Yerkes Institutes
Summer & Winter Yerkes Institutes
  • Yerkes Winter Institute (YWI) December 27-29
  • Yerkes Summer Institute (YSI) ~ August, 1-8

The biannual residential institutes held at Yerkes Observatory (Williams Bay, WI) provide an immersive environment that encourages scientific curiosity and exploration. The retreat like setting offers ample time for in-depth studies (e.g., 5.5 hrs/day lab) and for valuable informal interactions with center scientists. During the first half of the institute students explore thematically linked daytime laboratories and nighttime investigations (e.g. using Observatory telescopes) in small groups. During the latter part of the institute, each of three reporting groups explores a single laboratory in greater depth (e.g. over two additional days in the summer) and prepares a presentation for parents and peers that culminate the institute.

The Physics of Toys, Yerkes Summer Institute
July 30 - August 5, 2017 | Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI
Instructors: Huanqing Chen, Zoheyr Doctor, Clarke Esmerian, Emily Gilbert, Jason Henning, Gourav Khullar, Randy Landsberg, James Lasker, Phil Mansfield, Nora Shipp.

Over the course of a week, local Chicago high school students will learn about how the physics of energy conservation makes various everyday toys possible, and how using a structured engineering design process can allow them to understand the inner workings of things around them. In the three main labs, students will learn about pressure potential energy by reverse engineer super soakers and testing manufacturer claims about bottle rockets, they will learn about elastic potential energy by building and racing wind up cars, and they will learn about gravitational potential energy as they compete to build room-sized Rube Goldberg machines. The Institute will also contain various bite-sized activities, ranging from observing nebulae with the Yerkes 24-inch telescope, to learning defense techniques against deceptive infographics, to investigating the mysterious physics of the household microwave.

Up & Down, Yerkes Winter Institute
December 27 - 29, 2016 | Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI
Photo Gallery
Instructors: Randy Landsberg, Phil Mansfield, Eric Oberla, and Erik Shirokoff.

The 2016 Yerkes Winter Institute (YWI) focused on the forces that lift objects up and what happens when they are pushed down. Twenty local high schoolers in the Space Explorers program participated in three labs led by Erik Shirokoff, Eric Oberla, Phil Mansfield, and Randy Landsberg, which focused on pressure and buoyancy. This year's activities included weighing a car using only an air pressure gauge and a sheet of paper, determining how many party balloons it would actually take to lift the house in the film Up! (or the ANITA experiment), and a camp-wide competition where students used Archimedes' Principle to design boats that could carry as many pennies as possible. The activities in this year's YWI will help prepare the Space Explorers for the launch of a high altitude balloon which they will be performing later in the year. Nighttime activities included observations with the 24-inch telescope, identifying constellation and interesting astrophysical objects that they contain, and a slide show of the recent launch of ANITA in Antarctica. Thirty-seven parents and siblings joined the last day of YWI for presentations and closing ceremony.

Spy vs. Spy, Yerkes Summer Institute
August 3 - 9, 2016 | Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI
Photo Gallery
Instructors: Camille Avestruz, Zoheyr Doctor, Gourav Khullar, Richard G. Kron, Randall H. Landsberg, James Lasker, Phil Mansfield, Sam Passaglia, Rebecca Pierce, Jason Poh.

The 2016 Yerkes Summer Institute (YSI) was filled with secrecy, deception, and espionage. At YSI, high school students in the Space Explorers program played the role of 20th-Century spies to handle secret information: revealing, concealing and distorting information. Through three day-long lab activities, the students explored connections between spying and science. In the "Secret Photos" lab, they studied angular size, resolution, and the film-development process in order to effectively gather information on "enemy operatives" using 35 mm cameras. In the "Radio Beams" lab, students designed, built, and tested a system to transmit audio via an amplitude-modulated (AM) laser, which allowed them to secretly communicate across long distances. Lastly, techniques to securely communicate were examined in the "Codes and Ciphers" lab, which also served as an introduction to modern cryptography. After cycling through these three day labs, the students broke into three new groups and took one of the labs a step further: one group doctored photographs to spread false information, another built AM radio transmitters and receivers, and the last created treasure hunts using codes and ciphers for the clues. Nighttime activities included: observations with the Yerkes telescopes, astrophotography, explorations of the constellations which focused on what current research can tell us about them (e.g. most know exoplanets were found by Kepler in the constellation Cygnus); and bad weather activities that included examinations of the veracity of viral internet photos, and stories of famous spies. The week's spy-themed activities not only introduced the students to the importance of privacy in the digital age, but also to the concepts and skills that are integral to any modern STEM career.

