About Reach for the Stars

Reach for the Stars: Computational Models for Teaching and Learning in Physics, Astronomy and Computer Science is a GK-12 program funded by the National Science Foundation, with support from CIERA and Northwestern University.

This NSF program places STEM graduate student fellows in K-12 science classrooms for the academic year with the goal of enriching their education and strengthening their development as researchers by advancing their communication and teaching skills. The fellows work in partnership with a collaborating teacher to bring more inquiry-based teaching methods into the classroom and to further expose K-12 teachers and students to the research process. Through Reach for the Stars, GK-12 fellows will adapt concepts of computational thinking and actual computational modeling tools from their research work to classroom activities connected to the existing math and science curriculum.

News and Announcements

May 2017

RftS Graduate Student, Zachary Hafen, Honored in Scientific Images Contest
Earlier this month, Reach for the Stars graduate student, Zachary Hafen, received an honorable mention for his contribution to this year’s annual Scientific Images Convention, hosted by the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI).

Hafen was joined by other Northwestern scientists and engineers, all looking to share their research—via unique and cutting-edge images—with the public. Hafen’s contribution is titled “One Galaxy, Multiple Perspectives”, and is a computer simulation rendered in Python (matplotlib).

In Hafen’s own words, the collection of images show “gas swirling around the same galaxy in several different ways. Taken together, these snapshots create a time-lapse projection. The top row shows the density of gas in the galaxy at a given time: in these panels, the brightest areas show where gas is most densely concentrated. In the middle row, gas shoots out of the galaxy in the bright areas and plummets toward the center of galaxy in the darkest areas. The bottom row shows temperature: the brighter the area, the hotter the gas. Models like these help astrophysicists understand the chaotic, explosive, ever-changing lives of evolving galaxies.”

Read more about the event in Science in Society.
Check out all the winning images.
View Hafen’s MSI Workshop slides.


Past News Items

Leadership Team

Vicky Kalogera (CIERA)

Vicky Kalogera received her Ptihio (B.S.) in Physics in 1992 from the University of Thessaloniki in Greece and her Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1997 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1997 she joined the Harvard-Smithsonian...more.

Michelle Paulsen (CIERA)

Michelle Paulsen is the Program Director and co-investigator for Reach for the Stars. She has over 15 years of experience in science education. She began her career as a science teacher at Deerfield High School where she taught...more.


“GK-12 is invaluable to me, post-graduation. I often find myself remembering lessons from the program. Much of my job now is communication and education with my users: scientists from diverse backgrounds. We also work often with outside donors - as we're a non-profit research institute - so the lessons I learned from GK-12 are critical to building knowledge. ”
– Dorothy Wheatcraft
Mass Spectrometry Scientist and Manager at the Jackson Laboratory, in Bar Harbor, ME.


“RftS has opened up a whole new world in my physics classes. Before participating in this program, I did not know what computational modeling was, and I did not know how to do any computer coding. Through lesson planning with my graduate fellow, I have learned how to code a little bit, and how to apply that code to introduce computational thinking. Without RftS, I would not have the dynamic and important lessons my students have now had the opportunity to learn.”
– Katie Page
Physics Teacher at Prospect High School