Project PHaEDRA on the Smithsonian Learning Lab

The Wolbach Library has recently uploaded educational materials to the Smithsonian Learning Lab, which is a platform that connects educators with lesson plans and collections from many Smithsonian museums and libraries. Educators can search by age level, subject, or Common Core State Standards. The collections published by the Wolbach Library are part of Project PHaEDRA, an effort to to catalog, digitize, transcribe, and enrich the metadata of over 2500 logbooks and notebooks produced by the Harvard Computers and early Harvard astronomers.

These specific collections are for middle school and high school education levels. They can be used by educators in various fields, such as science, history, non-fiction readings, and visual arts.

We hope that these materials will paint portraits of women who were instrumental to the field of astronomy. Below, you’ll find links to the collections and a brief synopses of each.

The Science of Henrietta Swan Leavitt”

This collection explores the discoveries and methods of Henrietta Swan Leavitt. Her work led her to discover the relationship between the luminosity (brightness) and the period of brightening/dimming of Cepheid variables (stars that have a distinct brightness and dimming period). This discovery provided astronomers with the first “standard candle” with which to measure the distance to faraway galaxies and paved the way for modern astronomy’s understanding of the structure and size of the universe.  

Teachers and students can the steps throughout the collection to determine the ways that  Leavitt and the other Harvard Computers identified variable stars. In these resources, users will find images of glass plate photographs that the Computers used for their calculations, as well as videos, quiz questions, and images of Henrietta Leavitt.

“Henrietta Swan Leavitt Web Resources”

This collection pairs well with the previous collection, as they are both about the work of Henrietta Swan Leavitt. However, this collection focuses more on biographical resources about Leavitt. These resources include links to original sources such as publications by Leavitt. Informational videos, articles, and podcast episodes are also included in this collection.

“Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin and the Components of Stars”

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin received her Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College in 1925. Her thesis, “Stellar Atmospheres”, was famously described as the “the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy.” These online resources include biographies, videos, images, research, and articles, all of which can be used as an introduction into the life of Payne-Gaposchkin and her work. You can find her entire thesis in this collection, as well as other original publications from Payne-Gaposchkin.

“Annie Jump Cannon: Biographical Digital Resources”

Cannon worked at the Harvard College Observatory from 1896-1940. In 1911, she was named Curator of Astronomical Photographs at at the Harvard College Observatory. During her career, she had also discovered 300 variable stars, five new stars, and one spectroscopic binary.

These resources include articles from Smithsonian Magazine, links to original publications by Cannon, and images from the pages of her notebooks.

“Williamina Fleming: Discoveries and Biographical Resources”

Fleming was one of the founding members of the Harvard Computers. She started analyzing stellar spectra at the observatory in 1881. Among several career achievements that advanced astronomy Fleming is noted for her discovery of the Horsehead Nebula in 1888. These resources include information about the Henry Draper Catalogue and the Horsehead Nebula, as well as biographical information about Fleming’s life. Users can also view glass plates that Fleming worked on, along with images from her notebooks.

“Astronomical Observational Images: The Naked Eye Through Current Observations”

This collection includes articles from Smithsonian Magazine and images of astronomical technologies from various Smithsonian institutions. These resources can be used to better understand the history of astronomy, as well as the different ways in which people have used art and science to make observations of the sky. The goal of this collection is to help people better understand the ways that people have observed the sky throughout history.

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