The Science of Musical Instruments, Yerkes Winter Institute
December 27 - 29, 2015 | Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI
Photo Gallery
Instructors: Cosmin Deaconu, Zoheyr Doctor, Brittany Kamai, Randy Landsberg, Rito Basu Thakur.

At this Yerkes Winter Institute, we will explore the connections between musical instruments and the physics of sound. Students will build their own pan flutes, drums, and synthesizers to learn about the principles that drive instrument design and construction. With homemade instruments in hand, students will examine how physical parameters and playing techniques affect sound and quality (i.e., frequency and time domain waveforms produced by their instruments).

Mission to Mars: Engineering Design Process, Yerkes Summer Institute
August 2 - 8, 2015 | Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, WI
Photo Gallery
Instructors: Louis Abramson, Ross Cawthon, Zoheyr Doctor, Dylan Hatt, Chen He, Sean Johnson, Randy Landsberg, Jason Poh.

Tonight we will begin a week of engineering and exploration. Throughout the week, we will tackle a number of engineering challenges associated with exploring a distant planet: Mars. After this week of working in teams, defining problems, brainstorming, building, testing, and improving your designs, you will make a presentation to your family and fellow students about what you did and learned. Below, we describe the institute schedule and format so you can better plan for the week ahead. The institute will kick-off with a star party hosted by the Milwaukee Astronomical Society (MAS) on Sunday night. During the day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we will focus on three daytime laboratories, each of which explores a different engineering challenge associated with exploring the surface of Mars: Robotic Manipulation, Extraterrestrial Navigation and Launching/Landing (see lab summary descriptions on page iii). You will be divided into three groups named after past Mars missions: VIKING, PATHFINDER, and CURIOSITY. Each group will devote an entire day to each daytime lab, but the groups will cycle through the labs in a different order. By the end of the day on Wednesday, each group will have performed all three of the day labs.

Robotics, Telescopes and S.T.E.A.M., Yerkes Winter Institute
December 27 - 29, 2014 | Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI
Photo Gallery
Instructors: Julieta Aguilera, Walter Glogowski, Chen He, Randy Landsberg, Ian Remming, Ted Ressel, Richard Saldanha, Erik Shirokoff, Alanna Simone.

The Yerkes Winter Institute (YWI) is a three-day residential science immersion experience held at the historic Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. It offers high school students in the Space Explorers Program the chance to delve into STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) through experiments, nighttime telescope observing and by working side-by-side with practicing scientists. YWI 2014 continued the year-long theme of robotics, building on the fall quarter work on mechanics (e.g., levers and gears), and seeding the winter/spring quarter projects which will focus on programming and engineering challenges. The students cycled through three daytime labs in small groups devoting over three hours to each lab. Two labs utilized "Sphero", a small spherical commercial robot that can be programmed to move and display colors. One involved programming a Sphero to navigate a maze, while the other used them as a remote probe of surface variations, similar to how a robot might explore the surface of a distant planet. In the third lab the Space Explorers constructed simple insect-like bug-bots and engineered them to compete in a sprint and bot Sumo wrestling.
Evening activities included observing with the Yerkes telescopes and two creative S.T.E.A.M (Science Technology Engineering ART and Math, or STEM + Art) projects. Both involved using technology to make art, the first with long camera exposures and Sphero's controllable lights and the other with bug-bots and more traditional media (i.e., pens and paper). Celestial art was examined with the 24-inch telescope, which was used to observe distant red giant stars and star clusters. In addition to OSP staff, there were nine instructors: three senior members of KICP, an Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum staff member, a postdoctoral fellow, a public school teacher, an artist, and two graduate students. The Yerkes Winter Institute is one of two annual residential science immersion experiences that the Space Explorers participate in - the 2015 Yerkes Summer Institute is scheduled for August 2-8, 2015.

Renewable Energy: Back to the Sun, Yerkes Summer Institute
August 10 - 16, 2014 | Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI
Photo Gallery
Instructors: Louis Abramson, Andrew Belcher, Walter Glogowski, Chen He, Ross Cawthon, Randy Landsberg, Samuel Meehan, Kyle Story, and Kat Ziegler.

The 2014 KICP Yerkes Summer Institute explored different aspects of renewable energy. The "Biofuels: The Green Machine" lab investigated photosynthesis as well as producing biodiesel and ethanol. The "Catching Sunlight: Solar Cells" laboratory involved the students constructing solar cells that utilized berry juice and then testing the effects of lighting conditions on the electricity production of commercial photovoltaic cells. "A Wind Ensemble: Motors and Generators" explored the construction of horizontal axis wind turbines and Savonius turbines and then hydroelectric generators. Evenings were devoted to examining the night sky with the observatory telescopes and to a game of energy Jeopardy.

