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Fairborn Institute

Fairborn Observatory Predecessor

The Fairborn Institute, founded in 2000, is a direct descendent of the Fairborn Observatory, which was founded by Russ Genet in 1979 and named after the nearby town of Fairborn, Ohio. The Fairborn Observatory pioneered the automation of telescopes and observatories, achieving total telescope automation in 1983, and full observatory automation (with multiple robotic telescopes) in 1986. Remote access (via modem) was achieved in 1988. The Fairborn Observatory concentrated on high precision, time series, photometric observations of variable stars and exoplanets, making the first exoplanet transit observation in 1999 (along with David Charbonneau).

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The Fairborn Observatory, 1989. Located on Mt. Hopkins in southern Arizona, it was a joint operation with the Smithsonian Institute, funded by the National Science Foundation and others.

The Fairborn Institute and Astronomy Research Seminars

The Fairborn Institute split off from the Fairborn Observatory in 2000, and concentrated, early on, on binary star astrometry, the measurement of the relative position angles and separations of the two components of orbiting binary stars. The Fairborn Institute, in 2001, initiated the Astronomy Research Seminars.

The first Astronomy Research Seminar, held at Central Arizona College in 2001, supervised by Russ and Cheryl Genet.

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The Astronomy Research Seminars, with more than 200 published student team papers with over 700 coauthors, has amply demonstrated that undergraduate (and high school) student teams can, in a single semester or less, complete modest scientific research projects in the same manner as professional research teams, including a paper submitted for publication. Each student team writes a research proposal and submits it for approval, manages their own research, obtains and analyzes original data (often from remote robotic telescopes), writes a team paper, obtains an external review of their paper, submits their paper for publication to an appropriate community-of-practice journal, and gives a public PowerPoint presentation.


To make this possible, student teams conduct research within a well-established, pro-am community of practice, conduct their research in a narrow area, and focus on producing a high quality published papers. Students manage their own research, split up the work, and are supported by experienced researchers and the Institute for Student Astronomical Research.


Astronomy Research Seminar high school students observe binary stars on the historic 100-inch Hooker telescope on Mt. Wilson.

By completing research projects as members of an established community of practice, students often come to identify themselves as scientists. This identity can provide them with the grit many may need to complete their educational objective. Being a coauthor of a research paper improves a student’s chance of admission to their school of choice and obtaining a scholarship as a result of their demonstrated research experience. Completing a team research project can also provide useful, transferable skills in team participation and leadership, project planning and management, data acquisition and analysis, technical writing and critical thinking, and presenting research results as a talk or a poster.

Fairborn Institute's Mission

The Fairborn Institute is primarily a supporting institution. It supports:

** The ongoing Astronomy Research Seminars and the Institute for Student Astronomical Research.

** The Astronomy Research Experiences, a somewhat experimental extension of the Astronomy Research Seminars that places emphasis on making cutting edge observations in quantity, with students directly imbedded in a community-of-practice.

** Modest-aperture observatories equipped for speckle interferometry in terms of instrumentation and software development

** Organization of community-of-practice Zoom sessions, workshops, and conferences.

** Efforts to develop constellations of modest-aperture space telescopes that would make both UV and IR observations available to many students and citizen scientists (as well as professional astronomers and their graduate students).

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Attendees at the American Astronomical Societies workshop on CubeSat space telescopes, Honolulu, January 2020, included many high school and undergraduate students as well as professional astronomers from NASA and universities, graduate students, and citizen scientists.

** The cosmic evolution community through organizing conferences and editing books. A number of workshops and three major international conferences (with published proceedings) have been held: The Evolution of Religion (2007), The Evolutionary Epic (2008), and Science, Wisdom, and the Future (2009). A fourth international conference is planned for the fall of 2022 (November 15 to 18) as the Saguaro Lake Ranch in Arizona that will address human cultural evolution, potential future evolutionary trajectories, and how we might influence which one we traverse.

Fairborn Institute's Staff

The Fairborn Institute’s staff is drawn primarily from the small telescope, binary star astrometry community-of-practice. This includes high school and undergraduate students, citizen scientists (amateur astronomers, many who are professional engineers), and professional astronomers.

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