Spitzer Space Telescope / Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC)



The IPAC Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) and Public Affairs program has achieved a distinctive national presence in science education, communication and engagement, and is a leading advocate for public involvement for NASA.

IPAC is a hub for exoplanet research, infrared and long-wavelength astronomy with involvement in active missions including Spitzer, Herschel, Planck, WISE and GALEX, as well as the NED, IRSA and the NASA Exoplanet Archive. As such, our outreach plan is integrated to leverage the resources and funding available from all of these sources, and the same team provides communications, public affairs and E/PO support for them all. In this model, we can extend the reach of programs over the effort that any individual project could implement alone, while building upon the science synergies of these NASA archives and missions.

The IPAC E/PO team is dedicated to offering a balanced program, with support for teachers, students and underserved populations, from elementary school age all the way through to high school. We promote STEM careers and improve the skills of both teachers and students in STEM subjects through our groundbreaking Teacher Program, and link to many other STEM educational centers via our astropix image archive collaboration and CoolCosmos website. NITARP, in particular, has been very successful with a broad reach to the entire community, including women and the visually and hearing impaired communities. Through astropix and our online educational products at CoolCosmos, we are able to make these vital educational materials available globally to anyone with an internet connection.

We also have an active presence in local school and with outreach events, and have created award winning educational video series: Hidden Universe, IRrelevant Astronomy, Ask an Astronomer and El Universo Escondido.

More information about highlighted programs is included below:

NITARP, the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program
(http://nitarp.ipac.caltech.edu) gets teachers involved in authentic astronomical research. We partner small groups of educators with a mentor professional astronomer for an original research project. The educators incorporate the experience into their classrooms and share their experience with other teachers. This program has as its goals the fundamental NASA goals of inspiring and motivating students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as well as to engage the public in shaping and sharing the experience of exploration and discovery. Our educational plan addresses the NASA objectives of improving student proficiency in science and improving science instruction by providing a unique opportunity for groups of teachers and students (with the help of a mentor astronomer) to work with professional astronomical archival data and tools. The research team completes the data analysis, and presents their findings to others throughout the scientific community. The teachers are also expected to give presentations at relevant teachers' conferences and/or professional development presentations for their local educator community.

Astropix: The AstroPix image archive (http://astropix.ipac.caltech.edu) is the logical progression of a 10-year collaboration between many key NASA observatories on developing the Astronomy Visualization Metadata (AVM) standard. AVM enables the full contextual information of a public-friendly image, including title, caption, telescopes, color mapping, and sky location, to be embedded directly within the image so that it is available to other websites and applications. These include any generic photography applications (e.g. iPhoto, Flickr, Facebook, etc.) as well as astronomy-specific apps that make use of the full standard (e.g. Microsoft WorldWide Telescope). The AstroPix Archive website provides single-point aggregation of all astrophysics imagery that has been AVM-tagged, simplifying access to all authoritative sources of the images, and enabling innovative applications to evolve using developing programming interfaces. This community-developed standards approach is far more powerful than relying on naive web searches (that seldom return obvious links to original source images) or metadata-poor aggregators like replacement for NASAimages.org (Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System) which has very poor search and discovery functionality. Participants include virtually all NASA astrophysics missions, as well as other organizations like the European Southern Observatory. The resulting archive will benefit museums/planetariums (with access to current & past datasets), interactive software apps and websites, educators, astronomers, and of course the general public.

STEMdex: IPAC, in collaboration with a number of other institutions, has begun a new initiative to improve our community's (NASA's EPO professionals') knowledge and understanding of the educational research papers relevant to our work.

STEMdex will be a searchable database of summaries of peer-reviewed education papers, written by astronomy educators and posted for the entire community to use. While we are all aware that we should be basing our E/PO work on a solid research foundation, many people in the community are pressed for time when it comes to staying on top of the educational literature. STEMdex (previously known as EduBites) aims to reduce that workload for the benefit of the entire community. Our database will ultimately tackle papers across the whole of the astronomy education spectrum, including formal and informal education, outreach, grades K-16, pedagogy, evaluation, and many other topics. We are working closely with the Astrophysics Forum, Adler Planetarium, and researchers at NASA Langley and the University of Arizona on this project.

