Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)



The purpose of the NuSTAR E/PO program is to increase student and public understanding of the science of the high-energy Universe, through a multi-faceted education and outreach program that capitalizes on the synergy of existing high-energy astrophysics E/PO programs to support the mission’s objectives. Science content goals of the E/PO program are aligned with mission science goals and include: Facilitate understanding of the nature of collapsed objects; Develop awareness of the role of supernovae in creating the chemical elements; Facilitate understanding of the physical properties of the extreme Universe. The E/PO program has additional more general goals, including increasing the diversity of students in the STEM pipeline, and increasing public awareness and understanding of the NuSTAR science and technology program. 

The NuSTAR E/PO program has supported the development of resources for use in an undergraduate course at CalTech, as well as providing ongoing support for undergraduate student research activities in collaboration with science team members at several institutions.

The NuSTAR E/PO program’s Elementary and Secondary Education efforts include training for formal educators on NuSTAR-related formal education resources, in partnership with efforts coordinated by the Astrophysics Science Education and Public Outreach Forum (SEPOF). The purpose of the Astrophysics Educator Ambassador Program is to deepen teachers’ understanding of SMD science and technology so they can more effectively convey information to their students and to engage them in participative science. Working with the Astrophysics SEPOF, we have contributed to the ongoing effort to develop an online professional development course for educators focusing on multi-wavelength astronomy. As the first hard x-ray focusing mission, NuSTAR science adds important and unique content to this course. We are also developing high-leverage articles about NuSTAR science for national publications, and will develop a standards-aligned education unit as resources for elementary and secondary formal education in order to make NuSTAR science and technology discoveries available in formal education venues. The NuSTAR Educator’s Guide will be aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, and thoroughly evaluated by external evaluators at WestEd prior to submission to NASA Product review. 

The NuSTAR E/PO program is supporting two summer high schools interns per year, to increase the number of under-represented students in the STEM pipeline. The students are competitively chosen from public high schools in the Los Angeles area, and work on a variety of NuSTAR-related projects, mentored by science and engineering staff at Caltech and JPL.

The NuSTAR informal E/PO program includes a small exhibit at the Caltech-owned Palomar Visitor’s Center. The exhibit will include a model of NuSTAR and explain its focusing capabilities, contrasting NuSTAR images to those at other wavelengths. The Palomar Visitor’s Center has over 100,000 visitors annually, from over 50 different countries, and hosts many local and diverse school groups.

NuSTAR’s role in exploring the high-energy Universe is the main focus of our public outreach program. We continue to improve and maintain our NuSTAR E/PO web site, contribute to the ongoing Epo’s Chronicles weekly webcomic, produce an assortment of standard printed outreach products, and engage in public lectures and events.

Lead Organizations

Sonoma State University




NuSTAR E/PO has partnered with the Astrophysics SEPOF to participate in the on-line course NASA’s Multi-wavelength Universe in 2011 and 2012. There are also many synergistic activities carried on by the other high-energy Astrophysics missions supported by SSU: Swift, XMM-Newton and Fermi, including the Astrophysics Educator Ambassador Program, and the Epo’s Chronicles weekly webcomic. There is an informal partnership with the Palomar Visitor’s Center to host the NuSTAR exhibit. Caltech student collaborations are additional partnerships including the SURF program (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships) and the high-school student internship program with students from Los Angeles.





Additional Metrics:

  • NuSTAR was launched in the third quarter of FY12, almost simultaneously with the 2012 JPL Open House, where scientific and E/PO personnel staffed a booth. Estimated attendance was about 30,000 (indirect).
  • PI Fiona Harrison participated in a Google+ hangout about black holes on September 25, 2012. Estimated attendance was about 2500 members of the general public (indirect).
  • 32,500 member of the general public


Effectiveness and Impact

Evaluation findings and impact statements:
Executive Summary of the Evaluation of the EA Training in July 2012:

Participants’ very favorable ratings of this Sixth Institute were in the same league as their strong ratings for the fifth, with a value of 9.6 out 10 (versus 9.0 for the 5th Institute) on a summative rating of the overall usefulness of the Institute. For questions on specifics of the institute, on a 4-point scale where a 4 indicates being very satisfied or strongly agreeing, the average of participants’ responses was a notable 3.5 or higher for 84% of the questions; the average rating was at least 3.0 for 95% of the questions. Participants’ open-ended survey comments as well as suggestions during the focus group interview generally emphasized ideas for improving a well-received Institute rather offering criticism or dissatisfaction.
 Several particularly commented that the content of the gravitation mini-course was particularly engaging and noted how well the other speakers and activities were connected with it. Participants also especially noted the value of the guest speakers on the mission updates; for example, one participant remarked, “It is amazing the people we get to see and hear. It is so awesome!” The participants did suggest that having advance notice of which scientists were going to be speaking at the Institute would permit EAs to research them online and gather background knowledge so they could be more prepared for these speakers’ presentations and able to better understand more of the presented content.

In response to participants’ request for some choice of activities in the agenda, staff included some concurrent sessions. Most participants appreciated that choices were offered, but several felt they wanted to attend both.

The participants appreciated the scheduled discussions amongst themselves and also with SSU staff to address ideas and issue in preparing and conducting their sponsored EA sessions through the year. They particularly valued ideas for coordinating which EAs plan to present at which conferences or other venues, and the topics of their presentations. During a strategic planning session, it was suggested to do a webinar once or twice a year for this purpose.

