Every day exciting new discoveries in astronomy reveal new insights into our dynamic and mysterious Universe. The education programs developed by NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory (NSF’s OIR Lab) share the thrill of discovery with diverse audiences, including students of all ages and the astronomy-interested public. We believe all people should have the opportunity to discover the Universe together and we are providing accessible, high-quality education programs to do just that.
Our educational programs serve to inspire future professional scientists, engineers and technologists and to engage the general public in a deeper understanding of our Universe. The goal of NSF’s OIR Lab’s education programs is to enhance the science literacy of all citizens and to demonstrate the value to society of astronomical research. To accomplish these two goals, NSF’s OIR Lab’s education staff develop partnerships with astronomy educators in schools, science centers, museums, and planetariums to help strengthen and expand their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education programs. In these partnerships, our staff work to develop new approaches to astronomy education that can enhance educational effectiveness and broaden interest and participation in science. At NSF OIR Lab’s research facilities visitors are introduced to telescopes, instruments, and other tools of astronomy as well as the latest research. The NSF OIR Lab’s programs also stress the importance of preserving the clear, dark night skies above these very special places, so everyone can continue to enjoy the spectacular Universe that inspires all of us.
NSF’s OIR Lab’s educational programs are wide-ranging and include portable planetariums, dark skies and light pollution awareness, recent astronomical discoveries and the technology behind telescopes. The Journey Through the Universe program in Hawai’i and its counterpart Viaje in Chile connect astronomy professionals with schools, as does the Live from Gemini program. The educational staff work directly with schools, science centers, and museums and also develop new teaching materials in collaboration with education partners.
The long-range program plan for the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory’s formal and informal education work is based on the high-level deliverables of the 2018 federal strategic plan “Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education” which describes a vision for the future in which “all Americans will have lifelong access to high-quality STEM education and the United States will be the global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment.” These plans serve to inform our education strategy.