Mission Name:
Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) Education and Public Outreach (E/PO)

Project Description:
The purpose of the IRIS mission is to observe and study the Sun’s chromosphere and transition region, essentially the interface between the Sun’s photosphere and corona, to understand how energy and mass flows through this region to heat the Sun’s atmosphere. The IRIS instrument is essentially an imaging spectroscope, hence the focus of the EPO program on solar spectroscopy.

EPO Goals:

  1. Engage youth in authentic research activities and experiences
  2. Improve their awareness and understanding of solar science, especially spectroscopy, and space weather
  3. Attract and retain a diversity of students in scientific and technical disciplines.

The program is highly leveraged, with strategic partnerships and building on several existing NASA projects and products. The IRIS team of scientists is heavily engaged with the E/PO program, with the ultimate goal of having at least 60% of the scientists and mission team members participate directly. The theme of solar spectroscopy runs throughout the E/PO activities and links the various aspects.

All products are based on national science standards, with an awareness of best practices in education. Educational products are developed with professional educator input. Most projects are also developed in coordination with IRIS scientists and represent state-of-the-art knowledge about the Sun, solar activity, and space weather. All projects are formally assessed.

Major projects for the IRIS mission E/PO program
Higher Education Projects

National Spectrograph Competition (for undergrads)


  1. Provide a NASA mission-like experience that will contribute to workforce development in fields related to the IRIS mission, focusing on students from minority serving institutions, community colleges, and universities with less aerospace activity.
  2. Utilize the National Space Grant network to recruit a set of diverse participants and interdisciplinary teams
  3. Through Competition activities, increase the relevance of STEM research and education in the participants’ communities, drawing on cultural ties and modern networking.


  1. After the conclusion of the Competition, at least 60% of participants indicate that the experience increased their interest in education and careers related to the IRIS mission. 

  2. After the conclusion of the Competition, at least 60% of participants feel that they developed practical skills.
  3. After the conclusion of the Competition, at least 60% of participants feel the experience improved their ability to work as a team, be confident in their independent work, and implement creative ideas.
  4. At least 10% of participating teams are from institutions with no active NASA student projects.
  5. At institutions with active NASA student projects, increase the number of participants in those and other NASA projects by 20%.
  6. Each year of the Competition, at least 50% of the participants are female or an underrepresented minority.
  7. Each year of the Competition, at least 28 teams participate.
  8. Each year of the Competition, at least 95% of the teams participate in a community outreach activity.

Assessment after the first competition shows that these objectives have been met or exceeded. The second competition is underway.

Authentic Mission Summer Research Experience for Undergrads

Stanford, LMSAL, and NASA/Ames jointly host students in summer research opportunities by leveraging on Stanford’s highly-successful Summer Research College (SRC), a ten-week program currently available to undergraduate Stanford physics majors. The IRIS team extends this program to incorporate promising non-Stanford undergraduates recruited from 2- and 4-year colleges, especially those at institutions where students would not otherwise have the opportunity to become involved in a research program. Students in the IRIS National Science and Engineering Student Competition are particularly encouraged to apply.

By leveraging on an existing successful program, and bridging the gap between opportunities such as the NASA Quest Challenges and the summer school opportunities available to space science graduate students, our SRC Extension offers a diverse collection of undergraduates an introduction to the topic of heliophysics and the opportunity to gain valuable research experience early in their careers.

Goal: Provide undergraduates with authentic mission-related research opportunities --a proven method of engaging and retaining them in science while enabling them with valuable skills and experiences.


  1. Have at least 50% of students coming from under-represented groups
  2. Participants are trained in appropriate EPO activities and techniques, with the objective of having at least 75% of students participate in science-related community service when they return home from their experience.
  3. Assessment shows that continued follow-up with students is extremely valuable in maintaining their interest in a field. Objective is to have each SRC student be provided with an IRIS scientist-mentor who maintains communication with the student during the following academic year.

Elementary and Secondary Education Projects

NASA Quest Challenge (for middle school students)
The extremely popular and highly successful program of Quest Challenges presents middle-school students and their teachers with an authentic design task associated with a mission. Student groups are introduced to the Challenge via an initial webcast, and subsequently develop a preliminary design, obtain feedback from IRIS team members through a web chat, refine their designs, and then submit them for review and presentation as part of a culminating live webcast. The challenge is designed, developed and implemented by the NASA/Ames Mission E/PO Team (AMET).

Goal: Provide middle school students with authentic first-hand opportunities to participate in NASA mission activities.

Objectives: The commitment of at least one IRIS mission team member to review student designs and participate in a one-hour chat and two one-hour webcasts.

Distribution of punch-out spectrographs, teacher workshops, and development of educator materials

Goal: To provide educator professional development, materials, and support resources to the teaching of the science of spectroscopy.


