Recognizing the magic and the science that exploring the heavens brings to school children, Gilbert Clark’s virtual observatory links hundreds of schools to the world’s most powerful telescopes.
A retired sailor seems an unlikely candidate to become one of the United States’ best-known astronomers. But Gilbert Clark has spent a lifetime taking unorthodox paths to achieve his goals.
Telescopes in Education has rejuvenated an ancient science, bringing what was once the prerogative of a handful of astronomers to school children in the remote hills of Japan, Poland and elsewhere.
In the early 1990s at the Mount Wilson Observatory in California, Clark began his Telescopes in Education (TIE) programme that allows school children in more than 20 countries to use basic computers to gaze at the Milky Way and beyond through multimillion-dollar research-grade telescopes. Determined not to charge for TIE’s services, between 1995 and 2005, he leveraged his prestigious Rolex Award to attract support from NASA and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and continues to seek private funding.
Clark, who remains a TIE director, estimates that thousands of students and educators around the world have benefited from TIE activities and made new discoveries. For example, TIE users have helped revise the orbital location of Pluto. Most significant, however, is the number of students who have entered the fields of science, engineering and technology based on their exposure to the TIE programme. Clark’s model of robotic telescope systems has been duplicated by many manufacturers, resulting in a large number of amateur and professional observatories using his programme.
Students and educators around the world who have participated in the TIE programme