Learning Works: Learning Works is a charter school, based in Pasadena, that caters to largely minority and low-income children who are far beyond "at-risk" and are now considered "in crisis." Students at Learning Works have been excluded from the public school system due to behavior, drug use, gang involvement, incarceration and pregnancy. The school offers them their last and only chance to finish their high school education and join the workforce, or even, in many cases, go to college.

We welcome the Learning Works Charter School students to Caltech about 4-5 times a year, on field trips to see how their schooling can translate into real life skills in the workforce. In addition, we have run an astronomy course for their Grade 9 students over the last 6 weeks, which will culminate in taking data with the 2m robotic Faulkes Telescopes, and creating a book with their color images, their write-ups about the objects and their biographies. This will be presented to the mayor of Pasadena, who is visiting the school to meet the class on July 13th.

We have been teaching about 12 students every week, and have had excellent feedback from the school; many of the older students have asked us whether they can join the Grade 9 class for our lessons. The school has asked whether we might be able to teach a full astronomy course for their students next semester.

Milky Way Project: Perhaps the most unique image from Spitzer is currently being created: the complete view of the Milky Way plane.

In 2008, the Spitzer image of a 120x2 degree swath of the Milky Way was the basis for a NASA/Spitzer press release: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/news/279-ssc2008-11. In November 2009, an installation of this image was unveiled as a permanent exhibit at Adler Planetarium, Chicago: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/news/1027-ssc2009-22. This remarkable two-gigapixel image was created from over 800,000 individual exposures from the Spitzer cold mission. The data came from two projects during the cold mission, the GLIMPSE and MIPSGAL surveys. The installation at Adler stretches for 120 feet and is the largest image of the Milky Way on exhibit in the world.

However, during the extended mission, an Exploration Science program was approved to image the remaining 240° of the Milky Way plane, to have complete 360° coverage. The extended Milky Way image will be comprised of over an additional 600,000 individual images, and the full Milky Way mosaic will be one of the most iconic images from the Spitzer mission.

The uniqueness and value of this image is reinforced by the citizen science project “The Milky Way Project” (http://www.milkywayproject.org), inspired by the original GLIMPSE/MIPSGAL image. As of May 28, 2013, the general public has drawn 1,031,380 star-forming bubbles with over 800,000 citizen scientists contributing.

Lead Organizations

Spitzer Science Center




Participants in Astropix include virtually all NASA astrophysics missions (including Hubble, Chandra, Herschel, Kepler, NuStar, Spitzer, WISE), as well as other organizations like the European Southern Observatory, NOAO, and NRAO.

Current partners for NITARP include Spitzer, NExScI, Herschel, Kepler, as well as IRSA, NED, and the NASA Exoplanet Archive. NOAO is a former partner in the program.

For STEMdex partners include the NASA Astrophysics Forum, Adler Planetarium, and researchers at NASA Langley and the University of Arizona.





Additional Metrics:

School visits and Learning Works: we do an average of 2 school events per month, reaching about 30-40 kids at each of them.

Public Events:

  • We've also done 2 Public Library events in the last year, each reaching about 100 people.
  • Every year we do about 2-3 major public events, (e.g. JPL Open House, which reaches 30,000 people a year; the Girl Scout event, GirlTopia, which reached 15,000 girls and their families last year - specifically girls, who are a premium audience; TwentyWonder, which is a benefit event for Down's Syndrome and reached about 1400 people in the 21-53 demographic, which is, again, a tough demographic we generally don't reach. Also, the TwentyWonder event is genuinely cool - it really helps to put NASA into the same room as artists, musician, comedians, etc, and show NASA off to young LA natives.) Add to that the Endeavour event last year, which reached about 12,000 people. IPAC spearheaded the entire NASA Astrophysics presence at that event, designing and creating the displays, gathering the content, ordering the equipment and providing volunteers to help staff many of the mission booths.


