Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope



The purpose of the Fermi E/PO program is to increase student and public understanding of the science of the high-energy Universe, through inspiring, engaging and educational activities linked to the mission’s science objectives. The E/PO program has additional more general goals, including increasing the diversity of students in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) pipeline, and increasing public awareness and understanding of Fermi science and technology. Fermi’s multi-faceted E/PO program includes elements in each major outcome category:
Higher Education - Fermi E/PO promotes STEM careers through the use of NASA data including research experiences for students and teachers (Global Telescope Network), education through STEM curriculum development projects (Cosmology curriculum) and through enrichment activities (Large Area Telescope simulator).
Elementary and Secondary education – Fermi E/PO links the science objectives of the Fermi mission to well-tested, customer-focused and NASA-approved standards-aligned classroom materials (Black Hole Resources, Active Galaxy Education Unit and Pop-up book, TOPS guides, Supernova Education Unit). These materials are distributed through (Educator Ambassador and on-line) teacher training workshops and through programs involving under-represented students (after-school clubs and Astro 4 Girls).
Informal education and public outreach – Fermi E/PO engages the public in sharing the experience of exploration and discovery through high-leverage multi-media experiences (Black Holes planetarium and PBS NOVA shows), through popular websites (Gamma-ray Burst Skymap, Epo’s Chronicles), social media (Facebook, MySpace), interactive web-based activities (Space Mysteries, Einstein@Home) and activities by amateur astronomers nation-wide (Supernova! Toolkit).

Lead Organizations

Sonoma State University




The Fermi E/PO program is synergistic with SSU’s other programs: XMM-Newton, NuSTAR and Swift. Below is a list of program elements done with these programs and other external partners, including:

  • Night Sky Network Toolkit Supernova! – joint with Swift, XMM-Newton, Suzaku and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Kits were distributed through the ASP to over 200 amateur astronomy clubs in the Night Sky Network, who used the toolkit with over 138,000 attendees through 1,284 events (through 2011): 679 events reported including almost 25,000 minorities and over 39,000 women/girls.
  • TOPS Learning Modules – developed by Ron Marson from TOPS Learning Systems, Inc., with technical oversight by Fermi E/PO staff and external evaluation by WestEd. There are three modules which use scientific examples from Fermi and astronomy to teach core mathematics concepts. These guides are also sold by TOPS.
  • Educator Ambassador Program – joint with Swift, XMM-Newton and NuSTAR (at present) and with many other missions in the past. Every other year the EAs are trained at SSU, and other NASA missions have contributed to the training including WISE, Kepler, GRAIL, and the NSF project LIGO. EA workshops have directly trained over 63,500 educators and students through mid-2013.
  • NASA’s Multiwavelength Universe – online course developed with many missions including Swift, XMM-Newton and NuSTAR, and coordinated by the SEPOF. Approximately 25 teachers participated during each offering (2011 and 2012).
  • Astro 4 Girls – Educator Ambassadors Teena Della, Pam Whiffen, Mandy Frantti and Linda Smith participated from Fermi, along with other Astrophysics mission staff coordinated by the SEPOF
  • Supernova Education Unit – developed with XMM-Newton and distributed by the Educator Ambassadors through educator workshops
  • Epo’s Chronicles – weekly webcomic produced by SSU, and supported also by Swift, XMM-Newton and NuSTAR.
  • Global Telescope Network – robotic telescope observations done by high-school students, in partnership with Swift and XMM-Newton. There are 38 participating partners, including high schools, universities and other telescope installations around the globe. (Also supported by website gtn.sonoma.edu)
  • After-school programs – done in partnership with Swift and XMM-Newton, and with the Roseland School District and the Cali Calmecac English/Spanish immersion K-8 school, and with MESA (Roseland) and the Boys and Girls Club of Sonoma County (Cali).
  • Gamma-ray burst website (grb.sonoma.edu) – done in partnership with Swift.
  • IYA 2009 Activities – done in partnership with many other Astrophysics missions, including lithographs of the Go Observe objects, special Epo’s Chronicles episodes, Visions of the Universe library lectures by EAs, the Bay Area traveling exhibit and larger exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences and San Jose Tech Museum.
  • Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity and PBS NOVA show “Monster of the Milky Way” – produced in partnership with Swift, NSF, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, PBS NOVA and Tom Lucas Productions.
  • Space Mysteries – originally funded by NASA’s LEARNERS project.
  • Einstein@Home – a citizen science project developed by the NSF-funded LIGO project, which is being used to analyze Fermi data to search for gamma-ray pulsars.




