Posted by Scott J. Forman:
NASA has awarded Southern Illinois University Edwardsville $11.5 million to expand its citizen science and educational activities through CosmoQuest, a second-generation citizen science facility, according to a press release.
CosmoQuest Project Director Dr. Pamela Gay, assistant research professor in the SIUE STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) Center, will lead the initiative as principal investigator.
“SIUE is excited and extremely proud to be among an amazing group of institutions chosen to advance NASA’s STEM education mission,” said Jerry Weinberg, associate provost for research and dean of the SIUE Graduate School. “This project partners SIUE with leading institutions in space and astronomy research to deliver unique online educational opportunities, building on Dr. Gay’s well-established work in citizen science.
“With this funding, CosmoQuest will be able to grow from a seedling full of potential, into a mighty tree that supports science and learning opportunities,” Gay said. “We are bringing new partners with added expertise and we couldn’t be prouder of this team.”
CosmoQuest’s software and educational activities will be developed out of SIUE. This includes the software that enables everyday people to help NASA scientists make new discoveries. Programs to date have helped the New Horizons team find Kuiper Belt Objects and have helped researchers map out the moon, Mars, Mercury and vesta.
Future programs will expand beyond planetary science, including working with the University of Texas to explore dark energy and with Johnson Space Center to help earth scientists more effectively use astronaut images to study our changing planet.
While engaging the public is a major component of CosmoQuest, the program also contributes to the STEM employment pipeline.
“By being located in SIUE’s interdisciplinary STEM Center, we’ve been able to bring together people from all areas of science, technology and education to collaborate creatively in a shared environment,” said SIUE’s Cory Lehan, CosmoQuest lead developer. “As we grow into the future, we’re going to be able to employ students on projects that support NASA science. Our team includes student programmers, graphic artists and even psychology majors who help us understand how to make our site better.”
Beyond science, CosmoQuest will leverage its online presence to provide planetariums and Science on the Sphere facilities new, creative commons licensed content that they can use and remix.
Based in the Midwest, CosmoQuest looks for ways to bring science to people nowhere near a large city. This includes supporting educators in rural areas.
“We’re working with a network of amazing educational professionals, who can support teachers bringing authentic science into their classrooms,” said SIUE’s Georgia Bracey, CosmoQuest educational lead. “We’re working to build a lasting community for our teachers, including an online home where they can get help and share their own lessons learned.”
In mid-2016, CosmoQuest will begin competitively selecting future topics for citizen science programs. Selected programs will receive funding to support research and communications of science goals and science results. Additional programs for supporting regional science fairs and school districts will begin in the 2017 school year.