Nobel Prize Winner Speaks with TSES Fifth Graders

Classroom of students looking at zoom monitor
  • Published January 28, 2022

    Students at Thompson’s Station Elementary School are learning about the depths of space from one of the brightest minds in the world of astrophysics. 

    Nobel Prize winning scientist Dr. John Mather took time out of his schedule January 27 to Zoom with fifth graders at TSES. Mather is the senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, which made national news recently after traveling more than one million miles from Earth.  

    “We’ve been talking about the Webb Telescope in class because our focus this quarter is on the universe, galaxies and our solar system,” said fifth-grade teacher James Houston. “I found Dr. Mather’s email through NASA and asked if he’d be willing to speak with my class via Zoom. He responded that he doesn’t normally get to talk with students, and he was happy to do it.” 

    Knowing that the Webb Telescope will be used in the years ahead to explore not only our solar system but also every phase of cosmic history, the fifth graders in Mr. Houston's class came up with their own questions for Dr. Mather.

    “I asked him how many different designs of the telescope were considered before they settled on the type they used,” said fifth-grader Tatum Blake. “He said there was a catalog of about 50 ideas which I thought was pretty interesting.” 

    Fifth-grader Elias Zavala says he was interested to learn that scientists are already working on another telescope that will be smaller but even more powerful than the Webb Telescope. 

    “It’s just fascinating just to think about how big the universe is,” said Elias. “Science is one of my favorite subjects, and I’m even more interested in it now that I got to hear from a Nobel Prize winner.” 

    It’s a sentiment shared by many of the students who were surprised that someone with Dr. Mather’s credentials would take the time to speak with a group of fifth graders. 

    “Just the fact that we were able to talk with him was amazing,” said fifth-grader Eva Westbrook, who was shocked to learn it took more than 20 years to make the Webb Telescope. “Everything we talked about fits in perfectly with what we’re learning in class, so it was great.” 

    Mr. Houston hopes the excitement will continue in the weeks ahead as he hopes to schedule a similar question-and-answer session with Erin Wolf, who serves as program manager for the Webb Telescope.