New club at Diman brings students to ‘outer space’
By Linda Murphy
Teacher Jeff Wagner talks with junior Harmony Duarte during a meeting of Diman's Astronomy Club. Harmony founded and Wagner oversees the group [Herald News Photo | Dave Souza]
Wagner talks to Duarte during a meeting of Diman's Astronomy Club [Herald News Photo | Dave Souza]
Teacher Liss O'Connell talks with Astronomy Club members about collaborating with the Genes in Space team during a meeting of Diman's Astronmy Club [Herald News Photo | Dave Souza]
O'Connell talks with Astronomy Club members at Diman [Herald News Photo | Dave Souza]
Yokira Nivar talks about her interest in the Astronomy Club at Diman [Herald News Photo | Dave Souza]
FALL RIVER — A new club at Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School has students seeing stars.
Under the guidance of English teacher Jeff Wagner, students who meet up in the after-school Astronomy Club are talking planets, comets, constellations and all of the latest developments in the field of astronomy.
The seeds of the club started last year when junior Harmony Duarte decided to turn her lifetime fascination with astronomy into a club where she could learn more about her hobby and share her interest with fellow students like Matt Desroisers, who helped her co-found it.
Though Wagner teaches English, students at the school also know of his interest in astronomy and science fiction; so when they asked if he wanted to lead the group, he was only too happy to pitch in, he said.
“I have a love for astronomy, even though I’m not a science teacher; I’ve always had an interest in that branch of science and follow the latest space news (such as) Pluto’s planetary/non-planetary status,” said Wagner, who is also a correspondent for The Herald News.
On average, there are about 10 students in the club, which meets after school every other Thursday. Phenomenon like the recent super blood moon lunar eclipse is fodder for the club’s discussions along with news items such as ’Oumuamua, an interstellar object that is currently under debate. “We talked about that and what it could be,” said Wagner of ’Oumuamua. “There’s always something newsworthy.”
They’ve also teamed with the Astronomical Society of Southern New England and will be going to the society’s meeting in March to interview the club’s astronomy enthusiasts and guest speakers.
In September, Wagner took the club on a field trip to the University of Dartmouth Observatory where students had the chance to look through some high-powered telescopes to see Mars and Saturn.
Duarte, who started planning for the club at the end of last year, said she’s always been drawn to looking up at the stars. Though she has her own telescope, she’s never seen a planet through it because it’s not that strong. That all changed when she saw Saturn during the field trip to the UMass Observatory. “You see those pictures online and it looks Photoshopped, but I was seeing with my own eyes and it looks just like that — it was mind-blowing being able to see something in that detail,” she said.
“I love the educational part of the club, we’re learning about something that we choose to learn about and we can hear about all the new news,” said Desroisers, a junior who, like Duarte, has always been interested in astronomy. “I like the idea of space and colonizing the moon and Mars — it’s the new frontier.”
Eleventh-grader Luiz Medeiros, who described himself as a science fiction geek with an interest in astronomy, said he joined the club because it gives him something to look forward to at the end of the day. “I like going out watching stars and talking about them,” he added.
An interest in astrology and the planets led senior Lindsay Zarella to the club, she said, adding one of the most interesting new developments in astronomy they’ve discussed is The Goblin, a dwarf planet discovered around Halloween a few years ago.
The beauty of the night sky and the moon in all its different phases and how it affects the tides drew 11th-grader Yokaira Nivar to the club along with her interest in astrology and how those planetary changes affect people.
The club will also be partnering with the school’s Genes in Space team for some collaborations this year, said Wagner.
“It’s exciting for us and for the kids. Science and English go hand-in-hand. The ability to have someone who can help with technical writing is a big plus,” said Liss O’Connell, adviser of Genes in Space, who also partnered with Wagner on a science/English project last year related to the science-fiction book “The Martian.”
The Genes in Space national competition has students looking at the molecular basis of humans’ ability to survive in deep space travel. “Our hope is that we’re able to collaborate so that students get an appreciation of not only what’s out there, but also think about the unique molecular signatures that would be necessary to survive in such an environment,” she said.