The Sky is Literally the Limit as Washington College Students Learn Astrophotography


Students look up at the night sky at the River and Field Campus at Washington College. Photo credit: Brian Palmer.

In a dimly lit classroom at Washington College, students are examining a photo of the night sky that Brian Palmer has just brought up on a big screen. Everyone’s faces are aglow in the weird projected light.

“There are three streaks here in the sky,” says Palmer, director of Digital Media Services, which oversees IDEAWORKS, a multimedia resource for students. “Do you know what they are?”

Planes, answers one student, and he’s right, at least partly. When Palmer zooms in on one of the streaks, the repetitive blips of white, green, and red stitched across the sky reveal the navigation lights of a plane that the camera’s open shutter captured. But when Palmer zooms in on the other two, the colors and patterns definitely aren’t coming from something that took off from planet Earth. They are meteors, scorching a luminous furrow across the black field of space.

The Milky Way, as seen at the River and Field Campus at Washington College. Photo credit: Brian Palmer.

“Why is the color different?” asks Charlie Kehm, chair of the Department of Physics and a physics and environmental science and studies professor. “It’s in the ice, or the minerals. Potentially different materials burn in different colors.” The stars, too, have different colors, he says, and when Palmer zooms in some more, what were once little white dots become clear individuals of blue, red, yellow. “Oh, yeah!” says another student.

The night sky, always wondrous, starts to reveal its mysteries in this collaboration between Kehm and Palmer, who introduce students in Kehm’s beginning level astronomy class to astrophotography. The students and teachers spent several hours one night this fall at the College’s River and Field Campus (RAFC), using cameras and gear provided by Digital Media Services, shooting the night sky. Tonight, they’re in a lab learning how to use Camera Raw and Photoshop to process their images and, while doing so, get a closer look at the objects of their class’s study.

“It was the first time I had ever seen so many stars in one place,” says sophomore Kate Voynow, an American studies major and history minor, who’s taking the class because she’s always been intrigued by astronomy, and it fulfilled a distribution requirement. “It was surreal. There was something really magical about it.”

The Andromeda galaxy, shot during the astrophotography lab at the River and Field Campus at Washington College. Credit Brian Palmer.

The class surveys the universe, starting with Earth and moving through space and time to galactic clusters, supernovae, and black holes. Kehm says this is the second time that he and Palmer have collaborated to bring the art of photography into the science of astronomy.

“For students, this is one of the most enjoyable experiences of the semester,” Kehm says. “Most students already have an affinity for photography. Very quickly Brian can bring them up to speed in the use of SLR cameras and techniques for night photography. The lab gives us an opportunity to spend some time with the night sky, view constellations, observe the Milky Way, and sometimes see some planets. We even get to see some evidence of stellar colors in our long-duration exposures.”

Indeed, as the students processed their images back on campus, they found galaxies—including Andromeda, a swirl of gauzy white—meteors, and star clusters as they tweaked color, contrast, clarity, and other options to create scientifically publishable photos— what Kehm calls “an honest portrayal of the sky”—as well as versions that pushed into art photography.

“What I like most about the lab is the way it inspires the students,” he says. “There’s something about that pursuit of the aesthetic and the immersion under the starry sky that activates imagination and gets students excited about the subject. And even after doing this for many, many years, I’m still in awe every time I go out.”

For Voynow, who says she’s “not that good at STEM,” the class has been fun, if challenging at times. But the astrophotography lab and the night sky at RAFC were a revelation.

“As a history student, it’s kind of interesting because we learn about societies and we learn about the rise and fall of empires or how the United States began, all the things you learn about in history classes,” she says. “This is like Big History. Uber History. It’s fun to look at it that way. ‘Now, let’s look at the history of everything.’ And it kind of makes what I’m learning, it puts it into perspective. Look at all this fighting, look at all this war. What’s the point? It’s not Big History. The universe is so big, and how small we are compared to it. I take comfort in that. There’s something nice about it.”

The night sky at the River and Field Campus, photographed and processed by students Kate Voynow and Madi Shenk.

