About Us

LEADERSHIP TEAM

Big Astronomy yasmin catricheo

Yasmin Catricheo

Yasmin Catricheo is currently working at the Office of Education and Public Engagement at Associated Universities Inc. She is a physics educator from Chile. Of Mapuche origin, she is passionate about the teaching of science and more recently has focused in the area of astronomy. In her professional training program, she has participated in courses taught by astronomy faculty at the University of Concepción, and has earned a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Bío-Bío. Yasmín is also a member of the indigenous group “Mapu Trafun”, and she works closely with the Mapuche community to recover the culture and communicate the message of the Mapuche Worldview. In 2018 was selected to enjoy the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassador Program (ACEAP) founded by FSF.
Big Astronomy Katie Hinko

Katie Hinko

Katie is an assistant professor at Michigan State University in the Physics and Astronomy Department and Lyman Briggs College. Her research is centered around informal science learning environments and understanding the process of building science identity. She has many years of experience developing and studying informal science education programs for youth, and has received multiple National Science Foundation awards for this work. Katie has a PhD in physics from the University of Texas at Austin and was the former Director of Public Engagement for the JILA Physics Frontier Center.
Big Astronomy Renae Kerrigan

Renae Kerrigan

Renae Kerrigan began working at Lakeview Museum in 2009 as an intern while studying at Bradley University. She fell in love with the culture of learning at the museum and made the decision to change her educational focus, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in Museum Education in 2011. In her 10 year tenure at Lakeview Museum and now the Peoria Riverfront Museum, she has worked in nearly every area of the Programs department, teaching classes and workshops, delivering public programs, creating content for exhibitions, and managing the planetarium. In 2015, Kerrigan was selected as one of the National Science Foundation funded Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors, and traveled to some of the best telescopes in the world. Kerrigan is a Key Personnel on the NSF Funded Big Astronomy project for which she is participating in the creation of a planetarium show and related educational products, which will be distributed for free in English and Spanish around the world. Kerrigan was named a Fellow of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association in 2017, and serves as Deputy Conference Planning Chair for the association. She currently serves as Curator of Science and Planetarium Director of the Peoria Riverfront Museum.
Big Astronomy Shari Lifson

Shari Lifson

Shari Lifson is the Corporate Communications Coordinator for the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). She is responsible for working with AURA’s three centers: Space Telescope Science Institute, NSF’s NOIRLab, and the National Solar Observatory to develop cross-center communication efforts and strategies. Prior to joining AURA, Lifson worked as a Communication Officer for the Center for Climate Systems Research at the Earth Institute/Columbia University. Shari Lifson holds a master’s degree from Columbia in Sustainability Management and a master’s in Visual Communication from the Pratt Institute. She is based at the AURA corporate office in Baltimore, Maryland.

Big Astronomy Dr Shannon Schmoll

Dr. Shannon Schmoll

She is the Director of the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University where she runs program for Pre-College students. She has a joint degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics and Education. Her dissertation research was on how to integrate planetarium field trips into formal K-12 education using the digital planetarium at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History. While there she also finished a certificate in museum studies. After graduating, she worked as the STEM education specialist at the Field Museum in Chicago before returning to astronomy. She began work on astronomy in Chile as part of the 2015 Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program. She serves as chair of the International Planetarium Society’s education committee and sits on the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee where she continues to explore new ways of teaching the public the wonders of the universe and making it accessible for everyone.
Big Astronomy Tim Spuck

Tim Spuck

Tim is Director of Education & Public Engagement at AUI where he manages the development and implementation of innovative STEM Education efforts. He currently serves as PI on Network for Earth-space Research Education and Innovation with Data (NEREID). Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy (IDATA), the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program (ACEAP), and Big Astronomy in Chile through Dome+. Tim also leads ongoing collaborations with the National Society of Black Physicists, Organization of American States, Cortes-Solari Foundation, International Astronomical Union, and others. Prior to his role with AUI he taught astronomy and earth sciences at the high school and university levels and served as a K–12 Science Coordinator. Tim has received the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics Educator Achievement Award, Tandy Technology Scholars Award, and the Pennsylvania Christa McAuliffe Fellowship. He holds a doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction from West Virginia University, and a master’s degree in Science Education from Clarion University of PA. Tim served as lead editor for the Best Practices in STEM Education: Innovative Approaches from Einstein Fellow Alumni, 2nd edition; the 1st edition was awarded the 2014 Peter Lang Publishing Book of the Year.
Big Astronomy Tiffany Stone Wolbrecht

