Life In the Universe Inquiry Lab

  • Allston End of Program Celebration

    Celebration at Harvard Education Portal

    Harvard Astronomy Graduate Student Juliana Garcia-Mejia shares her research with LITU students at the Harvard Education Portal

  • Student Thank you cards

    Student Feedback

    Highlights: "I'm a future scientist." "It was one of the best experiences of my life."

  • LITU Students

    Students at Jackson Mann Middle School, Boston, MA

  • Students draw the Earth in Space
  • Students

The Goal

Every student will take an active role in scientific inquiry as they explore some aspect of the major question: Could humans ever find, and communicate with, sentient life on other planets? As they explore their own version of this question, they will discover the personal significance and theo-philosophical implications of scientific research in their own lives.

The Method

Students will: Generate a personal network of questions to research, using the Question Formulation Technique (see below). Explore WorldWide Telescope (WWT) – an interactive computer visualization of the universe – to investigate a wide array of relevant science topics and resources for research.  Create a capstone presentation of their research findings, the relationship of the research to their own lives, and their philosophical position regarding the question they chose.

Question Formulation Technique

QFT SampleWe use a variation of the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), developed by the Right Question Institute, to help the students generate their personal questions. Here’s how it works:

Give the class a prompt (e.g. “The closest star to our solar system is 4 light years away”) Break the class into small groups, and give them 5 minutes to generate as many questions they can think of from this prompt. Students write down every question, and do not judge if a question is good or bad. Afterward, students review their questions and rate whether questions are closed (i.e. can be answered easily by an expert) or open (i.e. require more complex research or reflection). Repeat multiple times. Finally, have students reflect on their web of questions, and decide which ones they want to investigate the most.

Here are some questions generated by one group of LITU students. 

Student Feedback

Student Thank you cardsAs important as it is to help students learn the content, skills and practices that are essential to all fields of science, if we want science knowledge to have a lasting impact for all students, we must also motivate curiosity in STEM subjects and cultivate science identities. We do so in Life in the Universe by challenging students to transform simple questions into a complex web of thought, and helping them to recognize the impact of these deeper questions on their personal world.

Funding and More Information

With generous support from the John Templeton Foundation, the WWT Ambassadors program is currently developing an exciting after-school project geared at middle school students, titled "Life In the Universe Inquiry Lab". The Life in the Universe (LITU) labs will be a series of 8 sessions in which students will use hands-on activities and visualizations using WWT to answer the question: "How can we and why do we seek life elsewhere in the Universe?"  In partnership with the Harvard Ed Portal and a local middle school, WWTA is developing, implementing, testing and refining the LITU lab modules with small cohorts of students.

Upon completion the LITU labs will become available to the public for no cost to be shared and implemented in informal, including extended-day, learning environments across the country.

The pilot program and it's culminating celebration and student tour showcase were featured in the Harvard Gazette on July 5, 2016.