Kehm says RAFC “offers some of the darkest skies in the region, and it’s only minutes from campus. It is an absolutely fantastic resource for us. One of my long-term goals is to develop a permanent observing platform at the River and Field Campus, which would make it easier for us to use telescopes more routinely at the site. The property offers a lot of promise for astronomy at the College. We’re only starting to realize that potential.”

Palmer says the lab is fun for him because it lets him teach students how to use cameras and technologies supplied by IDEAWORKS that help them imagine new possibilities for their work.

“I love to see the students light up when they explore the power of these newly acquired skills,” he says. “Whether it be centered around discovery, expression, or problem solving, I think programming we can offer the students through IDEAWORKS is truly a unique and valuable addition to their undergraduate experience.”


College Donates $10,000 to Chestertown Firefighters


Washington College has donated $10,000 the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company (CVFC) to underscore its appreciation for the fire company’s devotion to the safety and well-being of the college’s campus community and neighbors.

“As the president of Washington College, my first obligation is to the students, faculty, and staff here, and we are glad to have a reliable, committed, and well-equipped fire department as a neighbor,” President Kurt Landgraf told CVFC’s president, David Eason Sr. “We are grateful for the service that is rendered by the members of the fire company to Washington College and to the greater Chestertown community.”

Located only a few blocks from the Washington College campus, the CVFC is one of seven emergency organizations in Kent County. It can deploy three engines, one tower ladder, one heavy rescue, one tanker, one brush unit, one chief’s unit and a spill support trailer, according to the company’s website. The all-volunteer company responds to over 700 emergencies annually.

In recent years, the College has donated $2,000 a year to the fire department. Landgraf, who became Washington College’s president in July, says that in addition to this year’s monetary contribution, he will work closely with the town on more growth opportunities, as well as supporting a vibrant partnership with United Way to help all Kent County residents.



Dancescape Performances at Washington College


Washington College’s Department of Theatre and Dance, in partnership with SANDBOX, is pleased to present this year’s Dance Minor concert, Dancescape. The concert, on November 17 at 7:30 p.m. and November 18 at 2 p.m., will feature original works in a wide range of dance styles by Washington College students, faculty, and alumni, as well as a special guest performance of Carol Hess’s multimedia LightForest (2017) by the Baltimore Dance Project.

Both events in Decker Theatre at the Gibson Center for the Arts are free and open to the public, and a reception will follow the Saturday matinee on November 18.


LightForest powerfully brings together experiments with dance, music, photography, technology, and the environment. Its five dancers perform amid a “forest” of tall, narrow vertical screens. Video and still images of forests, shot and edited by Hess at different times over a year, map onto the screens and create lush contexts of natural elements in varying perspectives and scales, placing the dancers within the changing seasons of nature. Timothy Nohe’s evocative sound score intertwines bird sounds sampled from the Cornell Ornithology Lab with rhythmic percussion and strong, resonant, digitally composed sections. Sound travels through the space with the dancers, who each wear a specially designed apparatus that contains an iPod touch and small Bluetooth speaker.

LightForest’s choreographer and composer will also teach a series of interdisciplinary workshops leading up to the show. For more information, please

The performances and workshops of LightForest are made possible by SANDBOX, the Departments of Theatre and Dance, Art and Art History, and Music as well as the Center for Innovation, Research, and Creativity in the Arts at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.


Film About Laotian Refugee at College Nov. 8


Safoi Babana-Hampton

Safoi Babana-Hampton, whose award-winning film “Hmong Memory at the Crossroads” follows the story of a Hmong-American from Michigan as he traces his past, will visit Washington College for a screening of her film, followed by a Q&A. Babana-Hampton will join one of her producers, Dan Dapkus, on Nov. 8 at 4 p.m. in Goldstein 100, for the film screening and audience discussion afterward. The event is free and open to the public.

“Hmong Memory at the Crossroads” is an award-winning 2015 production of Michigan State University in partnership with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Humanities Without Walls Consortium, funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Babana-Hampton is the producer, executive producer, writer, videographer, and director.

