In the field of astronomy we have an opportunity to make science popular again. Too many people give up on science for fear that it is too hard or there is too much math, but math & physics are more accessible than people suspect. Being able to derive everything I need to know from a few basic principles certainly makes a whole lot more sense to me than trying to figure out what James Joyce is trying to convey in Finnegans Wake. (For more eloquent words on this topic than mine, check out Natalie Angier's The Canon.) Many astronomy basics are easily observed (eclipses, moon phases, constellations, meteor showers, the seasons), so hopefully using these common yet awesome events combined with stunning pictures like those from the Hubble Space Telescope, we can lure some of those science-phobes back.

Details on a few of my efforts are below.

Dark Skies, Bright Kids

In central Virginia, we have the privilege of some pretty dark skies. To take full advantage of our location and to reach out to kids at a key age when their interest in science has been observed to drop, particularly among girls, Dark Skies, Bright Kids runs an after-school astronomy program for fourth and fifth grade students in under-served county and city schools. I help plan and teach these lessons as well as organize larger community events like our annual Central Virginia Star Party which attracts 300-500 attendees. I am also a lead on bringing our large, inflatable planetarium to schools, libraries, and other public spaces to bring astronomy to more people. We manage to do all this as a completely volunteer organization.

Learning Works!

With its alternative classroom model, Learning Works! (founded by Mikala Rahn) takes in high school students who have been forced out by the public school system and provides them with the more personalized opportunities they need to graduate. These students are smart, independent, and have taught me far more than I could ever teach them. The program has strong ties with Homeboy Industries so check them out, donate to their tattoo removal program and, if you're in the LA area, stop by Homegirl Cafe for some really good food!

Curious? Ask an Astronomer.

The graduate students at Cornell created a website called Curious? Ask an Astronomer where anyone can write in questions they have about astronomy-related topics. We get roughly 80 questions per week sent by everyone from inquisitive five year olds to retired engineers. We even got a question from one of the writers for 24 claiming too much free time during the 2008 writer's strike! Answers to the most popular questions are posted on the site. Here is a list of my postings.

Past Activities

Skygazing Course at Fall Creek Elementary Through a program called GRASSHOPR, the Cornell Public Service Center links interested graduate students who want to develop lesson plans with teachers in local classrooms. I visited first, second, and third grade classrooms at Fall Creek Elementary once a week with activities on topics like the solar system, the phases of the Moon, the reasons for the seasons, the Mars rovers, and stellar evolution. We also took annual trips to the Fuertes Observatory to look at sunspots and solar flares. The lesson plans I used can be found on the GRASSHOPR website (complete with my notes on what worked and what didn't). If you are interested in obtaining the materials needed for the activites, teachers in the Ithaca area can do so at no cost through a program run by the Nanobiotechnology Center at Cornell called Main Street Science.

This IS Rocket Science! I ran a workshop for students to learn the basics of rocketry, to design & build their own rockets, and then to launch them. Every year the workshop is a part of Expanding Your Horizons, a conference devoted to encouraging an interest in science among middle school girls, as well as through 4H's Focus for Teens, a career exploration program for high school students.

Cornell Women's Resource Center I was on the board of directors for the Cornell Women's Resource Center and ran a women's empowerment workshop for undergraduates, graduates, and staff. (Until recently, I was also the CWRC webmistress: check it out!) In 2007 I received the Alice Cook Award for my commitment to improving the climate for women at Cornell.