Education and Community Outreach

Students gathered underneath the Hale telescope.

NEW!! The Yerkes Observatory education blog
Visit our Education Blog and learn all about the exciting goings-on at Yerkes Observatory! Find out about upcoming events, learn how to do astronomy projects in your own home, meet some of the movers and shakers within the amateur astronomy community. It's all right here at the Yerkes Education Blog, with a new post each week to keep your interest and enthusiasm for astronomy alive, no matter how clear or cloudy the skies.

The University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory Education Program is dedicated to fostering life-long learning in astronomy, physics and engineering. It provides educational opportunities and resources in a collaborative environment that combines the highest quality teaching and science expertise and is inclusive of all learners. Education is the foundation for success. Yerkes is a wonderful place to experience hands-on science and engineering, especially for our younger generation. The goal of the observatory staff is to ensure that these opportunities continue year after year.

Community Programs

Star Parties

Throughout the year Yerkes offers star parties for the general public. Amateur astronomers volunteer their time and set up portable telescopes on the South Lawn. The events include indoor and outdoor activities suitable for adults and children. They are designed for either clear or cloudy weather. Both Star Parties and Family Programs are a collaborative effort with the Williams Bay Recreation Department and are organized by the Stars at Yerkes educators. Star parties can be designed for specific groups or special events. Examples include the "Night Under the Stars" for the Lakeshores Library System and the June 2012 Transit of Venus.

Family Nights

Yerkes Observatory offers monthly Family Nights for families with students in grades 3-8. We meet in the early evening at Yerkes Observatory. The programs encourage interactive learning and help build understanding of science, technology, and math. Activities include hands-on activities, experiences with internet resources, presentations by professional astronomers, and observing with telescopes when skies are clear.

Yerkes Astrophysics Academy for Young Scientists (YAAYS)

The 2012 YAAYS camp participants on the front stairs of Yerkes.

Summer Camps

Every year, Yerkes Observatory scientists and educators offer a variety of summer camps revolving around STEM topics (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Tech Camps (June 16-19 and June 23-26; 1:00pm - 5:00pm) for co-ed students (with one session specifically designed for girls-only) offer students in grades 6-8 hands-on experience with cutting-edge technologies such as robots, 3D printers, and coding. For the 2015 Summer Camp program, YAAYS Camps (Yerkes Astrophysics Academy for Young Scientists) will offer two options:

  • Student campers in grades 4-6 can hunt down killer asteroids in our Asteroid! Camp (July 7-10; 1:00pm - 5:00pm).
  • Student campers in grades 7-8 will manipulate real-time data from the Rosetta Spacecraft to calculate the odds of a comet (or asteroid or meteorite) strike to Earth in our Comets! Camp (July 14-17; 1:00pm - 5:00pm).

Many students who have participated in our summer programs continue on to pursue the prestigious McQuowan Scholars Award at the Yerkes Observatory. Our McQuowan Scholars have gone on to pursue college degrees in science, engineering, and astronomy.

YAAYS began under a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Award Award #0639690 as a way to foster learning in STEM topics through out-of-school time activities in astronomy and astrophysics.

For more information about the various camps and to register, click the links below:

Skynet Junior Scholars

Skynet Junior Scholars is a new program funded by the NSF. It is a collaboration among The University of Chicago (Award #1223687), the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (Award #1223235), the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Green Bank (Award #1223345), and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. This project will serve middle school youth and their leaders in 4-H clubs and other informal education venues. The Yerkes 41” reflector is the largest telescope in Skynet’s worldwide system of robotic telescopes. Enabling students to observe with telescopes and investigate the Universe with their own images is a high priority for our education projects.

Online and Face to Face Leader Skynet Junior Scholars Workshops
We are now accepting applications for workshops from leaders of 4-H clubs, after school, museum programs, and other out-of-school time programs. With a simple internet connection, young people can conduct all kinds of astronomy investigations with world-class telescopes in the US, Chile, AND Australia. Suitable for middle school and older youth in 4-H clubs, afterschool and museum programs, Skynet Junior Scholars (SJS) offers:

  • Access to Skynet Robotic Telescopes;
  • Explorations: a series of inquiry-based STEM activities that engage young people in a variety of astronomy topics;
  • Online web-portal allows youth to create an image gallery, share data with other young scientists, publish their results;
  • Communication with astronomers, engineers, software developers and SJS staff;
  • An opportunity for youth to advance, and assist astronomers with their projects.
Youth in your out-of-school-time programs may participate in SJS after you complete an SJS professional development workshop. Participation in this workshop is free of cost. We simply ask that you commit to guiding 5-10 youth through an SJS Exploration by August, 2014.

The next opportunity is an online workshop taking place January 20 - February 28, 2014. Applications to participate are due December 16. Face to face workshops will be held at Friday evening through Sunday afternoon at Yerkes Observatory March 28th-March 30th, or the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, WV, April 11th-13th.

For more information and to apply:

University of Chicago Press release: Middle schoolers to explore the sky with robotic telescopes

School and Professional Development section

Teacher Resources and Workshops

Teacher leaders who participate in Yerkes professional development initiatives have formed the Stars At Yerkes (S@Y) professional learning community. This community sponsors monthly workshops and star parties. They are open to any educators, amateur astronomers, or out-of-school youth leaders. Many of these highly dedicated educators participate in advanced astronomy and astrophysics research, outreach, and ambassador programs. Examples include the NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP), the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (for SOFIA) program, "Hands-On Universe" (HOU, EU-HOU), Searching for Asteroids IASC, and the Pulsar Search Collaboratory. Educators stay informed of upcoming events through the yoteach listserve.

Programs for High School Students

Yerkes Observatory educators, scientists, and engineers guide monthly activities for area high school students. Our goal is to engage students interested in science, computer programming, imaging, and engineering. Students assume leadership roles and help organize, plan and run the program. Each year, ambitious high school students earn semester credit or participate in work experience programs as student interns. For information, interested students and parents can contact For a list of meeting dates, event information and the registration form, click here...

Tours and Enhanced Field Trips

Children participating in a fieldtrip activity

Yerkes Observatory offers tours and program-enhanced field trips. On field trips, students experience astronomy at a level tailored to their age and background. Programs are designed in collaboration with teachers and their schools and vary in curriculum and price. Activities may include solar observing, daytime observing of bright planets, experimentation with SOFIA’s active astronomy kits, using an infrared camera to learn about the electromagnetic spectrum and infrared astronomy, observing using remote telescopes, and lectures on the history and architecture of the observatory. To plan a daytime or evening field trip, please contact Vivian Hoette.

Multi-Sensory Astronomy

Yerkes Project SEE students reaching up and touching the giant telescope.

Through programs developed with support from Lions Clubs, NASA, and NSF, we work with the Wisconsin School for the Deaf and Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired to incorporate multi-sensory approaches in all our projects and programs.

Links to previous programs and activities page: Activities | Programs