Transforming Energy, Yerkes Winter Institute
December 27 - 29, 2013 | Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI
In this years Yerkes Winter Institute, students will learn about how energy can be transformed using the concept of mechanical advantage to make the most of the resources at their disposal. This idea will be introduced by studying how pulleys can be used to ease the lifting of heavy weights and how levers can be transformed into catapults to launch things great distances. They will then put their intuition of energy transformation to the test while competing to construct the most complicated Rude Goldberg machine, understanding each stage of energy transfer along the way.

Colors Answers, Yerkes Summer Institute
August 4 - 10, 2013 | Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI
Photo Gallery
Instructors: Louis Abramson, Ross Cawthon, Dylan Hatt, Sean Johnson, Randy Landsberg, Samuel Meehan, Sean Mills, Kyle Story, Kat Ziegler

The Yerkes Summer Institute (YSI) is a week long, residential, science camp for inner-city high school students in the Space Explorers Program. In addition to providing the students a science immersion experience, it offers many teaching, curriculum design, communications and team working opportunities for the instructors, who are generally early career scientists.

YSI 2013 focused on the information content of color as an investigative tool. In each lab, students applied a different type of spectrometer to measure the wavelength or, roughly-speaking, color components of light in order to identify the composition of unknown objects or substances. During the first part of the week, students cycled through three different day-long laboratories, which focused on color vision, food color dyes, and stellar spectra. These daytime activities led to two days of extension activities in which groups of students investigated in greater depth one of the labs and prepared a presentation on their findings for their parents and peers. Nighttime activities focused on observations with the Yerkes Observatory telescopes and creation of colorful art.

In "Seeing Color", students learned how color vision is the measurement of a wavelength spectrum by the eye. Students tested the usefulness of the eye as a spectroscopic tool by creating red-green-blue (RGB) histograms of low-resolution images to uniquely identify objects and pictures. In the conclusion of the laboratory, students recreate the process of color vision by applying RGB filters to produce a number of black and white photographs, which were then recombined with false color to form color images.

The "Liquid Colors" lab discovered the properties of absorbance and transmittance for common FD&C dyes (e.g., Blue No. 1) using visible light spectrometers, Spectronic-20's, and then applied that knowledge to identify the composition of common colored beverages (e.g., Gatorade).

During the "Barcoding the Stars" lab, students built their own spectrographs to observe the unique spectral signature of elements here on Earth in gas discharge lamps. After gaining an understanding of basic atomic physics, students used standardized spectra to identify the composition of stars.

Vision, Yerkes Winter Institute
December 27 - 29, 2012 | Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI
Photo Gallery
Lab Instructors: Dylan Hatt, Alissa Bans, Juan Collar, Walter Glogowski, Randy Landsberg, Tongyan Lin, Sean Mills, and Denis Erkal (lab development).

The 2012 Yerkes Winter Institute focused on the eye and how the world is perceived through vision. Three daytime laboratories that explored different aspects of human vision formed the core of the institute:
  • Critical Flicker Factor,
  • Stop Motion Video,
  • Alien Vision.
In the Critical Flicker Factor lab the students investigated the differences between rods and cones, the two types of photoreceptors within the eye; this included the perception of color and detail, and the minimum response time to notice a changing stimulus. The Stop Motion Video lab explored this finite response time and how it influences our perception of motion. In the lab, students determined the limits of frame rates and applied this to the creation of stop-motion videos based on scientific principles and phenomena (see videos). While human vision encompasses only a small portion of electromagnetic spectrum, some animals can take advantage of a greater range, which students studied through experiments with the infrared and ultraviolet in the Alien Vision lab. Poor weather did not permit telescope observations but everyone enjoyed other evening activities including a video showcase of the students' own stop motion productions.

Nineteen (19) Space Explorers and seven (7) instructors were in residence at the Institute, and thirty-five (35) parents, siblings and family members joined the last day of the institute for the student presentations and the closing ceremony.

Participant Survey Excerpts:
94% of participants would recommend it to their friends
  • "That I learned about my eyes and I know how they work"
  • "[Most Valuable] Learning about everyday things we take for granted"
  • "I learned that cones are for the day time and rods are for dim or dark light"
  • "I really enjoyed the whole thing, but I just wish that we could have been able to look out the telescopes."
  • "I enjoy coming to Yerkes to learn about science."