Additional Metrics:


For Fermi, 2000-2013:

Website Statistics:


Total of 20,502 visits in 2012.


Total of 55,092 visits in 2012


Total of 20,311 visits in 2012

Epo’s Chronicles:

Total of 168,322 visits in 2012

Multi-media viewings/downloads:

  • Black Holes planetarium show: Over 30 venues, reaching millions of people world-wide
  • Black Holes NOVA show: Over 10 million initial viewers, not counting reruns, and viewing through website at PBS.
  • Podcast for IYA – over 6000 downloads for initial release on 9/16/2009

Informal Education:

  • Traveling IYA exhibit traveled around the San Francisco Bay Area to over 20 venues during 2009, with an estimated viewing by over 100,000 participants.
  • Larger IYA exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences and San Jose Tech Museum for six months each in 2009. Estimated viewing is 50,000 at each location.


Effectiveness and Impact

Evaluation findings and impact statements:

TOPS guides (Far Out Math, Scale the Universe, Pi in the Sky):

Far Out Math: This curriculum product was not very well reviewed initially, and was later significantly reworked before sending to NASA product review.

Scale the Universe: The teachers liked the hands-on approach and the cross-curricular learning. They appreciated the creative approach taken by the developer, and felt that this was an interesting area that was of value to students. They found the everyday materials realistic to have on hand or purchase inexpensively, unless there was a large number of students. Several expressed personal enjoyment and satisfaction in completing the activities themselves and felt other teachers would benefit from this type of materials.

Pi in the Sky: These materials provide fun, hands-on activities which promise to be engaging for students in the targeted 5th through 12th grades, though not all activities and materials are appropriate for all grades within this band. The activities are the heart and strength of the materials. They are especially valuable when they provide students with an opportunity to experience mathematical and scientific entities which may be rather abstract, such as approximating pi and measuring parallax. It is exciting for students to be able to experience astronomical phenomena here on earth. The materials also provide an intuitive introduction to radian measure which (in this evaluator’s teaching experience) can be a stumbling block in learning trigonometry.

Active Galaxy Education Unit and Pop-up book/guide: The reviewers had very strongly positive view of the poster and instructional materials… Participants felt activity 1 (and 3, to a lesser extent) would be useful for most high school science students, but through supplementary roles such as enrichment/extension activities for extra credit or science clubs. Because the topical content of the materials does not correspond to CA state science standards, reviewers felt they would not be able use these materials with all of their students as part of their courses. Participants felt that only advanced students would succeed with activity 2.

Black Hole Planetarium Show: We conducted pre- and post- surveys with two different audiences (a high school with its own planetarium and a general public audience at the Chabot Space and Science Center). Results were mixed, as some of the most powerful graphics in the show seemed to have confused the audience.

Summer High School Internship Program (SHIP, 2009-2012): In the past four summers, 13 high-school students have interned with the SSU E/PO group, primarily learning how to run GORT (our robotic telescope) and to analyze photometric data on blazars. Of these 13 students, 9 are now either in college, 3 are about to start college next Fall and one is going into her senior year in high school. All have remained STEM majors, and six are majoring or intending to major in physics or astrophysics.

Space Mysteries (from the usage reviews by WestEd):
Galactic Doom: “The expert reviewer, teachers and students all reported that they enjoyed playing the game. Teachers were particularly grateful for a game on this particular topic and all said they would continue to use it in the classroom. Teachers said, they appreciated that the game uses real photos and examples. They said that the game addressed a gap in what is available to teachers for instruction around galaxies. One teacher said: “There are only a few websites kids can go to learn about galaxies. This is one of them.” Teachers also said they appreciated the professional animation. According to one high school teacher: “My students like to do hands-on activities and there are not many that teach about astronomy topics. This computer game serves as wonderful device to show models and get the students involved.”

Solar Supernova: “Reviewers found the Space Mysteries/Solar Supernova on-line game to be an interesting and relevant enrichment activity for honors or GATE eighth graders and for ninth graders, and some high school classes. Teachers said the game addresses standards for science and math in the eighth and ninth grades. Reviewers highly praised the graphics, video sequences, the relevance of the science content and imaginative story line.”

Educator Ambassador Program: See the NuSTAR report for a long excerpt about the successful 2012 training by SSU of the EAs.

Fermi Race Card Game: From the WestEd Formative review of an earlier version of the game:

  • The game describes an active NASA mission and provides information on how a modern satellite was constructed and launched. The immediacy of the NASA mission lends excitement and relevance to the game.
  • The game is fun to play and could be used at home or in middle and high school classrooms.
  • Realistic images and tasks make the game interesting and engaging for players. The game reproduces a project scenario similar to one practicing scientists might engage in. This motivates players to engage in the game and enhances learning.
  • The card game is inexpensive and easy to transport.

