by Kimberly Kowal Arcand

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA) forever changed the way I view astronomy and science outreach projects. It helped me picture outreach much more broadly. It brought community organizers to the forefront in a new sort of outreach coalition that I still rely on today, connected me with a vast network of talented amateur astronomers, outreach practitioners and scientists around the world, and even led to the creation of a new categorization of outreach events: public science.

After IYA, my colleagues at the Chandra X-ray Center and I came up with term "public science" to legitimize this type of outreach. We define public science as “science outreach that has been conducted outdoors or in another type of public or accessible space such as a public park, metro stop, library etc. with the intention of engaging the public.” Such events often rely on collaboration across organizations, community support and involvement, and some aspect of site specificity.

The idea behind public science, at its most basic level, is to expand inclusion by bringing science to where people already are in a day-to-day context. We experienced how powerful this type of science outreach could be with “From Earth to the Universe,” (FETTU) an image exhibition project created for IYA. It was a grassroots project that created a digital repository of high-quality astronomical images and descriptive text. Local organizers could then use this material to make their own exhibits. The results of this dual-faceted outreach model – that is, vetted material that was easy to use -- for FETTU were spectacular. There were more than 1,000 locations in over 70 countries – on every continent except Antarctica- and with text translated into over 40 languages (


FETTU in Oslo, Norway. Photo: Rolf Øhman

FETTU was followed up in 2011 with the From Earth to the Solar System (FETTSS) project for NASA’s Year of the Solar System events. Again, FETTSS was a copyright-cleared curated collection of over 90 images and captions, but this time the topics included astrobiology and planetary science in addition to astronomy. Though smaller in scope than FETTU, FETTSS was still very successful, being exhibited in about 100 sites worldwide from a mall in Texas to a café in New Zealand (

With FETTU and FETTSS, participants experienced learning gains, expressed fascination and enjoyment, and indicated interest in attending future science events and reading about science online in the future. The evaluation of public science events requires more research and data before we can say, for example, who is attracted by science in everyday situations, or if there is any follow-through on seeking out science as a result. But the results are encouraging for those who try to help make science more accessible for non-experts.


FETTSS in Washington, DC, outside the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Photo: CXC/J.DePasquale

The response to these projects has kept my colleagues and I interested in continuing to explore public science. We have been working with libraries, schools, and other small science outreach venues on a project called “Here, There and Everywhere” (HTE) that uses analogy to look at phenomena such as wind, shadows, explosions and seeding ( We have helped launch a science enrichment program for kids and their families that explores concepts of light, speed, and rotational inertia, among other topics ( We have also begun discussions for public science programs for the upcoming International Year of Light (IYL) in 2015.


Your Ticket to the Universe book cover image

Our public science projects eventually led my colleague Megan Watzke and I to author a new popular astronomy book, Your Ticket to the Universe: A Guide to Exploring the Cosmos, published by Smithsonian Books (a non-profit publisher) on April 2, 2013 ( The book helps capture the spirit of the exhibition and allows it to be brought home and shared.

We continue to work in public science, and hope that activities in non-traditional science outreach environments will more frequently becoming a part of the modern science communicator’s toolkit.


Public Science:

Arcand, K.K., Watzke, M., Framing “From Earth to the Solar System” as Public Science, Communicating Astronomy with the Public Journal, 2012, accepted.

Arcand, K.K., Watzke, M., “Creating Public Science with the From Earth to the Universe Project” Science Communication. September 2011; 33 (3)


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kim kowalKimberly Kowal Arcand is the Visualisation & Media Production Coordinator for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. She is principal investigator of the From Earth to the Universe (FETTU), and From Earth to the Solar System (FETTSS) projects, and co-author of the upcoming FETTU- and FETTSS-based book Your Ticket to the Universe: A Guide to Exploring the Cosmos with Megan Watzke.



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