Tiffany Stone Wolbrecht

Tiffany is the Planetarium Lecturer at Ward Beecher Planetarium where she coordinates and leads programming for several communities both near and far. In 2018, Tiffany was selected to be an ambassador for the Astronomy in Chile Education Ambassadors Program ACEAP, touring NSF-supported astronomy facilities in Chile and receiving extensive training about the observatories and their telescopes, instruments, science, and data. From this experience, Tiffany developed a live planetarium show kit Eyes on Chile Skies, distributing it freely in the planetarium community. She serves on the American Astronomical Society’s Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy, the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Board for the International Planetarium Society, and the Executive Committee as Secretary for the Great Lakes Planetarium Association.
Big Astronomy  Dr. Jesica Trucks

Dr. Jesica Trucks

She is a Research Associate at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University where she is researching the Big Astronomy Project. She obtained her Ph.D. in Physics with Astrophysics concentration from University of Toledo, and her joint bachelor’s degree in Astrophysics and Physics from College of Charleston. She found her passion for education outreach while working with Ritter Observatory and Ritter Planetarium at University of Toledo.
Big Astronomy Vivian White

Vivian White

Vivian is the Director of Free Choice Learning, administering the NASA Night Sky Network (NSN). A community of more than 400 amateur astronomy clubs across the country, NSN supports club outreach and events with an interactive website and webinars. She designs astronomy activities and demos specifically for informal settings, working with citizen scientists, Girl Scouts, Tibetan monks, and many others to expand the ways we learn astronomy beyond the walls of a school. In addition to the night sky, her passions include pottery, poetry, social justice, and wandering the world with her young son.
Big Astronomy Ryan Wyatt

Ryan Wyatt

Ryan Wyatt wrote and directed the Big Astronomy planetarium show. He has served as Senior Director of Morrison Planetarium and Science Visualization at the California Academy of Sciences since April 2007. Prior to arriving in San Francisco, Wyatt worked for six years as Science Visualizer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City; previously, he opened technologically-advanced planetariums in Phoenix, Arizona, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Wyatt has written and directed the Academy’s seven award-winning fulldome shows on topics as diverse as asteroids, earthquakes, ecosystems, and coral reefs. Wyatt’s professional interests include making research data sets accessible to the general public and developing standards and best practices in the fulldome video community. He writes extensively on the design of immersive media and the role of modern planetariums in bringing cutting edge science to a variety of audiences, and his Visualizing Science blog provides an informal look at his ideas and opinions related to visual representations of science. He is also the cofounder of the professional organization Immersive Media Entertainment, Research, Science, and Art (IMERSA) and co-chaired the 2017 and 2019. Wyatt also indulges avid enthusiasms for cultural astronomy, the history of science, and intersections between art and science.

CHILE TEAM

Big Astronomy Valeria Foncea

Valeria Foncea

Journalist and Master in Strategic Communication, Valeria is the Education and Public Officer of the ALMA Radio Telescope. As a reporter, she has an extensive television career doing reports on environmental, scientific and technological issues for the Chilean TV. In institutional communications, she has served as Communications Officer at UNDP, Press Officer of ESO-Chile, and now in ALMA.
Big Astronomy Peter Michaud

Peter Michaud

Peter Michaud leads the education and engagement activities under the Communications, Education and Engagement (CEE) group within the NSF’s NOIRLab. Peter works from the Gemini Observatory headquarters in Hilo, Hawai‘i which has served as his base since 1998. Prior to the establishment of NOIRLab, Peter managed the Gemini Public Information and Outreach office where he oversaw outreach and communications activities in Hawai‘i and Chile. Prior to taking the helm of Gemini’s PIO effort, Peter managed the Bishop Museum Planetarium in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. During his tenure of nearly a decade at Bishop Museum, Peter enjoyed planetarium program production on myriad topics, writing a monthly skywatching newspaper column, and activities such as leading a film crew to Maunakea for the 2001 total solar eclipse, followed by a public eclipse tour to Chile and Peru in 2004. In addition to his confessed eclipse addiction (he has seen seven total solar eclipses to date), Peter is passionate about science education and working to inspire students to pursue STEM careers. He also enjoys amateur telescope making, climbing (and descending!) mountains on his bicycle, and striving for unobtainable hi-fidelity audio perfection on DIY stereo systems. Peter is a parent of two children – the youngest is currently (2019) working on a degree in electrical engineering, the oldest working in conservation. Peter has a degree in Atmospheric Physics which is augmented by a teaching certification in Physical Science Education.
Big Astronomy Leonor Opazo

Leonor Opazo

Administrative Manager at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), and part of the Communications, Education & Engagement team of the NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory. From 2004 she looks after the CTIO admin related activities, that have to do with office procedures and controls, coordination, logistic and admin support to visiting astronomers and staff, reporting and budget control. Since 2006, she has been in charge of the CTIO Education and Outreach effort, creating and implementing many amazing projects. By the end of 2018 she was appointed as CTIO Diversity Advocate, devoting 10% of my time contributing to a more diverse and inclusive workplace (which has also been one of the Education & Outreach goals since the beginning of the program at CTIO). She is a Social Worker of the University of Chile and has a Diploma in Organization Development and a Master Degree in Business Administration.
Big Astronomy Manuel Paredes

Manuel Paredes

He is a journalist from Chile with a wide experience in documenting and producing visual content about astronomy, engineering processes and technical milestones related to telescopes. Originally based in Santiago as a reporter for agency news and other media agencies, he received a Major in Journalism and a BA in Social Communications at Universidad Nacional Andrés Bello. Also, he was part of the IESL program of the University of Lousville, and other social media management trainings at UC Berkley. Currently he works as the Communication Coordinator and Chile/South American media Expert for the NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory. He is author of the first book about Astrophotography in Chile, and currently he is writing a new book about the legacy of the night sky, Gabriela Mistral and original stories, financed by the Chilean Ministry of Culture and Arts.
Big Astronomy Steve Pompea

Steve Pompea

He is the Observatory Scientist at NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, a Visiting Professor at Leiden University, and an Adjunct Professor of the University of Arizona (Optics and Astronomy Departments). He is internationally recognized for his work both in science education and in optics, is an elected Fellow of three professional societies, and was awarded in 2018 the SPIE–International Society for Optics and Photonics Education Award, the Robert A. Millikan Medal from the American Association of Physics Teachers in 2016, and the Esther Hoffman Beller Medal from the Optical Society of America in 2011. His innovations in the fields of physics and astronomy education have led to leadership roles in ten major competitively-funded science education research and development projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation. He received his B.A. in physics, space physics, and astronomy from Rice University, his M.A.T. in physics teaching from Colorado State University, and his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Arizona.
Big Astronomy Juan Seguel

Juan Seguel

Juan is a Civil Mechanical Engineer from the University of Concepcion, with 18 years of experience in the area of engineering applied to the field of astronomy in the optical range and the development and implementation of educational tools in the area of teaching of Science and Technology for teachers and students. He was Site testing engineer for TMT and LSST where he developed tools and applications for control, monitoring and acquisition of meteorological and astronomical data. He is currently a Science Education Specialist at the NSF´s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, La Serena, Chile.

ADVISORY BOARD

Big Astronomy Cynthia Ashley

Cynthia Ashley

Cynthia Ashley has managed education projects in science centers and non-profit organizations since the mid 1980’s. Memorable projects include the exhibit Dragon Skies: The Astronomy of Imperial China, Maya Skies, a digital planetarium show on the astronomy of the Maya, and Planetary Landscapes, a tactile exhibit on the intersection of art and science in nature. All of these projects were funded by the National Science Foundation. For XPRIZE, Ms. Ashley managed Back to The Moon for Good, a digital planetarium show showcasing the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition to land a spacecraft on the Moon. As an educator Ms. Ashley is committed to gender equity and outreach to marginalized communities.
Big Astronomy Jacqueline Faherty

Jacqueline Faherty

Jacqueline Faherty is an Astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History working jointly within the Education and Astrophysics departments. Dr. Faherty has won numerous awards and grants to pursue cutting edge science questions such as the NASA Hubble Fellowship and the National Science Foundation’s International Research fellowship. She co-founded the research group “Brown Dwarfs New York City” (BDNYC) and her team has won multiple grants from NASA, NSF, and the Heising Simons foundation to support projects focused on characterizing planet-like objects. Dr. Faherty has over 90 peer reviewed articles in Astrophysical journals, has been an invited speaker at Universities and conferences across the globe and is a major advocate for utilizing visualization tools for both science and education advancements. In 2017 she co-founded a Zooniverse citizen science project called “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” which has engaged more than 150,000 users across the globe and led to 5 scientific publications to date with multiple citizen science co-authors. Aside from her scientific achievements, Dr. Faherty is a regular media personality, commenting on current astronomical phenomena and research on such reputable outlets as NPR, the BBC, CNN, and the NY Times.
Derrick Pitts

Derrick Pitts

Astronomer Derrick Pitts has been associated with The Franklin Institute since 1978, designing and presenting many of the museum’s public programs and exhibits. As Director of the Franklin’s Fels Planetarium, Pitts’ most recent planetarium show plays in more than 30 countries around the world and is translated in a dozen different languages. A NASA Solar System Ambassador since 2010, he also served as NASA’s first ‘Astrobiology Ambassador’ for the UNCF’s Astrobiology Partnership Program and at the invitation of Space Shuttle astronauts, has flown items of his own creation on two different missions. Pitts appears regularly as a science content expert for most national and international media outlets, including CBS, PBS, BBC, MSNBC, History, Discovery, Science, NatGeo, NOVA, and Curiosity Stream. Pitts was twice invited (2010, 2013) to participate in the first ever White House star parties where he met and assisted President Obama and his family as they looked through Pitts’ telescope. He has received numerous awards including honorary degrees from LaSalle University, Rowan University and Wagner Free Institute of Science. In October 2019, he was selected as the Philadelphia Geographical Society ‘Explorer of the Year’ and the Philadelphia Public Relations Association selected him as their ‘Gold Medal Award’ recipient for 2019. He serves on numerous boards and is an education outreach advisor for Hawaii’s Thirty Meter Telescope project. Pitts and his wife Linda love to travel, especially through California’s Napa Valley wine region. His twitter handle is @CoolAstronomer and his motto is ‘Eat, breathe, do science. Sleep later.’
Big Astronomy martin storksdieck

Martin Storksdieck

Before becoming the Director of the STEM Research Center in June 2014 Dr. Storksdieck served as the Director of the Board on Science Education (BOSE) at the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences. As the BOSE Director, he oversaw studies that address a wide range of issues related to science education and science learning, and provide evidence-based advice to decision-makers in policy, academia, and educational practice. His prior research focused on what and how we learn when we do so voluntarily, and how learning is connected to our behaviors, identities, and beliefs. This includes the role of personal perspectives in science learning, particularly related to controversial topics such as climate change or evolution, and how connections between school-based and out-of-school learning can create and sustain lifelong interest in science, but also learning itself. His research also focused on the role of science-based professionals and science hobbyists in communicating their passions to a broader public.

Storksdieck has also previously served as director of project development and senior researcher at the non-profit Institute for Learning Innovation. In the 1990s he was a science educator with a planetarium in Germany, where he developed shows and programs on global climate change; served as editor, host, and producer for a weekly environmental news broadcast; and worked as an environmental consultant specializing in local environmental management systems. He holds an M.S. in biology from the Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg, Germany; an M.P.A. from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government; and a Ph.D. in education from Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany. Storksdieck also directs NRC’s Roundtable on Climate Change Education.

Big Astronomy KaChun Yu

KaChun Yu

Ka Chun Yu joined the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in 2001 as part of a team tasked to create planetarium software to visualize the known universe. He has helped produce movies for the digital dome; has pioneered Earth systems educational programs at DMNS; and has continued to create new visualizations and other educational content for live planetarium presentations. His research interests include studying astronomy education with digital planetariums and observational star formation. He is one of the founders of the Worldviews Network, a group using immersive visuals to connect public audiences with global change issues.
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