February 19, 2017

SCC student wins award for research paper

Southwestern Community College student James Howe recently co-authored a research paper that won Best Undergrad Student Paper from the North Carolina Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers (NCS-AAPT).

Howe collaborated with David Sitar, Appalachian State University’s Astronomy laboratory instructor and App State student Hunter Stark.

“I’m honored to have helped author the winning research paper, especially considering the excellent work of our competitors,” said Howe.

At each meeting of the NCS-AAPT, undergraduate student papers are considered for an award that includes a check for $100.

Attendees submit suggestions to any officer, and the officers meet and vote on a suitable candidate.

The paper was titled, “Using RSpec for an Introductory Bright Star Spectroscopy Lab Activity.”

RSpec is software which can perform spectral analysis of images, which in the case of the project, are digital photos of bright stars.

A gradient filter is used to capture images of these stars alongside their spectra, which appear as streaks of colorful light.

The lab activity Howe helped develop this summer at App State, builds on both an astrophotography and an image-processing lab assignment created by previous students.

In the lab assignment Howe helped to develop, students took post-processed images of bright stars with spectra captured using a gradient filter and one of Appalachian State University’s numerous large rooftop telescopes. Students also used RSpec to identify the chemical composition and spectral class of those stars.

The paper discusses the merits of working with a visually exciting program as a means of encouraging student interest, as well as some of the problems encountered with the program’s equipment requirements.

Howe was introduced to the subject as part of the App State summer research experience that developed from SCC’s relationship with App State as partners in the Smoky Mountain STEM Collaborative.

“James did a fantastic job representing SCC over the summer at App State,” said Matt Cass, SCC’s physics instructor and science department chair.

Howe currently resides in Cullowhee, but is originally from Unincorporated Dade County (Miami), Florida. He is a computer, electronics and network engineering technology student at SCC.

In addition to his studies, Howe is also the STEM club president and a member of the high altitude weather balloon team.

“The instructors at SCC are excellent,” said Howe. “Because of this, I chose to stay an extra two semesters to finish additional degrees, two of which I will graduate with this spring.”

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