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Astronomy and Science Literacy

Natalie Batalha photo

Associate Professor Natalie Batalha

What exactly is so important about Mars rovers? What are the origins of our universe? What can we learn from the surface of the moon?

This July, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) will host a free series of lectures about diverse astronomy and space science topics at SJSU. Preeminent and engaging astronomy researchers and professors from NASA Ames Research Center, UC Davis and UC Berkeley will discuss their work and answer questions about the latest in astronomy news and research.

The public is welcome to attend lectures to be held 12:30-4:30 p.m. July 21 and 7:30 p.m. July 22. The series will run concurrently with the ASP’s 2013 Annual Meeting, “Ensuring STEM Literacy.”

Plenary keyonte speakers include SJSU Associate Professor Natalie Batalha, who will discuss the NASA Kepler MissionDepartment of Physics and Astronomy Chair Michael Kaufman is a member of the event’s organizing committee. Assistant Professor Cassandra Paul and Assistant Professor Aaron Romanowsky will also serve as speakers.

The ASP is a nonprofit astronomy education organization whose goal is to increase science literacy by providing tools and materials to science educators, researchers, and the public. Every year, the ASP organizes a five-day conference during which several hundred K-12 teachers, university professors, researches, and public outreach professionals gather improve their crafts, network, and explore trends and best practices in astronomy and science education.

Conference Press Release

San Francisco – June 24, 2013 – The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), one of the most innovative and respected astronomy education organizations in the U.S., will host a series of public science talks in July by preeminent astronomers from NASA Ames, U.C. Davis and U.C. Berkeley. The talks are free and open to the public, and will take place on Sunday afternoon, July 21 from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m., and Monday evening, July 22 at 7:30 p.m., on the campus of San Jose State University, site of the ASP’s 125th Annual Conference, “Ensuring STEM Literacy.”

Covering topics from the latest NASA missions – including Planck and Mars – to cosmology to lunar science to infrared astronomy to asteroids, speakers come from the front lines of the latest in astronomy and space science:

Dr. Lloyd Knox has served as a professor of physics at UC Davis since 2001, and is an active researcher in the area of cosmology. Dr. Knox is currently a member of the Planck collaboration and South Pole collaboration, the former of which is arguably the most important experiment in cosmology today. The data from the Planck research is teaching cosmologists about the origin of all structure in the universe, in addition to answering numerous other cosmic questions. His impact on the field is evidenced by almost 4,000 citations of his 72 publications.

Dr. Pamela Marcum currently serves as the project scientist for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) at Ames Research Center. After receiving her doctorate in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Marcum joined the Department of Physics faculty at Texas Christian University (TCU) as the first tenure-track astronomer — and the first woman to be hired in that department. After nearly a decade there, she took temporary leave to become a visiting scientist at NASA Headquarters, serving for three years as program scientist for the WISE and Kepler missions. Following a one-year return to TCU, she left academia to work with the SOFIA team on achieving several major milestones, including the execution of SOFIA’s first science observations, installation of the first flight instruments, and an international deployment.

Brian Day, director of communication and outreach at the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI), is responsible for connecting students and the public to lunar science and exploration. He has worked on diverse NASA lunar projects as the Education/Public Outreach Lead, in addition to working on E/PO sections for numerous NASA mission proposals. He is a member of NASA’s Speakers Bureau, giving popular talks at local high schools and community organizations. Additionally, he served as Chair of the Foothill College Observatory for 16 years, and is active in the amateur astronomy community.

Dr. Christopher McKay, from the Space Science and Astrobiology branch of NASA Ames, is currently involved in researching the evolution of the solar system and the origin of life. He is also helping to plan future Mars missions, including the possibility of human exploration. Dr. McKay has been involved in numerous field research projects concerning the surface of Mars, including polar and desert studies in the Antarctic Dry Valleys, the Atacama Desert, the Arctic and Namib Desert.

Dr. Alex Filippenko, professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley, is currently involved in research surrounding progenitor starts and details of the explosions of supernovae and gamma-ray bursts. His research also concerns the physical properties of quasars and active galaxies, in addition to the search for black holes in various celestial bodies. His is perhaps best known as being a part of the team that discovered the accelerating expansion of the universe, which is thought to be driven by “dark energy.” This discovery garnered a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011 for team leaders.

The ASP is a nonprofit astronomy education organization that every year organizes one of the country’s most well-attended professional development meetings for science educators and public outreach professionals. This year marks the ASP’s 125th Annual Meeting, co-hosted by San Jose State University. Over five days, K-12 teachers, university professors, and leaders from planetariums, science centers, and research institutions gather to explore best practices and trends in science education and outreach.

Founded in 1889 in San Francisco, the ASP fosters science literacy through astronomy by serving professionals, educators and amateurs around the world, and engaging and inspiring current and future generations. The ASP publishes both scholarly and educational materials, conducts professional development programs for formal and informal educators, and holds conferences, symposia and workshops for astronomers and educators specializing in education and public outreach. The ASP’s programs are funded by corporations, private foundations, private donors, and its own members.