Active Galaxy Education Unit: Extensive formative evaluation by WestEd resulted in significant changes to the education unit prior to the NASA approval submission and subsequent public distribution.

From the WestEd evaluation of student work following eleven presentations to 8th graders using the pop-up book and activity: “Fifteen student homework papers were selected by teachers and provided to WestEd. Although they were not randomly selected, they include four papers by English Language Learners and one from a student in Special Day Class. While we did not do an exhaustive analysis of the content of these papers, an examination of this student work clearly indicate that student remembered a significant amount of content related to black holes from the presentation. In their papers, students correctly described and used terms such as “event horizon,” “spaghettification,” “stellar mass black holes,” and “accretion disks.” Their papers indicate, for example, that students learned how black holes are formed, that our sun will never be a black hole, and how scientists detect black holes. Additionally, many of the papers correctly addressed common misconceptions about black holes.”

Additional post-presentation data at a different low-performing school to several classes of eighth-grade students: “The teacher indicated that the students did well on the quiz, with 70% of them answering at least four out of the five questions correctly.”

Epo’s Chronicles (from the WestEd usage study): The main purpose of the comic strip is to educate and engage middle and high school students. Early on, the creators of the comic generated a number of goals for the project. One goal involves “increasing accessibility and usage for all users.” The other goals, however, specifically address student usage. These goals include: 1) widespread student usage, 2) student success in learning the educational content on the site, and, 3) spurring interest and motivating students to learn about science.

The overall reaction to Epo’s Chronicles from a strong majority of study participants was very positive. Students and teachers liked the idea of a comic strip as a way to learn about science and astronomy. Participants particularly liked the “Web 2.0” aspect of the comic, and the use of links to learn more and pursue various topics in a multimedia platform. The artwork was highly praised.

The data suggest that students learned new content while on the site. For each topic (galaxies, planets and solar systems), 90% of students reported they learned key content on the strip. Not only did they learn from the comic strip itself, about one quarter reported learning new content from additional links shown below the strip.

Educator Ambassador Program: The successful EA training events held every other year have developed a cohort of master teachers that are extremely successful trainers of other teachers. We have evaluations of all five EA training events held since 2002; each year we have done a better job in training these outstanding educators. In turn, the results of their evaluations done by the teachers that they are training, have also improved steadily.

SHIP: Interviews of all the participants were conducted in the past two years, while in the initial two years, WestEd only interviewed students that worked directly with the SSU E/PO group. The following summarizes the impact of the 2012 program:

“Feedback provided by student interns and faculty mentors confirm that participants in the 2012 SHIP program at Sonoma State University were overall greatly satisfied with their experience. The high school interns reported positive gains in their STEM knowledge and research skills; having been inspired working with a faculty mentor; and being better informed about their choice of STEM majors and career choices. All students appeared to be engaged in challenging
STEM research activities and projects that went well beyond their high school coursework. This trend was evident during the students’ poster sessions and final presentations as they eloquently shared their work with faculty, parents and invited guests.

Students’ participation in a SHIP program benefitted them on many levels. Many of the interns experienced first hand the unpredictable nature of scientific research and persevered, giving them a better appreciation for this process and their abilities. Students were intellectually stimulated in learning about advanced science and technology topics, in conducting research and in interacting with their faculty mentors. The opportunities students were given to be independent in a university research setting also challenged them to be self-reliant and self-organizing, skills that will undoubtedly benefit them in their postsecondary studies. Faculty also reported positively about their experience working with the student interns and an appreciation for their motivation, maturity and abilities to work independently.”



Awards and Recognition:

  • Lynn Cominsky was named CSWP Physicist of the Month for September, 2012 by the American Physical Society.
  • Cominsky received an award from the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, which presents awards “Women Honoring Women” as part of Women’s History Month (which was, in fact, started in Sonoma County). “The "Women Honoring Women" award is given to outstanding women of the community who have made great efforts for the enhancement and well-being of women and girls.” Cominsky was honored for her “continuing work for the education of women and girls in the field of Science.’ Read more about it: http://www.sonoma.edu/workplace/2013/03/19/cominsky.html
  • In 2009, Cominsky was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society (Education division) “For her seminal work to promote student and teacher education using NASA missions as inspiration.”
  • Lynn Cominsky was named a Fellow of the AAAS (announced on November 30, Astronomy division) for “her work in outreach for X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy (NuSTAR, Fermi, Swift and XMM) and for inspiring her undergraduate students at Sonoma State University.”