Education and Community Outreach

Students gathered underneath the Hale telescope.
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. Registration is encouraged. Sign up for our next star party here.


  • 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. Schedule and sign up.


  • Yerkes Astrophysics Academy for Young Scientists (YAAYS)

    Students in grades 3-8 can learn and have fun with science and engineering in summer day camps. In 2013 we plan to offer three camps, tentativley scheduled for the weeks of June 10, June 17 and July 22. YAAYS began under a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Award #0639690 as a way to foster learning in science, technology, engineering, and math through out-of-school-time activities in astronomy and astrophysics. Many students who have participated in YAAYS have returned to Yerkes to participate in our high school program and gone on to pursue college degrees in science and engineering. Practices and curriculum developed for YAAYS inspire custom field trips, star parties, and family programs. The 2012 YAAYS camp participants on the front stairs of Yerkes.
  • High School Programs

    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

  • 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.


Professional Development

  • 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.

  • Extended Fieldtrips

    Children participating in a fieldtrip activity Yerkes Observatory offers tours as well as extended field trips. Students can learn about and experience astronomy from introductory to in-depth levels. Programs are designed in collaboration with teachers and their schools and vary in curriculum and price. Experiences may include solar observing, bright planet day-time observing, experiemntation with SOFIA’s active astronomy kits, using an infrared camera for learning about the electromagnetic spectrum and infrared astronomy, remote observing, and tours of the observatory and lectures on its history and architecture. To plan an extended program during the day or for an evening, please contact Vivian Hoette.
Yerkes Project SEE students reaching up and touching the giant telescope.

Multi-Sensory Astronomy

  • 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