A former Fulbright fellow and a two-time recipient and Senior Principal Investigator of the UIUC Humanities Without Walls Award, Babana-Hampton is an associate professor of French at Michigan State University. She has also written articles on topics relating to conceptions of multicultural citizenship, the postcolonial condition, historical memory in a global context, interfaith relations, and artistic hybridity in the literary and film productions of French cultural minorities, Moroccan Sephardic literature, and other Francophone literary and filmic narratives from North Africa and Québec.

A synopsis of the film: Liachoua Lee, a Hmong-American from Rochester Hills, Michigan, revisits his past as a former refugee and son of Hmong veterans of the French Indochina War (1946-1954), and of the American Secret War in Laos (1961-1975). He travels to places that carry traces of his personal history and the emotional scars left by the war. Lee’s story begins in Detroit, Michigan, then takes him to France, where he and his family sought asylum before immigrating to America, and ends in an emotional return to the homeland Laos for the first time in 40 years. The film documents Lee’s re-reading of key chapters of his refugee history, re-creating memories of wartime as experienced by the child he was then. The film follows Lee’s journey of remembrance, which brings his personal story into conversation with others’ stories in the Hmong community, American Vietnam veterans, French Indochina War veterans, historians and government officials in the Midwest and France. Click here for more about the film.

College Speaker to Discuss Russian Revolution


This year’s Conrad M. Wingate Memorial Lecture in History at Washington College will feature Russian scholar Ian D. Thatcher and focus on the historical importance of the revolution and how our understandings of it have changed in the last hundred years. Thatcher, a professor at the University of Ulster, will discuss “From February to October, 1917: Competing Visions of the Russian Revolution,” on Thursday, Nov. 2, at 5:30 p.m. in Litrenta Lecture Hall of the John S. Toll Science Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Thatcher is the author of a biography of Leon Trotsky (2002).  He has also edited several volumes of scholarly essays on late Imperial Russia, the revolution itself, and the first years of Soviet power. He is currently researching Alexander Kerensky and the failed attempt to establish a moderate, Western-style democracy in 1917.

This event is sponsored by the Department of History.

“Analog Video Works” by Timothy Nohe Opens at Kohl Gallery Nov. 9


“Cosmonaut” by Timothy Nohe


Kohl Gallery at Washington College is pleased to announce a one-person show featuring Baltimore-based artist, composer, and educator Timothy Nohe. Opening on November 9 with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m., and running through December 15, the exhibition “Voltage is Signal: Analog Video Works by Timothy Nohe” will feature works exploring analog video technology in various innovative ways.

Nohe will be in residence for the production of LightForest by the Baltimore Dance Project in Decker Theatre on November 17 and 18, a dance for which he composed the score. He will deliver a gallery talk on November 16 at 4:30 p.m. while on campus for the production.

Nohe’s work engages traditional and electronic media in civic life and public places. His practice has been focused upon sustainability and place, and musical and video works for dance and live performance. His show at Kohl in many ways marks a new direction as he departs from a typically more image-based practice to consider the ways that voltages might produce abstractions. The resulting works are resonant of past traditions, from color field to Pop, even as they emerge from an interrogation of various media.

Nohe is the founding director of the Center for Innovation, Creativity and Research in the Arts (CIRCA) and a professor of visual arts at UMBC. He was an artist in residence at the Centre for Creative Arts at La Trobe University from 2011–2014, and an adjunct professor in the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (2011–2015). He also serves on the editorial board of the international journal, Unlikely, which is based in Melbourne, Australia.

The recipient of a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award from the Australian-American Fulbright Commission in 2006, Nohe went on to receive the Commission’s 2011 Fulbright Alumni Initiative Grant, which resulted in multiple exhibitions in the United States and Australia on view from 2012-2016. Nohe has also received multiple other awards and honors including five Maryland State Arts Council Awards, a Creative Baltimore Award, a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts and William G. Baker Fund “Our Town Project-Creative Placemaking” grant, and a 2015 Warnock Foundation grant. Nohe has exhibited and performed his work in a range of national and international venues and was commissioned as an exhibiting artist for Light City 2017, Baltimore. His contribution, Electron Drawing, will be on display in the gallery.

