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History of the Summer Science Program

The Summer Science Program began in 1959 at The Thacher School in Ojai, California (north of Los Angeles). Thacher's headmaster, Newton Chase, had become convinced that the country's most promising high school students, those most capable of careers in science and engineering, were not being adequately informed and inspired about those career options. He conceived of an intense summer program to challenge rising seniors beyond anything they had so far experienced, giving them a chance to do "real science" while living and working in a supportive community of bright, motivated peers.

Mr. Chase persuaded leading Southern California colleges -- including Caltech, Pomona College, and Harvey Mudd College -- to contribute academic expertise and administrative assistance to the project. Hughes Aircraft donated money and equipment. UCLA became involved in 1960 when Prof. George Abell joined the faculty.

The late Caltech physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman gave nine
unforgettable SSP guest lectures (including this one) between 1960 and 1980.
 

That first summer, the students calculated the orbits of minor planets (asteroids) from their own observations, measurements, and calculations (which were then performed on electro-mechanical calculating machines). The results were submitted to the Minor Planet Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and were catalogued there. This research has been performed each summer since then.

SSP was held at The Thacher School for 41 years, 1959 through 1999. During the first two decades, SSP remained an informal co-op, with administrative responsibility rotated between Caltech, Pomona, and Harvey Mudd. After 1981, the US government stopped funding summer programs, so the college affiliates no longer had an administrative role; Thacher assumed full responsbility for continuing SSP. The colleges remained (and still remain) informal supporters, supplying faculty and guest speakers. UCLA installed and donated a dome and astrograph for use by SSP.


After 1999

After the summer of 1999, Thacher School decided to dedicate its entire campus to a different, larger program. SSP could have simply ceased to exist at that time, but alumni decided that could not be allowed to happen. They rallied to create and fund a new nonprofit corporation, Summer Science Program, Inc., to take over operation of SSP as an independent program.

For the next ten years, the Summer Science Program was held at Besant Hill School, located just across the Ojai Valley from The Thacher School. In 2003 a second campus opened, hosted and sponsored by New Mexico Tech in Socorro, south of Albuquerque. That campus has operated each summer since.

In 2005 SSP renewed formal cooperation with Caltech through their Admissions Dept, and in 2009 began a similar relationship with MIT.

In 2010 the California campus moved to Westmont College, aided and abetted by Westmont Physics Prof. Warren Rogers SSP '76. After a successful five-year run at Westmont, the Board of Trustees decided to accept an invitation to relocate to the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The Summer Science Program is one of the oldest programs of its kind in the world, and the only one managed and largely funded by its own alumni.

For more details, see Wikipedia.

This measuring engine was used by Edwin Hubble,
and donated to SSP By Mt. Wilson Observatory.
 

UCLA astronomer George Abell served as SSP Academic Director
for 12 years. The "Abell Clusters" of galaxies he discovered
are the largest known structures in the universe. Photo by Ken Nordhauser '76.