  1. In partnership with NASA’s SDO/HMI EPO team, enhance and distribute the very successful punch-out spectrographs and educational materials kits that were originally developed as part of the NASA/ESA SOHO mission. Support materials for educators are already provided with the spectroscope kits. These include class curricula for grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 respectively; two descriptive videos; solar spectroscopy content presentations; and lab exercises. Our target is to distribute 15,000 spectrographs & materials per year.
  2. All activities are mapped to the National Science Education Standards and will be remapped to the new science standards.
  3. IRIS and SDO partner to provide in-person professional development workshops to at least100 educators per year (even though materials provided with the distribution are also designed specifically for teacher self-training).

Informal Education Projects

Module for the Challenger Learning Center
IRIS scientists at SAO are developing a Challenger Learning Center (CLC) module parallel to the materials they created for a similar SDO program. The target audience is students in grades 5-8 who visit the Challenger Centers.

Goal: Provide young people with authentic mission-related experiences --a proven method of engaging and retaining them in science while enabling them with valuable skills and experiences.


  1. Develop modules to highlight the use of spectroscopy in the study of space weather, including information related to the Sun’s structure, nature of light, and invisible radiation (IR and UV).
  2. Develop a very inexpensive UV-pass filter using vegetable food coloring to demonstrate how filtering works.
  3. Assure all information is downloadable in PDF format from the IRIS website.

Solar science training for informal educators
Goal: The NASA/Ames IRIS EPO team has developed a training presentation which has been given to members of the NASA Museum Alliance, the JPL Solar System Ambassadors program, and similar Informal Educator groups. These organizations plan to incorporate information about the IRIS mission into their programs.

Lead Institution:
Stanford Solar Center


  • Stanford University, Lockheed Martin (Summer Research Experience for Undergrads; distribution of punch-out spectrographs, teacher workshops, and development of educator materials)
  • NASA Ames (NASA Quest Challenge, Informal Educator program, launch program)
  • Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (module for the Challenger Learning Center)
  • Montana Space Grant, Montana State University (National Student Solar Spectrograph Competition)
  • NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory/HMI EPO Team (spectrograph materials)
  • ESA/NASA SOHO mission (spectrograph materials)
  • McAuliffe Challenger Learning Center
  • Stanford University’s Physics Department (summer program)
  • Lawrence Hall of Science (assessment)
  • NASA Museum Alliance
  • JPL Solar System Ambassadors
  • Newport Richardson Gratings
  • National NASA Space Grant
  • SPIE


Effectiveness and Impact of National Student Solar Spectrograph Competition:
Key NSSSC findings (with data from the first two years; N=68 surveys completed):

  1. 96% of participants strongly agreed (78%) or agreed (18%) that working on an interdisciplinary team was a valuable experience.
  2. 100% of participants strongly agreed (95%) or agreed (5%) that participating in NSSSC provided opportunities to learn and practice practical skills related to science and engineering. 

  3. 87% of participants strongly agreed (66%) or agreed (21%) that they expect more attractive education and career opportunities as a result of the experience they gained in the Competition.

  4. 84% of participants strongly agreed (56%) or agreed (28%) that participating in NSSSC increased their interest in pursuing a STEM-related career. This statistic is particularly compelling because it indicates the Competition had an effect on career choices rather than the students already having decided on a STEM career, as is often the case with participants in other STEM competitions.

  5. 100% of the participants strongly agreed (74%) or agreed (26%) that interacting with the judges at the Competition was valuable.

Increased interest in STEM careers, increased interest in the IRIS mission, increased practical science skills, increased interest in getting involved in STEM opportunities, increased creativity, increased education and career opportunities, increased team work experience.

Our evaluation data shows that 100% of the participants strongly agreed (74%) or agreed (26%) that interacting with the judges at the Competition was valuable. 
Many of the judges are NASA IRIS mission scientists and engineers.

Effectiveness and Impact of summer student program:
This program is underway. Assessment is being done by a team from the Lawrence Hall of Science. Metrics will be forthcoming.

Effectiveness and Impact NASA Quest Challenge:

  • 300 teachers registered for the Challenge, and they reported a sum total of 13,000 students.
  • 123 teachers responded to the pre-Challenge teacher survey (2,500-3,000 students).
  • 33 teachers responded to the post-Challenge survey (estimated 800-1,000 students).
  • At least 1,000 students participated in the Challenge to varying degrees.

Effectiveness and Impact of Spectrograph materials and workshops:
Extensive evaluation and upgrading over 10 years has produced a product proven useful and popular. These spectroscopes and materials passed NASA product review with “Outstanding” ratings. They are extremely popular and advertised only through the Solar Center website. We continue to meet our objective of distributing 15,000 per year. To date approximately 150,000 spectrographs have been distributed.
Assessment of the educator workshops shows that at least 90% of the participants find the workshops valuable or extremely valuable and will use the materials in their classrooms. Assessment also shows that 85%-90% of the participants will share their materials with other teachers. At the most recent workshop, the 35 participants expected to share their materials and information with more than 50 additional teachers.

Effectiveness and Impact of Challenger Learning Center module:
This program is currently under development. Assessment will be done by a team from the McAuliffe Challenger Learning Center. Metrics will be forthcoming after the program is implemented.

Effectiveness and Impact: