Observatory Scientist; Department Head, Education and Public Outreach
Stephen Pompea has been an innovator throughout his career. As a classroom teacher he dressed as Galileo and his classes designed and built their own inflatable planetarium. As an aerospace engineer he invented the world’s blackest coating (which was patented) for use on NASA space telescopes, designed an inexpensive motor that worked in space at temperatures near absolute zero, and discovered a better way to communicate with submarines. As a college student, he started a major interdisciplinary research project on the evolution of the Moon with a fellow student, and they continued this work in their spare time until it was published in Nature magazine.
As a science education innovator, he served as U.S. Director for the International Year of Astronomy 2009, was at the first White House Star Party, and created a high-quality telescope kit for students to see the rings of Saturn. Over 200,000 people worldwide now own their own “Galileoscope”. He was the director of one of the nation’s largest programs for students to conduct authentic astronomical research with telescopes, including the Spitzer Space Telescope.
He was also a co-lead for a large program to train science graduate students to work in K-12 classrooms. He has consulted on bleeding edge education projects with many organizations, including the NASA Classroom of the Future, the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Science Education, the Space Science Institute, and the Lawrence Hall of Science.
In 2011 Dr. Pompea was awarded the Esther Hoffman Beller Medal from the Optical Society of America for his contributions to optical sciences education and especially for his work in creating the Galileoscope student telescope kit. He is a Fellow of SPIE – The International Society for Optics and Photonics – and also is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America – one of the few astronomers elected as a Fellow of either society. For his educational work, he has received many honors, including two NASA Group Achievement awards and the Metropolitan Education Commission’s Crystal Apple Award. He was named a National Association of Geoscience Teachers Distinguished Lecturer from 2007-2010.
He is the author, coauthor, or editor of 15 books in optics and science education, over 120 papers, and has given over 350 presentations at professional conferences. Pompea is an adjunct faculty member of the University of Arizona with previous adjunct appointments at Colorado State University and the University of Arkansas.
After teaching junior high and high school in public schools in Colorado, he was a Senior Engineer at Martin Marietta Aerospace. He served as Instrument Scientist at the University of Arizona for the NASA NICMOS instrument for the Hubble Space Telescope and later served as Infrared Instrument Scientist for the international Gemini 8-Meter Telescopes Project.
Dr. Pompea did his undergraduate work in physics, space physics, and astronomy at Rice University, his Master’s in physics teaching at Colorado State University, and his Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of Arizona.
Since 2002, he has led education and public outreach programs at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. He was named as NOAO’s first Observatory Scientist in 2014.
National Optical Astronomy Observatory
950 N. Cherry Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85719
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CV [207 KB pdf]
Dr. Steve’s Ten Favorite Ways to Teach about Astronomy
Stephen Pompea is the Department Head of the NOAO Office of Education and Public Outreach.