There is also momentum around the idea -- though not a new one -- that some of the best learning takes place when students and teacher collaborate. Rogers, whose interest in geophysics resonates with his passion for archeology, has taken a group of students this summer to Gila National Forest in New Mexico, to work in a pre-Pueblo pit house. There they are measuring the earth's magnetic field and recording the small changes in it due to things that happened underneath the ground in times gone by. "Pit houses should have strong signals," Rogers explains, "like fireplaces, where the materials were hot enough to generate their own magnetic fields. There were places where things were going on around the pit houses -- garbage dumps, tool-processing sites, places where they butchered or made pottery. By measuring signals every 10 centimeters, we can help the archeologists determine where to dig. Maybe they would normally dig every 10 meters, but with this technology we can be more precise. Back at Ithaca College, we'll apply image enhancement techniques to try to generate better information."
Joint student-professor studies are not the only kind of collaborations taking place in the department. Beth Clark Joseph talks about a project she and Keller are considering. "I study asteroids," she says, "and the links between asteroids and meteorites. Luke and I hope to start a project to look at the role of meteoritic material in star-forming regions. Meteorites are the oldest rocks in the solar system, and there is meteorite debris left over from planetary formation. If you use the physical properties of asteroids to link with meteorites, you can study the geology of the solar system -- and possibly the geology of other solar systems. The geology, or mineralogy, tells us about temperature/pressure conditions, and hence about the planet and star formation processes and time scales." Clark Joseph points out that asteroids are all different from each other, and in the sense that they orbit the sun they are like minor planets. She continues with a laugh. "I study asteroid composition, not dynamics. So if there is one coming [towards Earth], you want to talk to me to find out just what is hurtling at us. Is it a ball of metal, or a ball of ice and porous rock?"
Clark Joseph also gets a charge out of Ithaca College's current sustainability initiatives. "I am so proud to work at an institution that has a conscience," she says. "We need to think about what kind of a world we are leaving for our children." This statement has added weight when you learn that she and her husband, Jonathan, an astronomer at Cornell, are new parents of a baby girl they adopted from China. "In my Earth History course," she says, "we look at climate variations over the last century and the impact on species development. I want to get the students to realize that Earth is a life-support system, and if it is sick, we're all sick." In her first year seminar Power: Energy Options for a Global Society, she adds, "We begin by examining our personal relationships to energy -- how much wattage we use in our everyday lives, for example. We then look at energy needs as they relate to lifestyle in this country, in Europe, and in developing countries. Developing countries will want the same lifestyles that developed nations have, with similar demands for energy to support those lifestyles. And this brings us back to the question of what we want for future generations, and how to preserve and protect those resources."
The department members can also point to success in securing funding for their fascinating work. Keller, for example, is part of the team building an infrared camera for the telescope on a retrofitted Boeing 747 called the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). It will be ready to fly in 2005, and Keller will be on board. as the SOFIA camera will make images and measure the brightness of some of the systems we are observing with Spitzer," he says. "And I am working on an optical design that I am hoping will be funded, to allow the SOFIA camera to also take spectra." In other funded projects, Briotta spearheaded the construction of the Clinton B. Ford Observatory after its namesake, a longtime College friend and trustee, left funds in his estate that were combined with Briotta's National Science Foundation grant and contributions from the College. And when department member Peter Seligmann, who specialized in solid state physics and focused on helping secondary school science teachers incorporate technology into their laboratories, died in 2002, his family established a memorial scholarship for outstanding physics seniors.