Participants almost without exception were very satisfied with conference organization and participant support, specifically: (a) conference planning and logistics, (b) the opportunities they had in real time to express any concerns, and (c) the responses to those concerns and ideas by the institute staff. The average of participants’ ratings on 17 related questions ranged from a very strong value of 3.5 to a perfect 4.0, with only one or two participants indicating any disagreement on any item; for half of these items, no participants indicated any disagreement. [While source data on these 17 items are provided at the end of this report along with all other survey data, this report discussion does not discuss them in much more detail because they the participants’ views were so strong.)

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.

NASA’s Multiwavelength Universe course: Pre- and post- course knowledge assessments were conducted. WestEd reviewed all the course data for both years. The following are excerpts from the reports for each year:

2011 report: Differences between pre- and post-workshop survey responses on the 9 items from “What Are Your Ideas About Light and Color?” suggest a gain in teacher’s knowledge. Correct response rates were 100% in the post-workshop survey for 5 of these items (with response rate at 72.7% to 90.9% in the pre-workshop). The 2 lowest correct response rates (81.2%) were for the same 2 items that had the lowest response rates in the pre-workshop survey (31.8% for “Sunlight transfers energy to the Earth’s surface mostly as:” and 50% for “If you “look at a continuous color spectrum in a darkened room through a red filter:”).

Participants said that the most important thing they took away from the course to use in their professional practice was the misconceptions research, access to the WISE images, and the relevancy of EM to everyday life and the NASA missions. Most surprising things learned by the participants were the generic nature of their textbooks regarding electromagnetic waves, that radio waves did not penetrate the material used during an in-class activity, and the free availability of tools such as MicroObservatory.

2012 report: Differences between pre- and post-workshop survey responses on the 9, two-part items from “What Are Your Ideas About Light and Color?” suggest a moderate gain in teacher’s knowledge. Correct response rates ranged from about 46 to 96% average values on the pre-course survey and 53 to 100% on the post-course survey.

Participant’s self-ratings of their knowledge “Before” and “After” the course on the 4 items identified (on a scale of 0 to 7) indicate positive gains with the highest average gain for “NASA’s resources for teaching and learning about the electromagnetic spectrum.” Participants would like to know more about understanding light and color, staying connected with NASA scientists, which satellites are still in use, radio telescopes, SETI, and image processing. Participants’ feedback through the 8 open-response items on the Course Evaluation Survey indicate that teachers thought the course goals were clear, well-organized, appropriate and ultimately met. Responses provided to these survey items support that the participants learned new things in the course (e.g., NASA satellites, activities with remote control/UV light/filters, NASA resources, Missions and Astrophotography).

Participants said they intend to incorporate hands-on activities into their classrooms (e.g., MicroObservatory, Active Astronomy, and wavelengths/filters), introducing and/or teaching more about the EM spectrum. Many teachers stated their students would perform more image processing.

Participants said that the most important thing they took away from the course to use in their professional practice was the misconceptions research, access to the observatory images, and the relevancy of EM to everyday life, especially in how we “see,’ and the NASA missions. Most surprising things learned by the participants were radio waves did not penetrate the material used during an in-class activity, the misconceptions of students, and the free availability of tools such as MicroObservatory.

Materials distributed for NuSTAR (2008 - 2013):

  • NuSTAR slideshows” (interactive paper graphic that models NuSTAR and includes information on the science objectives): 1000
  • NuSTAR fact sheets: 8000
  • NuSTAR stickers: 13,500

(Note: some of the stickers and fact sheets may still be at Caltech and not yet distributed. These numbers are what SSU sent out to various places.)

FY13: NuSTAR scientists and E/PO personnel participated in the following events:

  • California Science Center Endeavour week-long event in October 30 – November 2, 2012, with 11,223 students, teachers, and public (indirect)
  • NASA E/PO staffer Logan Hill and students worked at our E/PO booth during the North Bay Science Festival, on behalf of Fermi and NuSTAR, and did the “Build your own pulsar” activity with about 150 students (direct, informal, K-12). This was held on October 27, 2012 at the Sonoma County fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, CA, with a total attendance of 8000, including 17% Hispanic, and 13% other under-represented minorities.
  • AAS E/PO event at the NuSTAR booth in January 2013 – approximately 3000 scientists (AAS members) indirectly experienced the NuSTAR booth, plus about 100 middle- and high-school students learned about black holes and interacted with a model (direct).
  • Staff member Logan Hill, and Student Assistants Juanita Tenorio and Brandon Baker went to Evergreen Elementary School (in Rohnert Park, CA) to participate in their Science Festival, and brought the booth and made pulsars with the students on behalf of Fermi and NuSTAR. About 100 students participated in the booth activities on 1/30/13.
  • Cominsky attended the HEAD meeting in Monterey, CA, presented a poster on the NuSTAR E/PO program (indirect 350 scientists), and did a combined Fermi & NuSTAR workshop for approximately 15 middle and high-school teachers
    (direct) on April 9, 2013.
  • EA Tyson Harty has done 7 workshops to date in FY13, reaching 127 K-12 teachers (direct).

FY 13 totals to date:

  • K-12 teachers (direct): 142
  • K-12 students (direct): 400
  • Indirect (scientists and public): 22573

Web statistics:

  • SSU does not keep statistics on the NuSTAR website, as it is hosted at Caltech.
  • Epo’s Chronicles: Avg. unique IP addresses average about 7000 per month in 2013
  • Total of 80,008 unique IP addresses and 168,322 visits in 2012
  • A total of 374, 453 pages were viewed at Epo’s Chronicles in 2012.


Awards and Recognition:

CSWP Physicist of the Month

Lynn Cominsky was named CSWP Physicist of the Month for September, 2012 by the American Physical Society.

Women Honoring Women

In March 2013, 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:

American Physical Society Fellow (Education division)

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.”

AAAS Fellow

In 2012, 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.”