YWI 2012 "Vision" - Laboratory Descriptions:
Critical Flicker Factor (Dylan Hatt, Tongyan Lin)
There are many parts of the eye that allow us to see the way we do, but the ability to see light depends on biological detectors within the eye. There are two main types of detector cells. The cones allow us to see the bright and colorful world during the day, and the rods allow us to find our way at night when it is dark. In this laboratory, we will discover how our perception of the world changes based on whether it is light or dark and how the eye switches between one tool of vision to another.
Stop Motion (Sean Mills, Walter Glogowski, Randy Landsberg)
In this lab we will explore how one can make still images look like they are moving. We will use a zoetrope, a mechanical precursor to a movie projector, to examine the limits of when still images appear to move and when they do not. Finally we will create our own stop motion movies. You will be the writer, producer, director and possibly star of these short motion pictures with a point.
Alien Vision (Juan Collar, Alissa Bans)
What if you could see the world in a whole new light? Not just a new perspective, but literally, what would the world look like if we could see outside the normal boundaries of human vision? While our unaided eye can only detect a small range of light, with technology we can detect light spanning from radio waves to gamma-rays! In this lab, not only will we be experimenting with how objects appear in these exotic forms of light, but we will also demonstrate that even though this light is invisible to your eye it shares the exact same properties of visible light. We will use these properties to "see" the invisible and learn a little bit about what it would be like to have alien vision!

Making & Breaking: Destructive Testing , Yerkes Summer Institute
August 5 - 11, 2012 | Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, WI
Photo Gallery
Instructors: Alissa Bans, Juan Collar, Nicole Fields, Dylan Hatt, Sean Johnson, Chris Kelso, Randy Landsberg,Reid Sherman, Kyle Story.

The Yerkes Summer Institute (YSI) is a week long, residential, science camp for inner-city high school students in the Space Explorers Program. In addition to providing the students a science immersion experience, it offers many teaching, curriculum design, communications and team working opportunities for the instructors, who are generally early career scientists.

YSI 2012 explored destructive testing as a tool for understanding stress, strain, and safety devices. In each lab, students studied the basic physics underlying a device, designed their own device, and then employed destructive testing to improve their designs. Monday through Wednesday, students cycled through three different day long laboratories, which examined bridge failure, crash tests, and the effects of earthquakes on structures. These daytime activities lead to two days of extension activities in which groups of students further investigated a lab and prepared a presentation on their findings for their parents and peers. Nighttime activities focused on observations with the Yerkes Observatory telescopes.

In the "Spanning the Gap: Bridges" lab students studied the fundamentals of bridge design, especially how bridges accommodate loads (static stresses). They designed and constructed their own bridges, which they then stress tested by loading with progressively more weight, until they failed. Finally, the students applied what they had learned from the failure modes to build better bridges.

The "Humpty Dumpty: Crash Test" lab investigated the extreme stresses that occur during a car crash using a pinewood derby car with an egg as a proxy for a passenger. After exploring impact stress, stopping distances, deceleration and how seat belts, airbags and crumple zones lessen damage, the students designed safety devices to protect an egg during a derby car crash test. Although none of the initial student designs were successful, by experimenting with different seatbelt and airbag configurations, the students iteratively improved their designs until they were able to keep their egg passengers safe.

During the "Quaking Towers: Shake Table" lab, students investigated strategies employed to help buildings withstand the powerful dynamic stresses of an earthquake. They then designed and constructed "earthquake resistant" model sky-scrappers, using an evolved form of Tinker Toys called K'nex. These model buildings were tested on a homemade shake table, which simulated earthquake conditions. The dynamic stress tests were documented via video, and careful frame-by-frame analysis helped the students to determine where and how their buildings had failed, which lead to improved designs.

Participant Survey excerpts:
77% felt there were connections between the Yerkes labs and everyday life (e.g., I usually don't wear seatbelts, now I understand why its important to wear it.)
94% would recommend this institute to their friends
  • "I love this experience and it really helped me learn more things about science and things in general."
  • "I really enjoyed this trip because I learned a lot about how to improve buildings, cars, and bridges. You cannot just build something in a little amount of time."
  • "I think it was a fun experience. I learned a lot about ways of improving everyday things that I had never thought about."

Up!: Thrust, Buoyancy, and Drag, Yerkes Winter Institute
December 27 - 29, 2011 | Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, WI
Photo Gallery
The 2011 Yerkes Winter institute focused on things that float and fly: rockets and balloons. The students found scaling relations in order estimate the answer to questions such as:
  • How many helium balloons would it take to lift a Space Shuttle?
  • How much pressure is required to launch a pressurized rocket into the Jet Stream?
  • At what airspeed does drag become important for a rocket?
The students gained first-hand experience in the art/science of figuring out which assumptions are appropriate when making approximations.

Instructors: Alissa Bans, Nicole Fields, Walter Glogowski, Sean Johnson, Christopher Kelso, Randy Landsberg, Amol Upadhye.