Astronomy has always fascinated physics teacher Kurt Sinclair, but he had never seen the famous telescopes he read about up close, or even witnessed a truly dark night sky. That all changed last month, thanks to the Finneran Faculty Scholar Award, which is granted annually to one St. Andrew’s teacher who embodies excellence and commitment to professional growth.
Sinclair, who was named the Finneran Faculty Scholar last June, decided to direct the award toward deepening his study of astronomy. From May 4 to May 12, Sinclair traveled with a group of astronomy enthusiasts around Arizona to observe the skies and tour telescopes.
“Astronomy is still one of the backbone disciplines of science today. If we want to understand our place in the universe, we have to do astronomy,” Sinclair said. “Getting to go there for a week and see the telescopes that have become famous…is the chance of a lifetime I couldn’t pass up.”
One of the highlights for Sinclair was seeing the 4-Meter Mayall telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, which is being repurposed to study dark energy. The telescope will be capable of imaging 30,000 galactic spectra simultaneously.
“We have no clue as to what dark energy is, but we know it’s accelerating the expansion of the universe,” Sinclair said. “The more observational evidence we have, the more likely we are to understand its nature.”
Sinclair said he enjoyed learning from his expert tour guides, one being the editor of Astronomy Magazine, as well as the many scientists they met throughout Arizona. The group went on behind-the-scenes tours of laboratories that manufacture massive mirrors for telescopes and had the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with meteorites.
All of his insights and observations from the trip will enhance his physics classes, Sinclair said, particularly at the beginning of the year.
“I introduce astronomical concepts early in the (physics) course because it’s critically important to understanding how physics developed,” Sinclair said. “I incorporate it every year, but now I can talk more knowledgeably about the telescopes being used today.”
Sinclair, who, in addition to teaching physics for the past 30 years, is the longtime Rocket Club sponsor and a former Electronics Club sponsor, said what drives him to continue teaching is that “science is never finished.”
“I play a very small role in the continued discovery of the sciences, hopefully by inspiring some kids to pursue science studies,” Sinclair said. “I have been blessed to teach some incredibly intelligent kids who have pursued science studies in college.”
The 2019 Finneran Faculty Scholar will be announced June 6 during the Upper School Honors Assembly. Created in 2010, the Finneran Faculty Scholar Award is considered the highest recognition a teacher may receive from the school. The award honors John Finneran, Board Chair from 2006 to 2009, who led St. Andrew’s addition of the Lower and Intermediate Schools as well as the Touchstone Endowment Campaign, and who believed strongly that a faculty dedicated to students’ well-being and to continual professional growth was a distinctive strength of St. Andrew’s.
Past winners include Phyllis Robinson (2010), Christine Lewis (2011), Maria Diaz (2012), Frank Wagner (2013), Amanda Freeman (2014), Gary Wyatt (2015), Jenny Olin (2016), and Kim O’Shaughnessy (2017).