Reaching for the stars
Camp sparks love of astronomy in young people
What made 300 students at an engineering camp in Phuket last week so happy was not only the beautiful night sky but also the personal pride of observing the stars with telescopes they had made themselves.
The camp to help students design and make telescopes was organised by the National Science and Technology Development Agency's Technology Management Centre (TMC), Phuket Municipality and Phuket Rajabhat University last month.
"The view was not so clear, but I am so proud," said 11-year-old Santhanat Pokkaewliporn, after looking at the rough surface of the Moon through the telescope he had made with five team-mates.
Santhanat, a primary student from Phuket's Wat Kachornrangsan School, joined other secondary-school students from Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi. It was the first engineering camp run by NSTDA after several "science camps". The initial idea came from the municipality with a subsidy of Bt330,000.
Dr Sawat Tantiphanwadi, TMC's deputy director, said the camp matched the TMC's idea of allowing the local sector to come up with an idea, which the TMC would provide content for. Unlike other science camps, the engineering camp gave the students not only scientific knowledge but also hands-on experience in making a device based on what they had learnt, said Sawat.
At Phuket Rajabhat University students first learnt the basic theories of astronomy and telescopy then set about making them.
Dr Sirisak Techathaweikul, an academic at King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Ladkrabang, had the tough job tough of simplifying the master's degree-level knowledge for such young students.
Made of PVC pipes and two lenses - an "objective" lens and an eyepiece - the telescopes provided a clear sight of Saturn's rings, the surface of the Moon and Jupiter's satellites.
However, some worked better than others.
"It depends on how accurately the lenses are installed. It's quite exact," said Sawat. A tiny fragment of dirt could also obstruct the sight. "However, that is what we want. It's good to learn from mistakes. Some things can't be learnt from textbooks: you just have to do them," he added.
Mananya Laoprakai, 14, of Phuket Witthayalai School agreed. Her team dismantled their telescope and put it back together again four times, she said.
Sawat said the TMC wanted to encourage scientific thought among Thais. "And it's good to start with the kids. Several big innovations start from small things, like the Wright brothers, whose first successful aeroplane was inspired by their work with bicycles."
Deputy Phuket mayor Sunant Palawatwichai added: "If the camp creates at least one inventor, I think it's worthwhile."
Rangsiman Rome, a Mathayom 3 student at Bhudhamongkolnimitr School said he had been inspired to become an astronomer.
The TMC will now join Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology, Airforce Airport and five Bangkok schools to hold an Aviation and Space Camp early next month.