei and a quick hug from Malika Bell, the program’s communication instructor, the first slide of her presentation appeared large and bright on the dome above her. Cherie told the audience that she had worked under the guidance of Billie Chitwood at the Smithsonian Submillimeter Array. During her 10-minute talk, she explained how she used a strain gauge to collect data to help determine whether door cutouts in the base of the antennas are affecting their performance.

Next up was Jennifer Takaki, a Hawaii Community College Electronics Technology student, who currently works as a student electronics technician at the Subaru Telescope. She designed and built a system to remotely control Subaru’s helium compressors. In the introduction to her talk she explained how the program had given her the opportunity to be responsible for a single project from design through fabrication and testing, as opposed to her normal isolated task-based work. She said, “I have a different perspective now, seeing all the steps that a project needs to go through to get done. I think I will look at all my work differently now”

The thirteen students interned at six different Hawaii Island institutions; the W. M. Keck and Gemini Observatories, the Subaru Telescope, the Institute for Astronomy, the Smithsonian Submillimeter Array and the Ashra Detector Project, a collaboration between the University of Hawaii and the University of Tokyo.

The program’s goals include introducing Hawaii students to careers in astronomy, helping to develop a locally based high-tech workforce and promoting collaboration among the observatories and educational institutions on Hawaii.

Other student projects included developing a database for storing and retrieving observatory images, creating several different computer interfaces for telescope control and data analysis, fabricating and testing detectors and detector controllers, analyzing the oils and fluids used by the telescopes for predictive maintenance, as well as designing and fabricating an improved hatch door to isolate sensitive telescope optics.

In addition to the internship experience, the Akamai program also provides the students with a strong communication component through on-going support and weekly group meetings. Along with the final presentations, they also each produced a poster on their project, updated their resumes and prepared personal statements with the guidance of CfAO education staff.—Story by Sarah Anderson

Contact: For further information, see or call Sarah Anderson, Hawaii Island coordinator for Akamai, at (808) 881-3839.