When I saw other educators do it, I felt freedom and excitement to do it too… integrate sustainability into my teaching! In Fall 2019, I was excitedly getting back into astronomy teaching, now as a large-class lecturer. I knew that there was ‘no time like the present’ to relate students’ learning to their place-in-space and make positive change in their community, but I didn’t know how. Thankfully, I was accepted to attend the Integrate Sustainability Societies for Earth Educators workshop during the same semester, and therein heard about how educators like me were using earth education to make positive changes towards the ends of sustainability in their local communities. I felt inspired and invigorated.
Back at Penn State, I learned about the Sustainability Institute and its goals to connect classroom learning with community sustainability projects. After a series of talks with Ilona Ballreich at the Sustainability Institute, Dr. Ana Matkovic in Astronomy & Astrophysics, and Alan Sam and Jasmine Fields at the State College Borough, a plan was set. My Spring 2020 students would carry out a research project to support the State College Borough’s efforts to mitigate light pollution downtown. Mitigating light pollution entails reducing energy waste and enabling dark night skies for both humans’ and nonhumans’ health and pleasure, tying into many of the United Nation Sustainability Development Goals (cover image). Light pollution reduction can be done by replacing or modifying existing light fixtures so that they point downward only. Below is the abstract for students’ final report submitted to the State College Borough. You can also see some of my students’ posters on display at the Spring 2020 Sustainability Institute Expo website. Dr. Matkovic will continue the project with her students in future semesters.
Final Report Abstract
In Spring 2020, the Penn State students enrolled in Astronomy 6 conducted light pollution research in the city of State College, Pennsylvania. The goal of the project was twofold: firstly, to provide a baseline of light pollution estimates in four locations of interest to the local Borough, namely Sidney Friedman Parklet, Memorial Field, the corner of Calder and Hetzel, and the corner of Atherton and College. In each of these locations, development is underway. If light pollution baseline estimates can be ascertained in these locations, the Borough will be able to assess how development changes light pollution conditions over time, and advocate for its reduction while the development is still ongoing. Using Sky Quality Meters, provided to the Borough by the Sustainability Institute, most of students’ measurements were between 14 and 17 magnitudes per square-arcseconds suggesting that the lighting downtown provides more light than the full Moon (notably, data was collecting during the full Moon, so that the Moon would have no contribution to students’ measurements). The second goal of the project was a broader analysis of the light pollution fixtures in State College. By categorizing current light fixtures around downtown State College as unacceptable or acceptable according to the International Dark Skies Association, students could identify and recommend which light fixtures the Borough should address first to mitigate light pollution in State College. Students founds that approximately half of the light fixtures downtown were unacceptable, and that most of these were on business property.