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9780393912104

Understanding Our Universe

Palen, Stacy; Kay, Laura; Smith, Bradford; Blumenthal, George Author

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Innovative pedagogy and unique application exercises teach students to apply what they've learned, as they learn it.

Understanding Our Universe was constructed with the latest astronomy education research in mind: students learn by doing. The learning system allows students to immediately apply what they learn, gain a deeper understanding of the science, build confidence, and make meaningful connections to their everyday lives.

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About the Author:

Stacy Palen is an award-winning professor in the physics department and the director of the Ott Planetarium at Weber State University. She received her BS in physics from Rutgers University and her PhD in physics from the University of Iowa. As a lecturer and postdoc at the University of Washington, she taught Introductory Astronomy more than 20 times over 4 years. Since joining Weber State, she has been very active in science outreach activities ranging from star parties to running the state Science Olympiad. Stacy does research in formal and informal astronomy education and the death of Sun-like stars.She spends much of her time thinking, teaching, and writing about the applications of science in everyday life. She then puts that science to use on her small farm in Ogden, Utah.

Laura Kay is an Ann Whitney Olin professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College, where she has taught since 1991. She received a BS degree in physics from Stanford University, and MS and PhD degrees in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of California–Santa Cruz. She studies active galactic nuclei, using ground-based and space telescopes. She teaches courses in astronomy, astrobiology, women and science, and polar exploration.

Brad Smith is a retired professor of planetary science. He has served as an associate professor of astronomy at New Mexico State University, a professor of planetary sciences and astronomy at the University of Arizona, and as a research astronomer at the University of Hawaii. Through his interest in Solar System astronomy, he has participated as a team member or imaging team leader on several U.S. and international space missions, including Mars Mariners 6, 7, and 9; Viking; Voyagers 1 and 2; and the Soviet Vega and Phobos missions. He later turned his interest to extrasolar planetary systems, investigating circumstellar debris disks as a member of the Hubble Space Telescope NICMOS experiment team. Brad has four times been awarded the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement. He is a member of the IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature and is Chair of the Task Group for Mars Nomenclature.

George Blumenthal is chancellor at the University of California–Santa Cruz, where he has been a professor of astronomy and astrophysics since 1972. He received his BS degree from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and his PhD in physics from the University of California–San Diego. As a theoretical astrophysicist, George’s research encompasses several broad areas, including the nature of the dark matter that constitutes most of the mass in the universe, the origin of galaxies and other large structures in the universe, the earliest moments in the universe, astrophysical radiation processes, and the structure of active galactic nuclei such as quasars. Besides teaching and conducting research, he has served as Chair of the UC–Santa Cruz Astronomy and Astrophysics Department, has chaired the Academic Senate for both the UC–Santa Cruz campus and the entire University of California system, and has served as the faculty representative to the UC Board of Regents.

About the Author:

Stacy Palen received her bachelor's degree from Rutgers University in 1993 and her PhD from the University of Iowa in 1998. Upon graduation she spent four years as a post-doc/lecturer at the University of Washington, where she taught introductory astronomy 20 times in four years. This experience enabled her to really focus on students' conceptual difficulties with the course material, and experiment with ways to address them. Her astronomical research has focused on multi-wavelength studies of dying sun-like stars. She has also conducted research in the teaching and learning of astronomy, and served on multiple national committees that promote astronomy through education and public outreach. Currently, she is an Associate Professor at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. In addition to the usual professorial duties, she also runs the Ott Planetarium, an astronomy outreach center that produces planetarium content for all ages. She lives on a small farm with her husband, two dogs, two dairy goats, four horses, and an ever-changing number of chickens.

Laura Kay is Ann Whitney Olin professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College, where she has taught since 1991. She received a BS degree in physics from Stanford University, and MS and PhD degrees in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of California– Santa Cruz. She studies active galactic nuclei, using ground-based and space telescopes. She teaches courses in astronomy, astrobiology, women and science, and polar exploration.


Bradford Smith, who studies solar system cosmogony and stellar astronomy, is affiliated with the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii.

George Blumenthal is professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He studies a wide range of topics including cosmology, dark matter, and the origin of structure in the Universe.

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