STScI and Universe of Learning

One of my favorite things to do is to interact with kids and the public to engage their excitement for science.  I'm fortunate to be able to do that as my job now as an Education and Outreach Scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute.  Throughout my education, I have been involved with science nights, school groups, and various other forms of education and public outreach.  I became increasingly involved with outreach and education as a postdoc in Alaska (more below).  

There are two ways I support outreach and education at STScI, first through mission communications and second through the Universe of Learning (https://universe-of-learning.org).  

STScI is the home of Hubble Space Telescope science operations (http://hubblesite.org) and will be the home of James Webb Space Telescope science and mission operations (http://webbtelescope.org).  Through the Office of Public Outreach I participate in a range of activities (from large-scale, multi-day events to small local library visits) to communicate the science results of our space telescopes.  Hubble has been an amazing public outreach tool and our goal is to make Webb just as effective.

Hubble was designed to be serviced by the space shuttle.  There were 5 servicing missions and, although we don't have the shuttle for more missions, Hubble is continuing to going strong just above us.  This is an image from the final release in 2009.  Credit: NASA

James Webb is the next space telescope to be launched and will complement Hubble visible cameras with infrared cameras and spectrometers.  Credit: Northrop Grumman

On the education side, I am a team member of the Universe of Learning (UoL), which is a STEM learning and literacy program funded by NASA SMD.  It is a partnership between STScI, IPAC/Calteach, SAO (Chandra X-ray Center), JPL, and Sonoma State University.  By working with these partners, we can support STEM learning across all of NASA Astrophysics, addressing the big questions: How does the universe work? How did we get here? and Are we along?  UoL supports a range of programs from professional development for informal educators to hands-on activities and exhibits for youth events.  We are dedicating to utilizing best practices in STEM education, focused on providing science- and audience-driven content.  Our projects use cutting edge emerging technology, such as virtual reality and augmented reality, and support a number of underserved audiences.  All resources are available to the public on the Universe of Learning website.

Traveling Planetarium in Alaska

In Alaska, I worked extensively with the Geophysical Institute’s traveling, digital planetarium (http://www.gi.alaska.edu/gi-education-outreach/portable-planetarium).  As the lead presenter, I had the opportunity to travel locally to schools and community nights, as well as to remote Alaska villages.  We have regular star talks and aurora videos for the planetarium and I have designed custom programs based on requests from teachers and the community.  I also taught several sessions of an Introduction to the Solar System class in the dome for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  In my last year in Alaska, I assisted with the dissemination of a newly produced video about the aurora and Inupiat culture, during which I got to travel to over a dozen schools in the Alaska arctic with the planetarium. 

Additionally I served as the scientist for two REACH (UAF K12 Outreach, https://www.uaf.edu/soe/k12_outreach/) site visits to Shishmaref and Wales, AK, where I introduced remote sensing techniques and Earth Science to K-12 graders.

planetarium_ cropped.jpg

There are two inflatable planetarium domes, a 6 m one with an extra airlock (above) and a 4 m dome.  When traveling with the planetarium, the equipment (dome in bag, projector in hard case, and fan) weighs between 200 and 240 pounds, depending on which dome and fan is used.  The projector works like like a classroom project, connected via DVI to a computer, except it has a fisheye lens to project the dome sky.  The planetarium program is the dome version of Starry Night that allows us to control things like time of day/year, location on planet, etc.


The domes are inflated with large fans.  The airlock on the large dome helps keep air inside as students enter.  The small dome simply upzips on one side so it's a race to get people inside before it deflates too much.

Shishmaref, AK on a disappearing coastal island (66° 15′ N)

Shungank, AK (66° 53′ N) on November morning

Shungank, AK (66° 53′ N) on November morning

We mostly traveled to local schools with the planetarium, as well as, set it up on the UAF campus for smaller groups.  Occasionally we traveled to villages throughout Alaska, which is a wonderful chance to experience a completely unique way of life.