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Taking It All In: The 215th AAS Meeting
by Joshua Fuchs, Rhodes College [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Author Ben Frandsen  

SPS Reporter Joshua Fuchs presenting his poster at the 215th AAS meeting.
Photo courtesy Joshua Fuchs


With around 3500 attendees, the 215th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) was the largest astronomy meeting in history. I attended the meeting both as an SPS Reporter and to present my research from an Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) I did at the Maria Mitchell Observatory last summer. As someone who plans to study astronomy in graduate school, I was very excited about attending my first AAS meeting.

The first activity on my agenda was the undergraduate reception on Sunday evening. I was impressed by the number of undergraduates at the reception. We were given a brief introduction and some advice about the meeting from the AAS council. The reception was sponsored by many different graduate programs, so I got the chance to talk to a few different schools afterward. I also took the opportunity to meet other undergraduates and catch up with some that I had met previously. Many of the other students were also presenting research at the meeting that they had done at an REU or at their school.

The first invited talk on Monday morning was by William Borucki, Principal Investigator of NASA’s Kepler Mission. According to NASA, Kepler is its first mission capable of finding Earth-size and smaller planets around other stars. In the talk, Borucki announced the discovery of the first five exoplanets found by Kepler, including one that has the density of Styrofoam. There was a lot of buzz about this discovery and the possibility that Kepler will discover Earth-size planets in the habitable zones around other stars in the future. I thought it was exciting to be present for this announcement; it was a great way to start off the day.

On Monday I presented my poster. I put it up early in the morning and was stationed there a few times during the day. The exhibit hall and the posters were intermixed. Presenting my poster was a great experience and I enjoyed the opportunity to explain my research to other astronomers that were interested in my work. I also enjoyed walking around the exhibit hall throughout the week. Exhibitors included private companies, publishing companies, many different telescopes, and research organizations. It was fun to talk to them and hear about the many different things happening in astronomy.

  215th AAS Meeting


With around 3500 attendees, the 215th AAS meeting was the largest astronomy meeting in history. 
Photo courtesy Josh Fuchs

I learned a lot about how to get the most out of the AAS meeting on Monday. The problem was that I found most of the oral presentation sessions interesting, but also wanted to look at the posters and all the exhibitors. There was so much going on that it was hard to choose what to attend, and the first day I tried to do too much. I realized that I needed to pick just a few sessions to attend so that I was not running around everywhere. Doing this the next few days made it much less hectic and more enjoyable.

Tuesday morning, Maria Zuber of MIT gave an invited presentation titled, “The Evolving View of Water on Mars.” She talked about how our view of water on Mars has changed over the past 40 years and discussed everything from the Viking Missions in the 1970s to the current Spirit, Opportunity, and Phoenix Missions that are still making discoveries. I talked to Dr. Zuber after her talk and she told me that she became interested in Mars when she was in high school and the Viking Missions landed on Mars. She had always been interested in space, but after hearing about the Viking missions, she knew she wanted to study Mars. She still remembers attending her first professional meeting, which was a meeting of the AGU when she was an undergraduate. She felt lucky to be there because not many undergraduates attended meetings in those days; something that she is happy is not the case today.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden gave a great keynote address later Tuesday--you can Watch it here. He reviewed some of the NASA astrophysics highlights from 2009. As one of the astronauts that launched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, he shared some of his personal stories from that mission. Throughout his talk, his passion for the space program was obvious as he teared up multiple times. Administrator Bolden made a passionate plea for astronomers to get more involved in educational outreach, especially with students. He encourage everyone to “become engaged with students as early as elementary school and help them learn who you are and what you do; why you’re passionate about astronomy and astrophysics and the magic they’ve brought to your lives.” I have been involved in a lot of outreach with the Rhodes SPS chapter, so I found his focus on education inspirational. It was one of those talks that made you want to go do something right away.

The next morning was a talk by John Grunsfeld, one of the astronauts on the May 2009 mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. He talked about his experience on this mission to Hubble; he had also been on the previous two servicing missions in 1999 and 2002. An astrophysicist himself, I found that he provided a unique view on what the repair meant to both astronomers and the public. I interviewed Dr. Grunsfeld afterwards and we talked a little more about this mission. He told me that the most difficult part of the mission was the repair of the Advanced Camera for Surveys. It was the first ever on-orbit repair of a Hubble instrument and he “felt like a surgeon” making the repair.

Author Ben Frandsen  

SPS Reporter Joshua Fuchs with astronaut and astrophysicist John Grunsfeld at the 215th AAS meeting. 
Photo courtesy Joshua Fuchs


Later that afternoon, I attended a press conference where the first images from NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission were unveiled. One of the benefits of being a SPS Reporter was the press privileges that allowed me to attend press conferences. As this was my first press conference, I found it very interesting. Two scientists from NASA gave an overview of the WISE mission before unveiling the first image. The image showed that the telescope was in focus and everything was working properly, which is always nice to find out. I found it pretty exciting to know that we were seeing the first image from the WISE mission.

Thursday, I had just enough time to attend an interesting invited lecture on the “Formation of Massive Black Hole Seeds in the First Galaxies” and browse the posters before I had to leave for the airport. After an exhausting few days, I was somewhat ready to be home. However, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the AAS meeting, learning more about current research in astronomy, and meeting so many people. I am looking forward to many more AAS meetings in my future!

Free 1-Year Membership in AAS
When you join SPS national as an undergraduate, you get free one-year membership in one of ten other physics societies, including the American Astronomical Society (AAS).  

SPS Reporter Program
SPS national sends student reporters to most major AIP Member Society meetings, where they are treated like other members of the press. Many ambitious student reporters succeed in securing interviews with society leadership and prominent invited speakers on such occasions.

SPS Travel Awards
A limited number of grants, on the order of $200 each, are offered to help fund SPS members' travel to national meetings of AIP Member Societies holding a "SPS Session" co-organized by SPS and the Member Society.

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