  • Direct interaction with 19 teachers, 56 students
  • First tier indirect interaction ~300 teachers, ~3000 students in FY12.

Web statistics:

NITARP: (April 23, 2013 - May 23, 2013)
Visits: 739
Pageviews: 2,270
Pages per visit: 3.07

IPAC: (1 April – 30 April 2013)
Visits: 28414
Pageviews: 180751

Astropix: (1 April - 30 April, 2013)
Visits: 1116
Pageviews: 4752
Pages per visit: 4.07

Coolcosmos: (1 April - 30 April, 2013)
Visits: 199,406
Pageviews: 450,209
Pages per visit: 2.25

Spitzer: (1 April - 30 April, 2013)
Visits: 511,271
Pageviews: 1,653,132
Pages per visit: 3.23



Effectiveness and Impact

Evaluation is in process. See the poster being presented at the 2013 Summer AAS (PDF).

Since 2004, we have had 38 science posters, 40 education posters, and 8 refereed journal articles come out of NITARP work. 80 teachers have participated, from 33 states. ~200 students have travelled to AAS and/or Caltech for the summer. Thousands of students have used data through the program. Educators tell us: “I've been involved in many professional development activities and this is by far the best one I've ever done.” Students tell us: “The number one thing that the new people should know is that this experience is one of the best they will ever have.”

Impact from the Spitzer Teacher Research Program (PDF)

Additional quotes from teachers can be found on the NITARP website: http://nitarp.ipac.caltech.edu/.

The following is extracted from the NITARP evaluation poster to be presented at the AAS:

  • All teachers changed their classrooms in some way because of NITARP. Examples of this change include incorporating real data into labs and inquiry-based activities, integrated computer programs into curriculum, instructing students on how to access archival data, and involving students in research projects.
  • Because of NITARP, teachers changed how they taught the scientific process. They no longer taught it as the scientific method with a series of linear steps. It is a method with its own “language,” it is often not linear, it may be an iterative process, and unexpected data may arise.
  • Teachers realized scientists do not work alone; they collaborate, often remotely. The teachers modeled science as a collaborative effort with their students.
  • To speak the language of science and to keep current with research, teachers must be immersed in the culture of science.

This preliminary study suggests that there is a correlation between the years involved with NITARP and level of research teachers involve their students in. This suggests that if teachers are continuing to do research with their students, more experience is necessary than the first year. A mentorship program past the first year of NITARP may help teachers make that transition.

To encapsulate the impact from NITARP, quotes from teachers:

  • “Because of my experience with NITARP, it has become clear to me that programming skills are essential for students entering scientific fields [and so I am teaching myself programming to get it into classrooms]”
  • “I’ve already made big changes to my curriculum because of this program, and will continue to do so in future years.”
  • “My NITARP experience has made me rethink my entire approach to science education.”
  • And from Students:
  • “[As a result of this experience,] I will definitely be involved in research in college starting my freshman year.”
  • “This experience made me realize how much effort and work is put into research.”
  • “I am now extremely interested in doing research.”

Additional presentations about NITARP:



Awards and Recognition:

NASA Group Achievement Award, 2011 (NITARP)

NASA Group Achievement Award, 2007, 2009, 2010 & 2011 (Spitzer outreach and education program)

IRrelevant Astronomy educational video:

  • Aegis Video and Film Production Award 2006
  • Cine Golden Eagle Award 2007
  • Kids First Indie Short Short Award 2007

Hidden Universe educational video:

  • Telly Award 2007

Ask an Astronomer educational video:

  • Aegis Video and Film Production Award 2004, 2005
  • Telly Award 2003, 2005

Robert Hurt - NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal 2007

Gordon Squires - NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal 2008