Hello! I'm an Associate Professor, Teaching Stream in the David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. I specialize in making complex astronomical concepts, such as black holes and the search for alien life, accessible to everyone.

I'm passionate about sharing astronomy with all audiences. Please contact me if you'd like me to speak to your group.


Astronomers make bold claims about things like the origin and fate of the universe and the likelihood of finding life elsewhere in it. My goal in teaching is to make the methods by which we arrive at those claims accessible to everyone, and to empower students to make their own discoveries. For example, I lead the development of AST 301: Observational Astronomy, which teachers students from any discipline to measure the expansion rate and age of the universe using a mix of their own observations and archival data.

If you'd like to work together on education research, please get in touch!

I'm a co-author of ASTRO 3rd Ed., an introductory astronomy textbook that takes a just-in-time approach to teaching the necessary physics, which makes the subject less intimidating. The book also takes a more equitable, global view of the people and facitilies involved in astronomical research.

I specialize making astronomy accessible to all students, especially those who are hesitant about physics and math. Some of my interests include:

  • Interactive engagement and inquiry-based education. The evidence is conclusive that students must do in order to learn. All of my courses are taught interactively, whether that's using audience-response systems in a large course such as AST251: Life on Other Worlds, or via inquiry projects in PMU199: Great Astronomical Issues
  • Robotic telescopes in astronomy education. I'm a huge proponent of using global networks of robotic telescopes to create direct connections between students and the universe. In most of my courses, students use robotic telescopes to pursue original observations.
  • Novel assessment techniques. I produce algorithmically generated assessments, completely unique to each students. These replicate the experience of original research while preserving academic integrity. I'm also interested in automatic testing using Item Response Theory.
  • Authentic research experiences in the classroom. I'm part of a project to transform hour undergraduate curriculum to enable more research experiences at the lower levels.
  • Inclusive, empathetic teaching I'm very interested in practices which make classrooms more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Lately, I've been experimenting with deadline-free assignments to help students self-manage stress.

Public Speaking

I'm an enthusiastic public speaker, ready to speak to your group about the amazing cosmos we all share. I regularly give talks in schools and libraries, as well as to amateur astronomy groups and later-life learners. I've given talks at homeless shelters, seniors' centres, corporate luncheons, LGBTQ+ centres, museums, private schools, and many more. I make astronomy accessible to all ages, from kindergarteners to seniors. I use lots of pictures from the latest telescopes to tell the story of each topic, and I minimize math and graphs (unless you're into that!). Although I call them "talks", I'm delighted for them to be as interactive as possible--if you have students who have lots of questions, I'm happy to answer as many as I can. Most of my talks are formatted for multiple lengths, ranging from 30 to 60 minutes.

Here are some of the talks I would be happy to give to your group:

Black Holes

What is a black hole? Where do they come from? How do we know for sure that they exist? What would it be like to fall into one? This introduction to black holes covers all the essentials. Suitable for grades 6 through adults.

The Search for Another Earth

Are we alone in the universe? The search for answers to this question is a central theme of modern astronomy. In this talk, I show how astronomers using the latest telescopes such as TESS and JWST are getting closer and closer to being able to declare that we've found "another Earth." Suitable for all ages.

Misconceptions About the Big Bang

The Big Bang Theory is backed by a century of evidence. Yet, it's one of the most frequently misunderstood ideas-- even by experts! In this talk, we'll explore what the Big Bang Theory does and doesn't say about tricky topics such as how and where the universe began, what shape it is, what's outside it, and how it will end. Suitable for grade 9 through adults.

The Lives and Deaths of Stars

Did you know that some of the stars you can see in the sky are younger than our species, while others are nearly as old as the universe itself? In this visually rich talk, we'll use images from the latest telescopes to explore the births, lives, and spectacular deaths of stars. Suitable for all ages.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

As a child, I was enthralled by space. I loved the scale and the majesty of gas giant planets, the drama of exploding stars, and the idea that there might be alien minds out there marveling at it all along with me. All I wanted to be was an astronomer. But by the time I reached grad school, I realized that being an openly gay astronomer wasn't going to be easy.

Ever since then, I've worked to improve diversity and representation in astronomy. As a graduate student, I co-authored possibly the first study of the representation of women in Canadian astronomy. In 2012, I began a collaboration with Dr. Bonaventure Okere of the Center for Basic Space Science in Nigeria that ultimately became become the Pan-African School for Emerging Astronomers. Today, I remain firmly committed to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in my teaching, my public outreach, and my wider service to the astronomy community. Here are some of the projects I've worked on:

Eclipse Glasses for Remote and Indigenous Communities

For the June 2021 solar eclipse that was visible mainly from the north, I distributed eclipse glasses to remote and Indigenous communities across Canada. The glasses themselves were accompanied by instructional materials in English, French, and several Indigenous languages (a project run in collaboration with Discover the Universe.)

SpaceTime - Black History Month Edition

In 2018, I launched SpaceTime, a family-friendly version of our popular Astronomy on Tap event series. SpaceTime is hosted in Regent Park, a historically Black neighbourhood in Toronto. For our first event, we celebrated Black History Month.

Mentoring Low-Income and Marginalized Students

For several years, I have organized summer mentorships and research experiences for low-income and marginalized youth in collaboration with Visions of Science.

Multilingual Outreach Materials

As public outreach coordinator for the Dunlap Institute (until 2022), I emphasized distributing outreach materials in as many languages as possible, to accommodate the cultural diversity of our Toronto audience. Shown here are some of the materials we distributed for the 2012 transit of Venus. Crowd-sourcing translations from within your department is a great way to get this done economically, while engaging your colleagues in outreach.

Contact Me

David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics
50 St. George St.
Toronto, Ontario
M5S 3H4