Journey Through the Universe Celebrates 20 Years of Exploration on Hawai‘i Island

January 29, 2024

Celebrating its 20th consecutive year on Hawaiʻi Island, the flagship Journey Through the Universe program brings the Universe to students and the community in early February 2024

Journey Through the Universe Celebrates 20 Years of Exploration on Hawai‘i Island

Journey Through the Universe — a partnership between the International Gemini Observatory, operated by NSF’s NOIRLab, and the Hawaiʻi Department of Education Hilo-Waiākea Complex Area — celebrates 20 years of cosmic exploration with Hawai‘i students and the community. This year’s exciting program includes classroom presentations, career panels, public events and more!

Hawai‘i Island’s leading astronomy education and outreach program, Journey Through the Universe (Journey), is returning for its 20th year from 5–9 February 2024 (Journey Week). Throughout this week, volunteer educators are invited into Hawai‘i Island classrooms ranging from 3rd to 12th grade to promote science education and inspire students to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields by developing literacy in science. Students participating in the program, envision themselves in STEM careers and experience the unique science happening in the local Hawaiʻi community and beyond.

In addition to science presentations, career panels and StarLab portable planetarium shows, this year’s program will also include a host of public events. A special Community Mahalo Reception hosted by the local Chambers of Commerce will be held on 5 February at the ʻImiloa Astronomy Center during which community members can connect with the educators who make the program possible. On 6 February a free public talk will feature NASA SSERVI’s Brian Day and astrophysicist Kevin Grazier, followed by stargazing. Finally, a free screening of the independent film Space, Hope and Charity will take place at the Hilo Palace Theater on 7 February, featuring an appearance by the film’s star Charity Woodrum and others involved in the film. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion about the film. For more details on these public events see the Journey Through the Universe website.

“I’m really grateful to all of the community members who have made Journey Through the Universe possible for the past 20 years,” said Leinani Lozi, Hawaiʻi Education and Engagement Manager at Gemini and Journey Lead Coordinator. “From the teachers who welcome us into their classrooms, to the volunteers who engage our students, and all of our community partners who support us, I can’t thank our amazing community enough. This year’s unique t-shirt design emphasizes the scale of community involvement in Journey with an ʻōlelo no'eau, ‘aʻohe hana nui ke alu ʻia, no task is too big when done together by all.’ We aim to embrace this model of community partnership in not only Journey but all of our work as Maunakea observatories.” 

The International Gemini Observatory, operated by NSF's NOIRLab, as well as the Department of Education Hilo-Waiākea Complex Area, leads the Journey Through the Universe program. Our volunteer educators come from the Maunakea Observatories, NASA, various universities and more. Over the years, Journey has expanded to our larger Hawaiʻi Astronomy community including a Journey program in north Hawaiʻi led by the Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope and a Journey program in Maui County led by the National Solar Observatory. Every program endeavors to foster curiosity about our Universe, inform about observatory careers, and share the cutting-edge research and technology taking place in Hawaiʻi.

Originally developed by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE), and introduced to Hilo by Gemini and W.M. Keck Observatory in 2004, Journey’s 20 years of successful engagement is evidence of the support from local community partners across government, business, astronomy, and higher education, as well as the strength of our foundational partnership with the Department of Education Hilo-Waiākea Complex Area. Through this partnership, the Journey program is able to adapt every year to the changing needs of our community. In 2018, Journey hosted a Next Generation Science Standards Workshop in response to new national level science standards introduced across the country. In 2021, Journey was held entirely online, expanding its reach to neighboring islands. And now in 2024, the time spent in the classroom post-pandemic is so precious that Journey has begun content matching teacher-requested topics directly with our volunteer educators — with the most requested topic being Astronomy with a Hawaiʻi connection.

“As we celebrate 20 consecutive years, the Journey Through the Universe partnership is the longest and most impactful collaboration that I know of for the Hilo-Waiākea Complex of the Hawaiʻi Department of Education,” said Esther Kanehailua, Complex Superintendent. Kanehailua adds that students who have participated in Journey have returned as science educators in local schools, showing the impact of the Journey program.

While individual classroom science presentations make up the majority of Journey programming, career panels continue to be an impactful part of Journey Week. These panels allow students to discover the wide range of career opportunities available both at observatories and within the wider STEM fields and provide an opportunity to engage with professionals in their fields of interest. Some career panelists are alumni of the schools they will be visiting. Journey Through the Universe 2024 career panels will feature STEM professionals from near and far, with some flying into Hilo just for this program!

"When I was a student at Hilo Intermediate and Hilo High Schools, the Journey program had a profound impact on my decision to pursue astronomy as a career," says Hilo High graduate Devin Chu, who recently received his PhD from UCLA in astrophysics specializing in studying stars around the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. "Since I was a child, I wanted to be an astronomer. The Journey program provided a perspective for me and a path forward to work with local astronomers. I'm sure I'm not the only one to feel this inspiration from the scientists who visited our classrooms over the years."

More Information

NSF’s NOIRLab (National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory), the US center for ground-based optical-infrared astronomy, operates the International Gemini Observatory (a facility of NSF, NRC–Canada, ANID–Chile, MCTIC–Brazil, MINCyT–Argentina, and KASI–Republic of Korea), Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), the Community Science and Data Center (CSDC), and Vera C. Rubin Observatory (operated in cooperation with the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory). It is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with NSF and is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. The astronomical community is honored to have the opportunity to conduct astronomical research on Iolkam Du’ag (Kitt Peak) in Arizona, on Maunakea in Hawai‘i, and on Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachón in Chile. We recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that these sites have to the Tohono O’odham Nation, to the Native Hawaiian community, and to the local communities in Chile, respectively.

Journey Through the Universe is organized by NSF’s NOIRLab/International Gemini Observatory and supported by the following partners (listed in alphabetical order): Bank of Hawai‘i, Basically Books, Big Island Candies, Big Island Toyota, California Institute of Technology, Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, DeLuz Chevrolet, Hawai‘i Community College, Hawai‘i Electric Light Company, Hawai‘i Island Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i Island Economic Development Board, Hawai‘i State Department of Education, Hawai‘i Science and Technology Museum Hawai‘i Tribune-Herald, ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, East Asian Observatory, Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, KTA Superstores, KWXX Radio Station/New West Broadcasting, Maunakea Astronomy Outreach Committee, Maunakea Observatories, Maunakea Support Services, Maunakea Visitor Information Station NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, National Center for Earth & Space Science, National Radio Astronomy Observatory National Solar Observatory, Pacific Science Center, Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, Project Astro/Family Astro, Rotary Club of Hilo Bay, Smithsonian Submillimeter Array Subaru Telescope, TMT International Observatory, Thirty Meter Telescope–Japan, UH Hilo College of Pharmacy, UH Institute for Astronomy, United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, University of California–Los Angeles University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, University of Oregon, Very Long Baseline Array, and W.M. Keck Observatory.



Leinani Lozi


Hawaiʻi Education and Engagement Manager

International Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab

Peter Michaud


NOIRLab Education and Engagement Manager

International Gemini Observatory/NSF’s NOIRLab

Josie Fenske

Jr. Public Information Officer


News | Gemini Observatory


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