Education and Public Outreach

Vikram Giving a Talk at the Science Visualization Laboratory at Adler Planetarium


2020 – Chicago Area Research Mentoring (CHARM) project: Currently working with UC Charter School, Woodlawn, part of the Chicago Public Schools System. Giving talks every 3 weeks to a Junior High Honors Physics class, all minority students. I teach students topics in stellar evolution and the deaths of stars, which most students have never been exposed to. Currently everything is remote, but I am hoping that whenever the circumstances allow, I can start in person lecturing. The highlight of this project is that one of the students will be selected and given an opportunity to carry out research under my supervision at the University of Chicago in summer, a transformational opportunity for the student.

April 16 2019: Featured in an episode of Space’s Deepest Secrets on the Science channel. An interview with me, and a visual segment highlighting my research on the formation of the solar system. The episode is titled  “Dark Secrets of the Solar System” and can be viewed as Episode 5, Season5, on the Science Channel here:

2018: Interviewed by international and local magazines, which published articles featuring my research:

  • BBC Sky at Night, May 2018, pg 106, Expert Interview
  • Tahdet Ja Avarus, Feb 2018, cover story and 4 page article with beautiful pictures, in
    Finnish (wish i could translate it!). I understand this is the magazine of the largest astronomical society in Finland.
  • I was also featured in the University of Chicago students magazine Scientia, Winter 2018, inquiries section. An undergraduate student interviewed me and discussed my research journey.

Aug 2017: Volunteer, University of Chicago Solar Eclipse Viewing. Passing out eclipse glasses
and talking to observers about eclipses, how they happen and what to look for.

July 18 2017: I spent much of the day with high school students taking the PHSC 11901 (Physics of Stars) course at Chicago. I delivered a lecture on “Cosmic Explosions”, followed by answering their questions regarding universities, university life and anything else that they wanted to ask. One student’s take on meeting with me can be found
on their blog at:

2009-2014: Co-I on 2 NASA grants, a large multi-year project to create a web interactive on
Multi-Wavelength Astronomy. Exploring various astronomical wavelength regimes, we created an educational resource to teach astronomy to middle and high-school students. The content of each lesson is derived from interviews with scientists, archived oral histories, and/or memoirs. Lessons were evaluated by a science educator and at least one subject matter expert before being produced for the web. They are supplemented by NASA media; archival material from the University of Chicago Library and other archives; and participant contributed photographs, light curves, and spectra.

We had workshops in summer to train Chicago Public school teachers, who then helped to design and write the lessons, which are then rendered on the web so that students can begin to use them. As part of this, I gave a lecture on X-ray astronomy to Chicago School teachers, which ended up lasting the better part of 4 hours.

I was also a part of the NASA All-Stars grant project.  I gave an overview talk on X-ray astronomy to students and teachers from Chicago Public Schools in July 2013 (pictures were taken by students with the ipad minis that they received as part of the program). I was also involved in other activities.

If you want to see what the students and teachers thought of the summer program in one particular year, as well as my talk in particular, you can read their blogs here.

I also took lots of pictures of the workshops, and distributed them to the participants. Due to privacy rules, I do not show them here.

October 17 2015: “Searching for Life in the Universe”, One-day course, at Graham School for
Continuing Education, University of Chicago.

April 25 2015: “Astrophysics 101″, One-day course, at Graham School for Continuing Education,
University of Chicago.

2012: Part of the organizing committee for “Big Ideas in Astronomy” awards project, funded by the
Templeton Foundation. Awarded prizes for student essays, and grants for research funding. A committee of 5 people including me was responsible for creating all advertising material, publicizing it, sending out emails, collecting essays and proposals, organizing the reviews, and awarding prizes at a grand celebration.

Aug 2008-Feb 2011: Volunteered at the Adler Planetarium. Gave monthly talks at the Space
Visualization Lab on astronomical topics, accompanied by 3D animations, as part of the Astro Conversations series organized jointly between University of Chicago and Adler.. The SVL consists of a tiled wall, a geo wall, and various other cool computer set-ups that allow for a thrilling and interactive visual display (as in photo above). This is a good way to reach out to the general public on topics of current astronomical interest.

Also participated in a few `Adler After Dark’ events, talking to young professionals (mainly) about astronomy
and recent discoveries in the news.

2006: With support from an STScI Public Outreach grant, I worked with Don York, Julia Brazas, Christie Thomas, Steven Lane and others to help create a web site for Chicago Public School students that helps them understand the formation of the elements in the periodic table, and how they came to be. We designed and laid out the site,  discussed the text and the various animations and simulations, which were then brilliantly rendered by Steven. You can see the end result here (requires Adobe Flash):

1990-1996: Led Fan Mountain and McCormick Public Nights at University of Virginia. Gave sky tours using the 40-inch reflector at Fan Mt. and the 26-inch refractor at McCormick observatory, delivered lectures to members of the public, and answered all their questions on any astronomy-related topic.

Public and popular level talks:

  • Chicago Astronomical Society (Aug 4 2004 and Sep 14 2007)
  • Ryerson Astronomical Society (Oct 22 2007, Feb 13 2017, Oct 29 2018, Oct 19 2020),
  • Undergraduate students at Marquette University (Milwaukee: Oct 4 2007), simulcast to Creighton University. The faculty organizer praised my usage of technological resources and visualizations to communicate difficult concepts.
  • Joliet Junior College (Apr 7 2009 and Nov 1 2011), a local community college.
  • Society of Physics Students, University of Chicago (May 16 2016).