About the Teen Astronomy Café

The Teen Astronomy Café program is an out-of-school program that offers high school students opportunities to interact with scientists who work at the forefront of astronomy. The program will be from 9:30am til noon on one Saturday morning each month from October through May (except for January).

Students explore the birth and death of stars, killer asteroids, the structure of the universe, gravitational lenses, dark energy, dark matter, colliding galaxies and more. A hands-on activity related to the short presentation will follow as part of the Teen Astronomy Cafés experience – either as a state-of-the-art computer lab activity, a movie, a deeper discussion, or an exploration of the topic with a 3-D printer or an Oculus Rift. The students will use the actual computer programs and data that the scientists use!

The Teen Astronomy Cafés are open to all high school students at no cost. The program aims to elevate student achievement and desire to go to college, and perhaps inspire some students to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).

If students are interested in attending any or all of the Teen Astronomy Cafés, please have them register at http://www.teenastronomycafe.org. Dates for the Teen Astronomy Cafés this coming academic year are:

The Teen Astronomy Café will be hosted at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in room 27. The address is 950 N. Cherry Ave. in Tucson on The University of Arizona campus.

About the 2019-20 Speakers


Dr. Pierre Christian

Black Holes and Einstein's Gravity

October 5, 2019

Pierre Christian is a postdoc at the University of Arizona, where he is the Steward Prize fellow in theoretical and computational astrophysics. Previously, he earned his doctorate from Harvard University, where he worked on black hole astrophysics. At UA, he is interested in using black holes to study gravitational physics. He is a member of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, a worldwide scientific effort to take resolved images of black holes.


Dr. Brenda Frye

Gravitational Lensing by Galaxies

November 2, 2019

Brenda has undergraduate degrees in Physics and in Astronomy from the University of Arizona (UA) and a Ph. D. from the University of California at Berkeley. She is currently an Assistant Astronomer and Assistant Professor in the Department of Astronomy/Steward Observatory. Dr. Frye's main research is concentrated on understanding how galaxies form and evolve in the universe. To accomplish this, she makes use of spectroscopic observations in the optical/IR. Her current research interests include: 1) galaxies at intermediate redshifts (z=1-5), 2) galaxies at high redshifts (z>6), 3) the intergalactic medium, and 4) absorption systems towards galaxies. She is especially interested in observing all of the above gravitationally-lensed. Large masses act as natural telescopes in space, boosting the brightnesses and sizes of all objects in the background, similar to a lens. This lensing effect enables the study of distant galaxies that are intrinsically too faint to see in the field.


Dr. Daniel Apai

Project EDEN: The Search for Habitable Planets in the Solar neighborhood

December 7, 2019

Dr. Apai is working on the discovery and characterization of extrasolar planetary systems and on the search for life in the Universe. He is an Associate Professor of Astronomy and Planetary Sciences at The University of Arizona, and leads NASA’s Earths in Other Systems (EOS) team. He occasionally publishes blog posts on exoplanet exploration and astrobiology at http://apai.space and tweets (@danielapai).


Everett Schlawin

Finding the Ingredients of Other Worlds: How Spectra Tell Us what Extrasolar Planets are Made Of

February 1, 2020

Everett is interested in what planets and their atmospheres are made of. He studies planet composition by observing transiting planets - planets that cross in front and behind their host stars. Everett is a member of the James Webb Space Telescope NIRCam team, led by Marcia Rieke. The unprecedented Webb telescope will enable giant leaps in our understanding of planet composition.


Dr. Chien-Hsiu Lee

Variable Stars and the Expanding Universe

March 7, 2020

Chien-Hsiu Lee is an assistant scientist at NOAO. He is interested in time-domain astronomy — how astronomical objects change with time. He received his PhD in 2011 from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. Prior to NOAO, he was a support astronomer at Subaru Telescope, helping visiting astronomers carry out observations atop Maunakea.

Research description: The advent of wide-field cameras and large sky surveys have accumulated vast amount of data that revolutionized time-domain astronomy. In this presentation and computer activity, you’ll learn and experience how astronomers identify and classify variable stars in the big data. You’ll also see how astronomers use the variables to investigate stellar astrophysics, probe galaxy properties, and study cosmology.


Christine O’Donnell and Rachel Smullen

Breaking the Solar System (and Other Ways Simulations Help Us Understand Our Universe)

April 4, 2020

Christine O'Donnell is a graduate student in Astronomy & Astrophysics at the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. Her Ph.D. thesis includes research on dark matter and its correlation with the formation of galaxies like our Milky Way as well as education research on how to teach astronomy more effectively. Outside of astronomy-related things, she enjoys glass blowing and other crafts.


Rachel Smullen is in the final year of her astronomy PhD at the University of Arizona. In her research life, she studies how stars and planets form and evolve using large numerical simulations. Her work has ranged from analyzing how clouds of gas collapse to form stars to exploring how planets like Tatooine can exist and investigating how Pluto got its moons. Rachel likes to use astronomy as a gateway science to share her passion for science and technology with people of all ages. In her spare time, she enjoys most things geeky and nerdy.


Dr. Tod Lauer

Interstellar Navigation

May 2, 2020

Tod Lauer is an astronomer on the research staff of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. Dr. Lauer earned his B.S. in Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1979 and his Ph.D. in Astronomy at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1983. His areas of interest include: Cosmology, Large Scale Structure of the Universe, Evolution of Galaxies, Distance Scale, Structure of Galaxies, Dense Stellar System, Black Holes in Galactic Nuclei, Stellar Populations, and Image Processing. Asteroid (3135) Lauer was named after him and he was awarded the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement in 1992 and the AURA Award for Outstanding Science in 1993. He was a member of the Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field and Planetary Camera team, and is a founding member of the Nuker Team, which involves Hubble Space Telescope investigations of the centers of galaxies.

Previous year's dates, topics and speakers.