Cecilia McGough, a senior at Strasburg High School and a student at the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School of Integrated Science and Technology (Mt. Jackson), has earned fifth place in the Astrophysics category of the International Space Olympics held October 16 - 27 in Korolev, Russia.
In addition, the Russian hosts, based on their observations of her interactions with other competitors, honored Cecilia McGough by declaring her “Miss Space Olympics.”
|Cecilia McGough visited Red Square in Moscow, Russia, during her 10-day trip there to participate in the International Space Olympics.
| Cecilia McGough and her Virginia teammates wait for
their turn to present their research projects.
Judges for the event were leading Russian scientists. Winners will have their projects published in scientific journals.This international competition involved 200 students from countries around the world. Twenty-one students were placed, along with Cecilia, in the Astrophysics area. Each participant orally presented his or her research project and took exams in math, physics, and literature. Cecilia’s project, which included a 21 page paper, was titled: Pulsar Research, Discovery, and Their Effects on Scientific Knowledge and Technology. McGough’s project was the perfect one for her since she is the co-discoverer of a pulsar, only one of six such discoveries made by high school students world-wide.
In addition to the academic competition, the ten-day Olympic event included cultural and historical activities for the participants. Students toured Moscow, attended a ballet, and visited a Space Museum where they saw the first Sputnik. There were opening and closing ceremonies, and “forever” friendships were formed.
In front of Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, the
Virginia Delegation poses for a photo (left to right): Ryan Chanza, Samantha Marquez, Piper Sigrest, Cecilia McGough, Joey Hsu
The Virginia Delegation visited Star City, an area of Moscow which has since the 1960s been home to the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center. Here they stand beside the centrifube.
In a sense, Cecilia McGough’s trip to Russia began in West Virginia. She and four other students from Strasburg High School and their teacher/mentor Dorothy Edwards participated in the Pulsar Search Collaboratory Summer Institute at the Green Bank Observatory, located in West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands. The Observatory’s Green Bank Telescope is described as the world premier single-dish radio telescope. “A radio telescope,” McGough explained, “detects radio waves. It is not an optical telescope.”
The Strasburg students, who are members of Dorothy Edwards’ local Pulsar Search Collaboratory team, were allowed to examine raw data plots from the Green Bank Telescope through the Pulsar Search Collaboratory after the raw data had been processed through advanced computer software programs GUPPI and PRESTO™. Cecilia McGough and her partner DeShang Ray (Baltimore, MD) spotted evidence indicating they might be “looking at” a pulsar. A pulsar is, as defined by McGough, “a dense, neutron star that emits electromagnetic radiation.” More simply explained, a pulsar is a dying star with a fast spin rate. The fast spin rate and strong magnetic field cause dipole radiation to be emitted. The following day, the discoverers and West Virginia University professor Dr. Maura Laughlin were able to produce a confirmation plot which confirmed the discovery through the use of the Green Bank Telescope. In fact, these two high school students had found a pulsar about the size of Washington, D.C. Cecilia said that examining raw data sets—sets that no one else had examined—was exciting. Finding evidence of a pulsar was even better. “I was thrilled,“ she said. “We were all super tense—after examining all these data sets it might just come up as noise. I don’t think I was ever so happy [as I was in that moment],” McGough commented in an article on James Madison University’s website.
Cecilia was part of a five member team representing Virginia at the International Space Olympics. Members were chosen though an application process from across the Commonwealth. Loudoun County was permitted to send a team as well since their school division has the Loudoun County Academy of Science. These two Virginia teams were the only teams from the United States to participate.
Members of the Virginia Delegation pose for a group
photo in Richmond proir to the Space Olympics
Cecilia McGough is President of Strasburg’s Pulsar Search Collaboratory Team, a member of the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School Envirothon Team, a VA Aerospace Science and Technology Scholar (2011-12), and twice the President of Venture Crew 247. McGough’s goal is to be an astrophysicist or possibly an aerospace engineer. She is also concerned about the environment and hopes to somehow combine her interest in space and technology to positively impact our natural world.
On her blog from the International Space Olympics, Cecilia McGough noted that her favorite quote is from John F. Kennedy who said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” Eighteen year old Cecilia McGough has already begun to make a difference in our world.
Cecilia is the daughter of Julia and Gary McGough of Woodstock, Virginia.
Website for the International Space Olympics: