Danny Mattern Benefits Butler Students After Participating in NASA Educational Program | Butler Community College

Danny Mattern Benefits Butler Students After Participating in NASA Educational Program

Danny Mattern instructs his physics class.
Danny Mattern's professional involvement with NASA continues to benefit his students. (Photo Credit: Rodney Dimick)
Published: Wednesday, February 28th, 2024

Mattern traveled to bring resources back for physics, astronomy students.

Written by: Caleb Sanderson

Last fall, Butler Physics students experimented with electromagnetic waves, including seeing body heat from behind a black trash bag using a camera phone attachment. They played with lab materials to learn firsthand about sounds and colors normally undetectable. 

Long time Butler County resident Danny Mattern, Physics Lead Instructor, furthered his professional involvement with NASA that began in 2017 by participating in the Astronomy Activation Ambassador (AAA) program. Mattern was one of 18 selected teachers from around the country to benefit from this highly competitive program that presents science teachers with updated research, practices and materials to benefit their students. 

This past summer, he spent several days at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii where he worked with an instructor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study the stars. The experience was a learning opportunity for Mattern and eventually his students back home. 

In addition, Mattern also traveled to Denver where he received a curriculum guide to introduce astronomy principles to his students. The curriculum was designed by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in NASA. Mattern implemented this curriculum into his classroom to benefit Butler students. 

“They gave us a bunch of materials and activities that we then could incorporate in our classes. It was a pretty big box with a lot of cool stuff in it,” Mattern said with a grin. When recalling his experience and the resources he brought back for his physics students, Mattern got excited. He intends to share these materials with other Butler faculty so more students benefit from them. 

The box contained a variety of small equipment components used to study and experiment with LED lights and electromagnetic waves. Students used a circuit-board type attachment to experiment with the sounds infrared waves created through a small amplifier. 

“Professor Mattern taught with a lot of passion and enthusiasm, which in turn made me passionate and enthusiastic for the NASA activities,” said Delaney Tompkins of Northeast Magnet in Wichita, a sophomore Pre-nursing major. “I really like how passionate he was about the subject, and it was really interesting to learn about infrared and the different wavelengths of light.” 

Mattern implemented the materials into various lab activities. “An example would be when we analyze light from the sun, we can see Hydrogen and Helium emission lines in sunlight,” Mattern said. “It’s how we know stars are made mostly of Hydrogen. So, we looked a little deeper into analyzing light with some equipment we already have in our physics labs.” 

He plans to adjust the hands-on material to fit into the online structure of his astronomy courses too. His physics students resonated well with the activities, confirming for Mattern to keep the curriculum in future physics courses. 

Noah Broomes of Wichita echoed the experience. “All of the information I learned from Professor Mattern has really made me more interested in learning about objects in space and also about physics,” said the Wichita homeschooled high school senior. “I believe the activities, the information, and especially Professor Mattern’s engaging teaching style really has made me appreciate physics and astronomy much more.” 

Mattern has taught at Butler for 18 years and has previously brought outside resources into his classroom. He’s a member of the American Association of Physics Teachers and was one of eight participants from around the country selected for the NASA Interactive Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP) in 2019. NITARP taught him to utilize databases stored at the California Institute of Technology to create labs for his online students.

“That’s why I enjoy teaching. My whole point from day one is for them to see where physics is in the real world. If they think that physics is just formula after formula, then I’ve completely failed. If they’re looking at a star and start to think of the physics of what’s going on, then I feel I succeeded.” 

To learn more about Mattern’s previous NASA involvement, check out these articles: