Planck Mission



The Planck Mission education and outreach projects focus on three main areas:

  1. Developing curricula and supplementary materials in the form of lecture notes and simulations for use in undergraduate (university and community college) education;
  2. Developing outreach materials in the form of interactive displays for museums and science centers and videos for distribution on the internet (YouTube);
  3. Citizen science projects in which global citizens can contribute directly to cosmology research that benefits the Planck Mission and allows individuals to become stakeholders in the data analysis and mission results.

A. Higher Education

Planck Higher Education provides CONTENT based curricula and interactive simulations for college students and community college instructors. The project provides introductory college courses, lecture notes and interactive simulations in astronomy, cosmology and contemporary physics, and summer research experiences. The objectives are to engage and educate both STEM and non-STEM majors and underrepresented students in Planck science and cosmology, and provide college-based astronomy instructors pedagogical content knowledge.


  • Cosmology Curricula for Community Colleges: P.I. Professor Bruce Partridge, Haverford College
  • Symmetry in Contemporary Physics, interdisciplinary undergraduate course: P.I. Dr. Jatila van der Veen, UC Santa Barbara
  • Planck CREATES, summer research experiences for female and minority students: P.I. Professor Philip Lubin, UC Santa Barbara
  • Planck Mission Simulation Simulation – virtual solar system model, resource for undergraduate astronomy: P.I. Dr. Jatila van der Veen, UC Santa Barbara
  • Modeling the CMB Power Spectrum with Sound (“Music of the Cosmos”): P.I. Dr. Jatila van der Veen, UC Santa Barbara

B. Informal Education and Outreach

Planck Informal Education projects seek to engage the public in cosmology and astrophysics research through informal education in museums and science centers, and via the Internet. Three projects fall under this classification: Planck Presents, The Spherical Cow Video Production Company, and Cosmology@Home.

  • Planck Presents! is an interactive display package about Planck and cosmology, for museums/science center audiences. It includes a slide show, interactive maps of the whole sky in different wavelengths, movies about Planck, and its science results. The objective is to provide up-to-date content about the Planck Mission for museums and science centers in a format that can be easily translated into any language that has an HTML library, and updated by docents and display managers with a minimum of computer skills. P.I.: Dr. Jatila van der Veen, UC Santa Barbara
    Note: A small ($4,000) California Space Grant was awarded to Dr. Jatila van der Veen in May, 2013 to support the distribution of Planck Presents! to inland and coastal communities in California.
  • The Spherical Cow Company (P.I.: Professor Lloyd Knox, UC Davis) produces educational videos for distribution via YouTube. Six videos have been produced, with one final video planned for production in summer, 2013. See
  • Cosmology@Home ([email protected]) is jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and the Planck Mission. C@H is a distributed computing project in which individual citizens around the world donate teraflops of CPU time to the computation of millions of cosmological models that are important for Planck data analysis. P.I.: Professor Benjamin Wandelt, UIUC and the Sorbonne.

The PLANCK Mission EPO 

Lead Organization

University of California, Santa Barbara




Planck E/PO is funded through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Partner universities where the E/PO team members are employed: 

  • University of California, Santa Barbara, with sub-contract at Purdue University, Calumet;
  • University of California,Davis;
  • Haverford College;
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.

Cosmology@Home: citizen science project to help determine the best-fitting cosmological model for the Planck data. Citizens from the US and around the world donate teraflops of CPU time on a daily basis for use by the Planck Science Team in data analysis.




At the JPL Open House, tens of thousands of visitors, including families with children of all ages, scout groups, teachers, and student groups interacted with Planck scientists at our booth for two days.

  • Presentations made by Planck scientists include public appearances at science festivals, school presentations, presentations in on-line virtual communities, and presentations at professional education conferences. Through these collected efforts we reached an estimated several thousand people.
  • In addition, our publications in the American Educational Research Journal (AERJ) and smaller conference proceedings reached tens of thousands of readers around the world.

How many participants/observers did you engage through informal education efforts (e.g. museums)? (FY12)

  • Estimated several thousand visitors to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

How many members of the general public did you reach via direct (face-to-face) interactions? (FY12)

  • Estimated tens of thousands, via public talks and direct interactions at the JPL Open House in 2012.

How many members of the general public did you engage indirectly*? (FY12)

  • Estimated several thousand via our websites, people who viewed the Spherical Cow Videos on line, and participants in Cosmology@Home.


Effectiveness and Impact

Evaluation findings and impact statements:

Course: Symmetry and Aesthetics in Contemporary Physics

The annual student evaluations demonstrate that this course is highly effective in motivating students to study physics. The overall annual rating averages 1.2 – 1.4 out of 5, with a median evaluation of 1.0 (1.0 being the highest rating, and 5.0 the lowest).

Planck CREATES summer research opportunities for students from underserved populations.

The end-of-summer evaluations indicate the 100% satisfaction rating of students for their summer lab experiences. Students’ answers indicate that their experiences are 100% aligned with their expectations, and they feel their academic and professional goals have been enhanced greatly by the opportunity to work in the lab environment for the summer.

The rest of the projects are ongoing, and have not been finally evaluated.

Because the Planck Mission Data have only just been released in March, 2013, our primary outreach push has not yet been accomplished.

To date, the greatest impacts we have observed come from students who have worked in the Experimental Cosmology Lab at UC Santa Barbara under our Planck CREATES program and taken our course, Symmetry and Aesthetics in Contemporary Physics at UCSB. Participants in our citizen science distributed computing project, Cosmology@Home, report their pride at being able to contribute to science research.

Audience quotes:

Planck CREATES research experiences for under-represented students in STEM in the Experimental Cosmology Lab at UCSB:
Working closely with a grad student gave me a good perspective of what research involves. I have faced problems that are not in a book or in a class example. Every day I get more convinced this is the path I want to take.

I have gained knowledge of working in the machine shop, working with motors and designing tools. I have met a lot of really interesting people and am more interested in research now than when I started.

During this summer work has been more involved with team effort between several interns, graduate students and volunteers. This type of approach provides with a great experience in learning how to deal and react within an environment with different opinions, work ethics and new ideas to merge together. It’s been great in that sense. I have a good back up team, and also a team that redirected me when I needed to.

Copied from the Message Boards at

Why do you participate in C@H?

  1. I'm participating in quite a lot of BOINC projects, but I tell 'em a bit apart by personal taste and perceived validity and "use for mankind". Your project is a bit higher in the list, for one because you interact with the users quite good.
  2. I have always been interested in answering the fundamental questions.And the universe is something that really inspires me… –So this hunt for knowledge motivates my contributions to this project.
  3. I'm an ESL teacher with a psychology background, but I'm really a scientist at heart. I enjoy most areas of science. I have an intrinsic thirst for knowledge. I've always looked up at the stars and wondered where we came from and where we're going. I love this project because of the responsiveness of the administrators and scientists involved. Communication can keep even the most demanding crunchers happy. It's a friendly community here. And the science really is interesting. I was pretty much technologically clueless when I started with BOINC. Now I'm confident enough to try new things, including Linux and writing little scripts.
  4. I always wanted to be a scientists. But sadly, it turned out that I'm not bright enough, or maybe I become a technician. So now, as Penn&Teller put it, I'm "cheerleading for science." BOINC seems like the best and most accessible way to help and feel involved.



  • California Space Grant Award ($4,000) to Dr. Jatila van der Veen to distribute Planck Presents to inland and coastal communities in California, in Spanish and English, in which there is a large population of under-served Hispanic students
  • National Science Foundation support to Professor Benjamin Wandelt for support of Cosmology@Home
  • NASA California Space Grant Awards for Professor Philip Lubin to support his ongoing research experiences for under-represented students, supplementing the Planck funding
  • University of California Faculty Research grants for Professor Philip Lubin to support ongoing student research
  • NOTE: In 2013 Professor Philip Lubin is being nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math, Science, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) because of his 25 years of dedicated mentoring of more than 600 students in his lab
  • Summer of Innovation program mini-grant for two middle school teachers to work in a lab this summer and develop lessons (in alignment with the California Science Standards and Common Core Standards) for their classrooms based on their research experiences