• IPAC

How it Works

The purpose of this program is to provide educators with an authentic research experience in astronomy using data housed at NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California.

The NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP) gets educators involved in authentic astronomical research. We partner small groups of educators with a mentor professional astronomer for a year-long original research project using NASA’s vast archives of astronomical data from space- and ground-based telescopes.  In exchange, we ask educators to leverage this experience by providing professional development for their colleagues in their local school districts. It involves several trips for educator participants and their students to collaborate with scientists and present the research results, all of which are paid for by the program.

The main program components involve multiple trips (for which NITARP pays) and a commitment from the teachers to educate others about their experiences, both of which are conducted over a minimum of 18 months to 2 years. 

The specific program components are: 

  1. Attending a NITARP workshop and an American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting. The workshop is held in just prior to the AAS meeting in early January.  The purpose of this workshop is to meet your team, meet your scientist, learn about the basics of the NASA archives to be used, and start to define the research project to be conducted.  The reason for attending the AAS meeting (and not just returning home immediately after the workshop) is to understand how AAS meetings work and to learn about current astronomy research and how research is presented in posters; time will also be spent continuing to work with your team to define your project.  The project may be something that an educator in your group initiates, or it may be something that the scientist mentor suggests, or some combination of the two; the team will discuss it in person.  On the assumption that the workshop will be Sunday, participants are expected to attend the AAS from Sunday to at the very least Tuesday, but they are encouraged to stay through the end of the meeting on Thursday.  
  2. Working long distance with each other on a research program that uses data from any of the IPAC holdings, including but not limited to IRSA, NED, and/or the NASA Exoplanet Archive, in conjunction with NASA scientists, using telephone conferences (telecons) and internet-based resources such as email and a wiki (where everyone with an account on the system can edit pages, post images or proposal drafts, ask and answer questions, etc.).  Participants must be comfortable collaborating over phone and email.
  3. Meeting for 3-4 days in Pasadena, California at Caltech (specifically IPAC and the SSC) to work on the data and to understand the process of doing their team's science.  Each team will decide when to meet (dates TBD by each team, typically in the Summer).  This program is primarily for educators, but in order to support their educational efforts, we anticipate that educators will have the opportunity to bring up to 2 students per teacher to IPAC.  If educators choose to bring students, they must be heavily involved in the project; more details will be available to the educators in the program to guide in student selection.
  4. Attending another AAS meeting the following January to present results of the project, both from a scientific and educational perspective.  Again, we anticipate that educators will have the opportunity to bring up to 2 students per educator to the AAS.
  5. Travel costs associated with all three of these meetings (trip to AAS meeting to get started, trip to IPAC to work on project, and trip to AAS to present project results), within reason, are covered by NITARP.
  6. Serving as NASA/NITARP ambassadors who give 12 hours of professional development workshops in their home school districts.   Each educator will be expected to give the equivalent in hours of 3 half-day professional development workshops in their district, or neighboring school districts, and at least 3 talks on the project (e.g., local, state, regional, or national teacher conferences) over the first 18 months to 2 years of their time in the program.  The professional development workshops can focus on just one aspect of the project (e.g., infrared astronomy). 
  7. Serving as mentor teachers in the community of NITARP teachers.  The first year that a participant is in NITARP, they spend most of their program time learning about infrared, Spitzer, IRSA, NED, the NASA Exoplanet Archive, the relevant software, the relevant science, etc.  As a “first year” NITARP teacher, they attend an AAS meeting and a meeting at IPAC to further these goals.  The second year commences with the second AAS meeting, and extends at least through the end of that school year.  As a “second year” NITARP teacher, we expect participants are more experienced and spend time conducting professional development workshops, writing articles, sharing your NITARP experience, and interacting with other teams, e.g., on the NITARP wiki.  Since, as a second year teacher, participants are attending their second AAS meeting at the same time as it is anticipated that new first year teachers will be attending their first meeting, explicit mentoring of these new teachers is encouraged.

All teachers who have been through the program, known as “NITARP alumni teachers,” are still encouraged to be part of the NITARP community.  Alumni teachers may be asked to join new teams explicitly as mentor teachers for new teams.  Some funding may be available to bring alumni teachers (even those not explicitly part of new teams) to subsequent AAS meetings. Some funding and opportunities may be available for additional ground- or space-based follow-up observations to further investigate questions raised by your research project.  Additional activities are planned to create a sense of community among all alumni teachers; some alumni teachers may be asked to help lead these activities.

Educators (both current participants and alumni) are asked to submit regular reports to us at IPAC describing project-related activities (workshops, etc.).

The 2025 NITARP application is now available! Go here for the instructions. Applications are due by 3pm Pacific time, Friday Sep 13, 2024. (NOTE: contingent on availability of funds and AAS travel!)