Exploring Space at the Intersection of Identity and Expression

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SPS Chapters on Outreach

Exploring Space at the Intersection of Identity and Expression


Stephanie Howell, SPS Associate Zone Councilor for Zone 14, University of Colorado Denver


Boushrah Kassir and Stephanie Howell pause for a photo before the PI&E Club outreach event. Photos courtesy of the PI&E Club at the University of Colorado Denver.

On an unusually rainy summer Tuesday, the Physics Identity & Expression (PI&E) Club at the University of Colorado Denver transformed the ordinary event room of the Aurora Public Library into a journey into outer space, a place where elementary-aged children could learn, discover, and explore fascinating aspects of our solar system.

The purpose of PI&E Club, which falls under the umbrella of our SPS chapter, is to be a forum for physics students from a variety of backgrounds to socialize and discuss prevalent issues facing women and minorities in the field, and to foster interest in physics and STEM through outreach. The beauty of the PI&E Club is that it exists at the intersection between identity and expression, meaning that during outreach events, we have the potential to redefine what kids think a physicist looks like.


Young visitors to the Aurora Public Library enjoy learning about the solar system.

When I was elected vice president in the fall of last year, one of my goals was to help the club reach its full potential through outreach programs. I did this by first connecting with faculty member Kathryn Hamilton, who has a history of organizing and hosting outreach events. Over the next couple of months, the PI&E Club president, Boushrah Kassir, and I met with her regularly. Where would we host the event? What would the theme be? What supplies did we need? We took inspiration from the SPS Science Outreach Catalyst Kit (SOCK) and decided to host an event on space and the upcoming solar eclipse, which the library advertised in its summer newsletter.

The event opened with a brief slideshow introducing the planets in our solar system along with the Moon and Sun, how these celestial bodies move, and how this movement is responsible for different kinds of eclipses. We encouraged the children to ask lots of questions and share their thoughts throughout the presentation.


Kids create their own pinhole cameras for eclipse viewing.

We ended the presentation by announcing when the next solar eclipse would be visible in Colorado and how to see it safely. Then we helped the kids act out planetary motion using inflatable planets. Each child had the opportunity to be either the stationary Sun or an orbiting planet. To close the program, each child created and decorated their own pinhole camera, made from a shoebox, to take home.

Through the hard work and dedication of many, the Aurora Public Library, which serves one of the most diverse areas in the state of Colorado, became a hub of learning and discovery during our outreach program. The attendees were engaged, and we showed them a more diverse picture of what physicists look like than is often portrayed. We look forward to future opportunities to share the wonders of science with our community through our commitment to fostering curiosity and education, ensuring that young minds everywhere understand that physics is for everyone!

Get Money for Inclusive Outreach Events

Future Faces of Physics Awards of up to $600 are available for chapter programs or events that promote physics and astronomy across cultures. Applications are due November 15 each year. Learn more at spsnational.org/awards/future-faces

Eclipse Info

Learn more about the April 2024 eclipse from the American Astronomical Society at eclipse.aas.org and check out the SPS resources at sigmapisigma.org/sigmapisigma/eclipse.  


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SPS Chapters on Outreach