Surfin’ the Solar Wind (SSW)

Project Name:
Surfin’ the Solar Wind

Project Description:
Led by UC Berkeley’s Center for Science Education at the Space Sciences Laboratory (CSE@SSL), Surfin' the Solar Wind: Traveling and Online Heliophysics Activities for Teens (SSW) is a NASA EPOESS-funded outreach program to enlist San Francisco Bay Area teenagers to join with mission scientists and education professionals to design and bring engaging heliophysics-based activities and multimedia interactives to other teenagers in locations where they naturally congregate, both in person (such as at science career fairs, shopping malls, etc.) and online. The project aims to discover unique, age-appropriate methods for engaging teenagers with heliophysics science on their own “turf” and in ways that speak to them. The SSW “Teen Solar Investigators” (or TSIs) are the most integral project component. Our TSI internships span the normal school year (from September through June) and TSIs are allowed to continue in the program each year if they are not going on to college. Working closely with and under the guidance of project staff, the TSIs help design and run the SSW traveling activity booth and project website. The TSIs and project staff meet regularly approximately two Saturdays per month to increase the TSIs’ knowledge of the Sun, as well as for project planning meetings and public events.

Our overall objectives for the TSIs are to:

  1. educate them and increase their interest in heliophysics content;
  2. enhance their leadership skills and proficiency in becoming STEM educators; and
  3. inspire possible careers in STEM.

For the general teen public in the Bay Area, we set out to

  1. Engage them in NASA Heliophysics SMD content;
  2. Enhance their awareness of, interest in, and enthusiasm for NASA Heliophysics content; and
  3. Share and Inspire opportunities for increasing their involvement in STEM through various NASA and local science education programs.

Prior to beginning the project, the team thoroughly researched results from prior efforts in these areas and conducted a focus group with local teens to determine the perceived value of the project deliverables. Adjustments were made accordingly. In addition, wherever possible we sought to adapt the best Heliophysics activities available rather than re-invent what already has proven to work well with teenagers in informal settings.

Lead Institution:
Center for Science Education, Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley


  • Techbridge
  • Lawrence Hall of Science
  • Charles Gadeken (artist)
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • Exploratorium
  • Chabot Space & Science Center
  • Oakland Zoo
  • YMCA of the Central Bay Area
  • The Crucible
  • San Leandro High School
  • 4-H
  • Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe
  • local amateur astronomy clubs
  • UC Berkeley scientists
  • Stanford Solar Center
  • Sun Light & Power

This project is in progress.

Effectiveness and Impact:
The Research Group at the Lawrence Hall of Science provides evaluation for the SSW project. Evaluation of the SSW project focuses on the extent to which the project achieves its goals of:

  1. Engaging the teenage public in Heliophysics content;
  2. Enhancing the teens’ awareness of, interest in, and enthusiasm for Heliophysics content; and
  3. Increasing teens’ ongoing involvement in science and technology through SSW and/or various other STEM youth programs (particularly those offered through NASA).

The evaluation targets teens involved in the program at three levels:

  1. the SSW Team Teenagers involved in the design and implementation of the project,
  2. teens from the general public who engage one-time with the activities at the traveling activity booth, and
  3. teens from the general public who engage with the project through use of the project website.

Through formative/summative procedures, evaluation address the following questions:

  1. What characteristics of the activity booth and other strategies employed best engage teens?
  2. To what extent does each engage teens in Heliophysics content; increase awareness of, interest in, and enthusiasm for Heliophysics content; and increase ongoing involvement in STEM?
  3. How effectively does the project strategy increase the capacity of NASA outreach programs to reach and engage teens? and
  4. What role does family support play in helping teen members of the team be successful?

Our summative evaluation is currently in progress. Formative evaluations of our public audiences have mainly focused on improvements that should be made to our traveling activities and thus are not reported here (since upgrades to our activities are constantly in progress). The projects most significant impacts are with the program's Teen Solar Investigators (TSIs). The most recent TSI survey, conducted in November 2012, yielded the following key findings:

  • TSIs are generally very satisfied with their experience in SSW. They overwhelmingly indicate that the program met their expectations by providing them with opportunities to try new things, teaching them new science content, giving them experience in teaching others, and providing them opportunities to meet new people and have fun.
  • While TSIs report overall very high satisfaction levels with the program, there are some areas that receive higher ratings than others. TSIs rated learning the science content and learning about NASA science research as most valuable. The experience of working at the booth is also highly rated. TSIs rated the monthly team meetings as less valuable and want them to be more focused and for program staff to engage them even more in developing booth activities.
  • The SSW program appears to have had a positive impact on the TSIs in terms of their knowledge and interest in STEM and STEM careers, their preparedness for college and work, their commitment to their community, and their confidence in their job-related abilities. All TSIs were able to cite new content knowledge they had gained related to the Sun. Additionally, TSIs indicated that the program has influenced their interest in science by increasing their interest in specific science fields, increasing their interest in STEM careers, or increasing their interest in science in general. All TSIs also said their specific interest in NASA Sun science had increased as a result of the program, and several indicated that they were already or planned to pursue other educational opportunities with NASA. Seven of the 11 TSIs who completed this year’s survey indicated that the program has helped inspire them to pursue a career in science or to study science in college.
  • Seven of the TSIs who completed the survey and are not graduating from high school this year indicated that they planned to continue in the program for another year. The most important factors encouraging TSIs to continue in SSW were continued interest in exploring science as a possible career path and continued interest in doing something at the Space Sciences Lab.
  • Although working at the booth was rated very high overall, there were a few TSIs who commented on ways it could have been improved. In general, TSIs felt the program could be improved if they received even more help in giving out accurate information while staffing the traveling activity booth, that they would like to take part in even more public events, and that they would like to go to places with a larger teen audience – all of which are directly in line with SSW’s goals and objectives.

TSI recruitment has been steady with at least 20 participants taking part in the SSW internship program to date. Our annual surveys of the TSIs have shown across the board both increased interest and knowledge in heliophysics content, as well as significant feelings by the TSIs of being more confident in their skills and proficiency as STEM educators. Many have also expressed interest in not only STEM careers, but specifically in astronomy and other NASA-related science futures. Through our outreach events with the SSW traveling activity booth, we have thus far engaged well over 1,000 Bay Area teenagers in heliophysics content, and have good evidence that their awareness of and interest in heliophysics research has been enhanced. We are also feeling more confident about success with online engagements and are looking forward to new approaches through social networking services. In addition, our work with B.A.T.S. (a collaboration with other providers of STEM programs for teens) has helped teens in general discover a variety of other local science education programs. The summative evaluation to be completed in the coming year will confirm these observations more formally, and we plan to present our findings through appropriate E/PO publications and conference presentations by year’s end.