Kohl Gallery is located on the first floor of the Gibson Center for the Arts at Washington College. It is open Monday through Wednesday1 to 6 p.m.Saturday and Sunday11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, please email:

“Electron” by Timothy Nohe


Halloween at Lit House — All About Witches


Cristina Casado Presa

Washington College’s very own Cristina Casado Presa will be at the Rose O’Neill Literary House for a faculty tea and talk on Tuesday, October 31, as part of the fall Literary House Series. The event at the Lit House will be at 4:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Cristina Casado Presa is an associate professor of Spanish, chair of the Modern Languages Department, and director of the Gender Studies Program at Washington College, where she teaches all levels of Spanish. She also teaches courses on the contemporary literature of Spain; representations of the Spanish Civil War; female writers after Franco’s death; contemporary Spanish theater; and witches, ghosts, and vampires. She is an expert in 20th- and 21st-century literature and culture of Spain and focuses her research on women writers and representations of witchcraft in literature and culture.

Some of her publications on those subjects are “The Witch as a Power Paradigm in Two Contemporary Spanish Dramas” published in Monographic Review; “Silence as a Conflict in a Drama by Pilar Pombo” published in Letras Femeninas; and “Mother-Daughter Relationships in Contemporary Spanish Theater” in the volume The Changing Spanish Family: Essays on New Views in Literature, Cinema and Theater (McFarland, 2011). Currently she is working on a book project dedicated to the figure of the witch in contemporary Spanish literature.

For more information on these events or the Literary House, visit the website at, or view the annual Literary Events Calendar brochure here:

Washington College Students, Faculty, and Staff Study Field Sparrows


Jennie Carr, Assistant Professor of Biology (left) and Madeline Poethke ’16 use scopes to spot field sparrows in the restored grasslands at Washington College’s Chester River Field Research Station

In general, Andrea Freeman’s view of the natural world is through a microscope. A senior biology major with an emphasis in cellular, molecular, and infectious diseases, and a minor in chemistry, Freeman admits she doesn’t get outside much, which made her summer internship with Jennie Carr, Assistant Professor of Biology, that much more of an eye-opener.

As a Toll Fellow in the College’s Summer Research Program, Freeman worked for 10 weeks with Carr in the restored native grasslands at the Chester River Field Research Station (CRFRS) at Chino Farms, helping Carr with her ongoing study of field sparrows—considered a “common” bird but one which has seen steep population declines in the last 40 years.

“It definitely was a different focus for me because I usually take classes with microscopes and stuff like that, and this was out in the field, outside,” said Freeman. “It took a lot to get used to just from my experiences in the classroom. I loved it.”

A pair of hungry field sparrow babies wait with open mouths for food.

Carr has been studying field sparrows and hummingbirds at the CRFRS since 2014. She has focused the work at the field station at Chino Farms in part because of the unique habitat—the restored native grasslands—that draws the sparrows. The station is also home to Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory, whose long-term data collection and identification of birds supports her study.

“Because the staff at Foreman’s Branch has been banding birds for so long out there, we have a really well-characterized population of field sparrows where we know exactly how old they are. Very few other studies can do that; they know if they’re two years old, and that’s it,” Carr said. “But we know we have some birds that are seven, eight, nine, and so on. We put color bands on them so we can identify unique individuals with scopes and binoculars … when you’re interested in age, and you need this longitudinal study, you need to know how they did when they were four versus five, five versus six.”

Considered common, field sparrows nevertheless have seen a population decline of 65% from 1966 to 2010, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Over the past four summers, Carr has been studying whether the age of the bird has a bearing on nesting success—in short, do older birds do a better job of feeding their young. Carr has been working with Maren Gimpel and Dan Small, field ecologist and Natural Lands Project coordinator, respectively, with the College’s Center for Environment & Society, and a small cadre of summer research students each year.

In 2014, researchers located 90 nests in the restored grasslands and successfully filmed 32 of them resulting in 132 hours of video footage to review. In 2015, that number jumped to 115 nests with 65 being filmed. In 2016, Carr and the team located 119 nests, and this past summer 103 nests.

A nestful of young field sparrows

“We would go out every morning and observe the field sparrows and watch their behavior, and that would indicate whether they had a nest,” Freeman said. “And our main goal was to be able to find the nest in order to be able to see if they became better parents as they aged.”

