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Spacecraft: Illuminating the Cosmos

The Astronomy Society (then Club) organised the first-ever STEM fest, SpaceCraft to inspire and educate the Ashoka community about the wonders of space exploration, the rich history of astronomy, and the intriguing thought processes behind its physics

The Astronomy Club at Ashoka University organised the first-ever STEM fest, SpaceCraft, from April 7th to April 9th, 2023. The event was a grand success and featured diverse activities catering to a broad audience. The activities included a rocket launch contest, two immersive hands-on workshops, and engaging telescope sessions. The fest also featured a captivating space-themed art exhibition, an astronomy-themed quiz, and stimulating lectures delivered by eminent experts in the field of astronomy.

The overarching goal of SpaceCraft was to inspire and educate the general student body of Ashoka University about the wonders of space exploration, the rich history of astronomy, and the intriguing thought processes behind its physics. The event enriched the intellectual pursuits of those involved and significantly contributed to the growth and development of the University’s Physics Department. It played a pivotal role in popularising the recently introduced Astronomy minor programme.

SpaceCraft aimed to engage individuals not traditionally involved in STEM fields and spark their interest in astronomy. To achieve this, the club organised a series of interactive DIY workshops where students from diverse backgrounds learned how to create astronomical equipment in a fun and engaging manner.

The first workshop focused on building an Astrolabe. Members of the society guided participants through the process. The workshop utilised easily accessible materials including a protractor, straw, thread, and bolt. The highlight was the practical application of the astrolabes, as participants were tasked with measuring the height of a building using their newly fashioned instruments. Those who achieved measurements within a specific error tolerance in relation to the actual height of the building were rewarded for their accuracy.

The second workshop involved making a Do-It-Yourself Spectrometer. This workshop began with a comprehensive presentation on the fundamental principles of spectroscopy, delving into the components of a spectrometer. Armed with newfound knowledge, attendees were provided with a cardboard template and a CD, essential materials for constructing their functional spectrometers. The assembly of the spectrometers proved to be a fascinating hands-on experience, taking approximately 2-3 hours to complete. The Astronomy Club generously provided these materials, and their knowledgeable members were on hand to assist and address any queries that arose during the construction process. Following the construction of their spectrometers, participants were encouraged to test their devices by examining various light sources.

SpaceCraft wanted to venture beyond mere amusement, aspiring to leave a profound and enduring impact. With this in mind, two enlightening talks were curated. On April 7th, the club had the privilege of hosting a lecture by the esteemed Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Somak Raychaudhury. His captivating discourse ventured into the intriguing domain of LIGO-India. The timing of this talk was serendipitous, occurring just a day after the final approval for LIGO-India had been granted. Prof. Raychaudhury, a distinguished scientist deeply immersed in this prestigious project, shared invaluable insights. He delved into the intricate physics underpinning the detection of gravitational waves and illuminated the multifaceted technological and economic challenges accompanying such a monumental endeavour. The following day, SpaceCraft hosted another enlightening presentation by Prof. Dipankar Bhattacharya, the Head of the Department of Physics. His talk “Iconic Astronomical Images: The Stories They Tell Us” transformed the scientific understanding behind iconic astronomical images into a captivating narrative. Prof. Bhattacharya led an engaging, interactive session, unravelling the science and artistry behind these celestial snapshots.

One of the standout events was the introduction of a playful yet thought-provoking team activity known as”Aliens? Participants formed teams of two, with one player tasked with conveying tasks to their teammate using a language unknown to the other. The twist in the game allowed players to teach one word in their language every two minutes, adding a layer of complexity that sparked curiosity. What made this event even more remarkable was its collaboration with the Ashokan language club, Lang-Up, comprising individuals proficient in languages such as Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and French. This ensured an abundance of players capable of conversing in uncommon languages, elevating the game’s challenge and appeal.

The fest featured an International Space Station-themed Photobooth, a creation born from the ingenuity of undergraduate students who gathered discarded items from the basement in less than a week to construct

this unique experience. Making the wooden frame of the booth received assistance from members of the maintenance team. The Photobooth allowed participants to step inside and capture pictures against walls, ceilings, and floors adorned to mimic the interior of the International Space Station. With an array of props at their disposal, people had a blast clicking pictures inside, making this event a testament to creativity and hard work.

April 8th also featured an Astronomy-themed quiz in collaboration with the Quizzing Society of Ashoka, a cerebral contest that brought together participants from diverse fields. Teams engaged in a thrilling quiz competition encompassing a wide spectrum of astronomy, from celestial bodies and constellations to telescopes, space exploration, scientific theories, and popular science. Telescope kits and astronaut figurines were awarded to the deserving winners and runners-up in recognition of their prowess.

As is tradition, no Astronomy Festival is complete without the enchantment of telescope sessions. Evenings on the 6th, 7th, and 9th were adorned with the activity of stargazing, made possible through the expertise of Philip Cherian, 3rd year Ph.D. student in Physics. These sessions offered members of the Ashokan community an opportunity to gaze through Celestron (Zip) and Midnight Star (Zoom) telescopes, providing an up-close encounter with celestial wonders. The genuine enthusiasm and wonder reflected in the eyes of every observer were truly heartwarming. The session on the 9th held special significance, as it was exclusively organised for the children of faculty members. The Astronomy Club remained steadfast in its commitment to ensure that these young minds did not miss out on the chance to marvel at planets and constellations through the telescope. Faculty members’ children often find themselves excluded from campus events, making this initiative all the more meaningful and inclusive. Fostering curiosity and wonder in the next generation is an integral part of the mission, and these telescope sessions represented a small yet significant step in that direction.

On April 8th, the club organised another delightful event—a screening of the movie Zathura: A Space Adventure, based on Chris Van Allsburg’s illustrated children’s book. This screening was conducted in collaboration with Eeshto, the Board Games Society, and added an engaging cinematic dimension to the fest.

To further enhance the visual experience, SpaceCraft hosted an Astronomy-themed art exhibit, open to the entire Ashoka community on April 8th and 9th. This exhibition showcased a diverse array of art forms, including paintings, digital art, photographs, intricate models, and more. The submissions spanned various batches, encompassing a wide range of art styles, materials, techniques, and creative expressions.

The fest culminated in the biggest event, the Rocket Launch Contest, which took place on the final day. Participants were required to design and build small-scale rockets using materials provided by the Astronomy Club. Participants were encouraged to explore online resources and seek guidance from the Physics department to enhance their rocket designs. The rocket launch pad was constructed from scratch using materials from the Physics lab’s basement, with guidance from Philip Cherian and Pradip Chaudhari (Lab Technician). The event featured two rounds, with each team receiving three chances to launch their rockets. Safety instructions were strictly followed as rockets soared into the sky from the sunken field. Judging criteria included altitude reached, overall design, and cost-effectiveness. The event attracted participants from various departments, including faculty members’ children and students from all undergraduate batches. The grand prize for the Rocket Making Challenge was an enticing telescope kit. Astronaut figurines were awarded to participants who demonstrated exceptional creativity or ingenuity in their rocket designs.

SpaceCraft was a resounding success, achieving its objectives of fostering interest in astronomy and STEM among students from diverse backgrounds. As the first STEM Fest at Ashoka, SpaceCraft served as a pioneer and initiator of STEM Fests and wider STEM outreach at the university. It fostered numerous collaborations, predominantly with non-STEM clubs and societies, thereby promoting a collaborative and interdisciplinary spirit. The transformation of the Astronomy Club into the Astronomy Society signifies a commitment to continuing and expanding these initiatives in the coming years, promising an even more significant impact on the Ashoka community.

(Written by Sanjana Gupta (UG’24), Ashoka University)

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka