Students at Flathead Valley Community College have a chance to help NASA monitor climate change.
This comes with a $750,000 NASA grant awarded to Montana State University. MSU is sending some of that money to the Flathead, where FVCC will use it to build a new optics lab.
The lab will be used to build a special instrument called a polarimeter. It measures polarization of light, like the glare that comes off a lake.
The devices look up into the sky and with polarization it can determine aerosol contents in the sky, and measure water and ice contents in the clouds. That information is used to monitor climate change.
This won't just be a big help to MSU and NASA. It’s also a great opportunity for students and faculty at FVCC.
$20,000 is the amount Montana State donated to the community college.
"Even though from their point of view it’s not very much money, from our point of view its huge because we started with almost no optical experiments to being able to do quite a few optical experiments," said FVCC physics instructor, Jim Boger.
Boger says it’s an honor to be recognized by MSU. He thinks it’s great to see them support smaller schools.
"They've gotten very good students from FVCC and so they wanted to find a way to support fvcc," he said.
In other words, it's an investment.
"Montana State, they think well if we can get students involved even earlier it’s a really good thing. That way they don't have to train students as much they're more ready to go into the labs to work," Boger said.
At least three students are already working on optical experiments and by spring more will join.
"This semester I’m probably going to be doing mostly the researching it and fiddling around with it....next semester we'll be working on the actual building of the polarimeter," said FVCC student, Audrey Jones.
The four or five students that will be building these polarimeters will take them to schools across the state to teach others how to use them.
"As they learn to build something and they learn about the optical science, then they're able to go do internships at Montana State," Boger said.
Audrey Jones is a physics student at the college who says it’s wonderful to see a small school have such big opportunities.
"It means a lot to me. It’s nice to have these kinds of opportunities as students. It’s nice to see the school have these kinds of opportunities as far as programs go,” Jones said.
Professor Boger says it’s about the opportunities now that benefit students later.
“In the past we’ve had great success where students have gone from FVCC to Montana State. They’ve done internships with Montana State and then they’ve done internships with NASA,” Boger said.
Students are currently doing optical experiments with equipment the college already has. They will spend most the spring semester getting the polarimeters built and working.