Space invaders – lecturers bring the universe into schools

University lecturers from the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) brought a taste of astronomy and astrophysics into a junior school classroom yesterday. Children at Charles Dickens Junior School learned about galaxies and the beginning of the universe from University lecturers who revealed deep space to young minds.

Dr Claudia Maraston, Dr Daniel Thomas and Dr Jen Gupta talking to Maiesha Ahmed (9), Jack Beque (9) and Faye Thomas (9) about the planets.

The workshop for year 6 pupils began with an introduction to the mysteries surrounding the beginning of the universe, using inflatable planets to look at our own solar system. They investigated and measured how far away the planets are from each other by marking their relative distances using lengths of till roll paper.

The youngsters also looked at different types of galaxies and spent time classifying galaxies online, just like Galaxy Zoo, an online citizen science project where members of the public classify pictures of galaxies.

In the final experiment pupils had first-hand experience of ‘infrared astronomy’ and learned how astronomers study space using a thermal camera. This activity used a thermal camera to demonstrate how astronomers use telescopes sensitive to different types of light to find out more about the Universe. The pupils looked at everyday objects through the camera and had the opportunity to see themselves in infrared.

Dr Claudia Maraston, who hosted the workshop with Dr Daniel Thomas and Dr Jen Gupta, all of ICG, said that it had been rewarding to see how engaged the children were with the subject.

“The pupils were captivated by the subject and by the activities we involved them with. They were overwhelmingly enthusiastic and we took dozens of questions at the end.

“When we asked them who wanted to come to university and be a scientist there was a huge show of hands. We were delighted it went so well and it makes the effort involved very worthwhile.”

Dr Daniel Thomas showing Robbie Knight (10) about Galaxy Zoo in one of the workshops

Dr Daniel Thomas showing Robbie Knight (10) about Galaxy Zoo in one of the workshops

The workshop was one of the many schools workshops undertaken by ICG in conjunction with the University’s Education Liaison team which runs the ‘UP for it Juniors’ scheme promoting university education to youngsters.

An art competition for children to produce drawings of planets is being hosted on the ‘UP for It Juniors’ website in the run up to Christmas. The drawings will be used at the 2014 National Astronomical Meeting which is being held at the University of Portsmouth for the first time next year.


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