Carr, Gimpel, and Small plan to publish the research results this winter. Preliminarily, Carr said, it appears as though males do not feed chicks more as they age, although females do.

“This is a little surprising, since they live for so long, and they definitely learn and modify their behavior. It’s surprising that males don’t seem to improve since success of the nest really depends on bi-parental care,” Carr said. “Age doesn’t seem to be a big contributing factor, but the sex of individuals seems to be. Females are little more attentive. And feeding rate is an important driver of nest success.”

Carr and the team also began a new, related study this summer, using the same habitat and the same birds, but studying where the birds choose to nest as a determining factor in nesting success.

“We’re doing vegetation plots around the nests, characterizing where they are in relation to a treeline, for instance, and whether they’re being eaten by a predator or dying from exposure or a mechanical failure of a nest just falling over,” Carr says. “We’re asking more questions about field sparrow success and age—because we want to take advantage of that variable while we can—but also how is their nest building skill or placement varying over time, if it is.”

For Freeman, the work was a first on many levels—her first internship in the field, her first working with a species like the sparrows, her first living on her own in an apartment-type setting off campus, in the field house where interns spend their summer.

“I was able to do the things I learned at Washington College. I was able to put hands on,” she said. “And it also taught me a lot about patience and how things aren’t going to be the way you want all the time. There would be days when I wouldn’t find a field sparrow nest, and it was just interesting to see how stuff doesn’t always go as you planned, and how you have to adapt and learn and kind of be thinking on your feet.”

Literary House: Two-Day “Poetry Extravaganza” Celebrates Poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Terrence Hayes


Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917-2000 – America’s first African American poet laureate

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Washington College will present a two-day Poetry Extravanganza celebrating African-American poets Terrance Hayes and Gwendolyn Brooks on Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 1-2 at the Rose O’Neill Literary House

Gwendolyn Brooks was America’s first African American poet laureate, as well as the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. Terrance Hayes has won the National Book Award and a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, among other acclamations for his poetry. Both will be celebrated on Nov. 1-2 at the Rose O’Neill Literary House, in a two-day event to honor the past and the present of poetry in America.

Hayes will read from his work on Nov. 1 at 4 p.m. at the Lit House. The event celebrating Brooks, 100 years after her birth in 1917, will be held Nov. 2 at 4:30, also at the Lit House. Both events are free and open to the public. At the second event, Hayes will also discuss the influence Brooks’ work and legacy has had on his own poetry.

Terrance Hayes, poet and a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award

One of the most compelling voices in American poetry, Terrance Hayes is the author of five books of poetry: How to Be Drawn (Penguin Books, 2015), longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry; Lighthead (Penguin Books, 2010), winner of the 2010 National Book Award in Poetry; Wind in a Box (Penguin Books, 2006), winner of a Pushcart Prize; Hip Logic (Penguin Books, 2002), winner of the National Poetry Series, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets; and Muscular Music (Carnegie Mellon, 2006), winner of both the Whiting Writers Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He has been a recipient of many other honors and awards, including a 2014 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, two Pushcart selections, eight Best American Poetry selections, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines including The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Fence, The Kenyon Review, Jubilat, Harvard Review, and Poetry. His poetry has also been featured on PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Gwendolyn Brooks was born in 1917. In this, the 100th year since her birth, we celebrate the former poet laureate and the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, for Annie Allen, her second book of poems. She wrote 20 books of poetry, publishing her first, A Street in Bronzeville (Harper & Brothers) in 1945. She also authored a novel, two autobiographies, and books for children. Her musicality, mastery of tone, gift with received forms like sonnets, and insistence on writing about marginalized people make Brooks one of our most important and relevant poets.

Participants are welcome to bring and read a poem inspired by Brooks, or to read one of their favorites of hers. Hayes will also attend and talk about the influence Brooks had on his work as well as how he developed the form “the golden shovel” based on her work.

For more information on this and other English Department and Sophie Kerr events, visit the the English department’s website or view our annual Literary Events Calendar brochure here. For more information, visit the Literary House website.