Kalée Tock

Kalée Tock

NASA Citizen Scientist

Kalée is a science instructor at the Stanford Online High School. She uses citizen science projects to immerse her students in the real practice of science.

What motivated you to volunteer as a NASA citizen scientist?

In 2019, I heard Dr. Rob Zellem speak and was inspired. The rest is history. ☺

I am extremely fortunate to have access to research grade telescopes through the Las Cumbres Observatory Education Partners Program and also through the Harvard-Smithsonian MicroObservatory Network. Both of these organizations have been incredible resources, making it possible for me and my students to participate in NASA Citizen Science.

What are your favorite NASA citizen science projects to work on, and why?

Exoplanet Watch has been amazing! Nothing motivates students more than thinking about alien worlds. For myself, I feed off of my students’ excitement like a vampire.

What do you do when you’re not doing science with NASA? Tell us about your job and your hobbies.

I like to ride my bike in the hills near my home in Mountain View, California, and spend time with my family, which includes my husband Theron, three children (Ezra, Ryan, and Willow), and a Havanese puppy named Suki.

What have you discovered or learned as a NASA citizen scientist?

So many things! I’ve learned so much about astronomical observing, image processing, and conducting research. I could write pages and pages about things I have learned. It is probably encapsulated best by the (length and) content of the Stanford Online High School Student Publication List.

This is my school mascot, the Stanford Online High School Pixel, on a balloon trip to space!
Credit: Kalée Tock

Which peer-reviewed NASA research publications have you been involved with? What was your role in the research and writing proces

I was named as a co-author of the paper called “Utilizing Small Telescopes Operated by Citizen Scientists for Transiting Exoplanet Follow-up,” published in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 2020. For that paper,

I mentored some of the students who contributed lightcurves and data. I have become more involved in the Exoplanet Watch project since then, helping develop curriculum materials for using the EXOplanet Transit Interpretation Code (EXOTIC) software with students.

What observations do you have as a science educator about the value for your students, your colleagues, or the public of participating in citizen science projects?

I’ve thought a lot about the difference between science as taught in classrooms and as practiced by scientists. Science classrooms and labs are great for teaching students the skills of science, however, graded classroom labs do a poor job of preparing a student to respond creatively to unforeseen challenges, to recognize when a “failed” experiment reveals something worth investigating, or to make novel connections across disciplines or ideas. And those are the things that make practicing scientists successful.

Citizen science projects, particularly those like Exoplanet Watch that lead from structured tasks to more open-ended exploration opportunities, give us all a chance to be immersed in the real practice of science. These projects give my students a taste of what doing science is all about. For example, one of my students found a small, unexpected wiggle on a graph that turned out to be a pulsating star. Another student, grappling with an ever-so-slight deviation between her measurements and her expectations, ended up pioneering a new measurement technique that permanently changed our approach to that type of project. Through citizen science, my students discover their alter-egos as "science detectives" who extract secrets I never would have imagined from cloudy skies, complicated data, and a deluge of numbers.

And finally, I’ve learned that it is very fun to work on projects with others who are smart and passionate about science!

Who have you met during your NASA citizen science work who inspires you?

Rob Zellem, the lead NASA scientist on the Exoplanet Watch project, is a truly inspiring scientist and person. Despite being incredibly busy, he still somehow always finds time to answer my (many) questions and those of my students. His cheerful sense of humor infuses the whole Exoplanet Watch team. I and all of my students look up to him and the other scientists (and interns) at Exoplanet Watch.

However, I probably speak for all teachers everywhere when I say that my first and most powerful inspiration comes from my amazing students.

What are some fun facts about yourself?

I am teaching a new astrobiology course this year, which I have been creating as I go (alongside several brave and pioneering students)!

Visit the complete collection of NASA citizen science projects and start contributing today!

Additional Links

Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.