Public Outreach: Reaching Out, More

John Stoke

As the NRAO prepares for the coming impacts of the EVLA, ALMA, and other wonderful developments, our Education & Public Outreach (EPO) team is organizing itself with enhanced abilities to engage a geographically diverse community of students and science-interested public in the adventure. We formally distinguish between two threads of effort, News & Public Information and Education.

News and Public Information

At NRAO HQ in Charlottesville a new Media Studio is taking shape in a former storage room, staffed by specialists in public science communication and equipped with the mechanisms for producing visually-rich web pages, Youtube videos, and the like. This past summer, our new Multimedia Designer, Jeff Hellerman, joined the staff. He brings skills in graphic design, photo composition, and the creation of motion graphics, and is currently acquiring skills as a video editor. In January, we welcomed Tania Burchell as our new Science Writer. Tania comes with a rich background in astronomy outreach and communication, having worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Boston’s Museum of Science, the University of Leicester, and the National Space Science Centre (the last two of which are in Leicester, UK; the Space Centre is a big space museum there).

Together with our Press Officer (Dave Finley), Artist (Bill Saxton), and Web Designer/Programmer (Taylor Johnson), they’ll be undertaking to develop a range of new public offerings, including media-rich public website content, supplemental background materials to accompany press releases, and videos, presentations, and exhibits for broad public dissemination. Current projects underway include the development of “virtual site tours” of NRAO facilities, and illustrated expositions of key radio astronomy science topics. New technical capabilities we’re developing to support this effort include HD video production and high-resolution astronomy visualization.


In the realms of formal and informal education, we continue to operate excellent visitor programs in Green Bank and at the VLA. Recently, Green Bank Education Officer Sue Ann Heatherly was appointed Senior Education Officer for the Observatory. With the NRAO for over twenty years, Sue Ann has led the development of the unique, powerful, scientist-involvement-rich, hands-on-with-real-gear education programs that have become an NRAO hallmark. In her new position, she’ll be helping us to develop an observatory-wide education program in which we can deploy resources where needed, when needed.

We’ll also be working to broaden the diversity of the audiences we serve, by enabling more people in more places to benefit from our educational opportunities through distance learning, distributed learning, and expansions of existing on-site programs to serve students from all over the country. So that Sue Ann can focus her efforts on these initiatives, we’re currently recruiting for a new Education Specialist in Green Bank, someone who can shepherd the visitors and students who come every day.

Look for visible results from these efforts in coming months!