Big Science - Big Telescopes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre


The aim of this project is to excite and inspire 11-16 year olds, their families and the general public by engaging them with the 'Big Science' carried out with the 'Big Telescopes' funded by STFC such as the VLT, ALMA, e-MERLIN, E-ELT and SKA etc.
The project will produce an exciting exhibit at the new Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre on the site of the Jodrell Bank Observatory and the Lovell Telescope - a site that is also soon to be home to the International HQ of the Square Kilometre Array. The exhibit will be created in parallel with new lesson plans, exciting 'Hands On' activities that can be used in other Science Centres and in Schools and online resources that can be downloaded for use away from the Centre.
The project team will be working with staff at all STFC 'Big Telescopes' and will support networking between teams both nationally and internationally.


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Description The outcomes of this Public Engagement project are entirely 'non-academic'. The project produced : 1. An exhibition at the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre (with which circa 160,000 visitors per year interact); 2. A set of two lesson plans (for KS3 and KS4) on Gravity and Exoplanets (delivered to 373 pupils at the time of writing and downloaded 3241 times, with a 5 star rating from teachers who have done so); 3. A set of 'Hands-on kit' which can be used for demonstrations, workshops and science shows, which is now a supplementary part of the 'Explore your Universe' project
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description 'Hands-on Activity Box' (no appropriate option on drop-down menu below) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A hands-on activity box relating to Big Telescopes has been devised. A full list of all components of the box can be found in Appendix 2 and includes props for demonstrating the principles behind the structure and science of big telescopes.

The equipment allows participants to
• discover how telescopes can collect light
• find out how the invisible universe can be imaged
• investigate spectra to find out how astronomers are able to identify the composition of the universe
• experiment with magnetic fields
• simulate how massive objects distort space

The activity box is available for use to engage visitors to the Discovery Centre in the following ways:
• as the basis of a holiday activity session for families. These were piloted between 28 July and 1st August as part of a week long programme of engagement activities dedicated to Big Telescopes. It was organised as a circus of activities in the Discovery Centre's Events space and facilitated by one of our Explainer staff. This approach builds on previous experience with the 'Explore Your Universe' activity box (summer 2013) developed through partnership between the STFC and ASDC and Wellcome Trust 'In the Zone' activity box (summer 2012).
• providing additional materials highlighting research activities to A level students. The Discovery Centre currently delivers syllabus-based sessions on 'Radio Telescopes' and a new A level session is currently under development. Consultation with teachers shows a requirement that delivery to these groups be rooted in their course curriculum but with clear links to current research as students are considering university applications and career prospects
• as part of our current Widening Participation programme
• demonstrations for use when delivering talks for booked groups

The implementation of this activity box augments the Centre's existing practice and is delivered by a public facing team who are experienced in successfully delivering science engagement using a hands-on approach. The activities and equipment details are currently being formatted to fit into the framework of the 'Explore Your Universe' project as additional resources, adding value in terms of expanding the areas of STFC science covered by the 'Explore Your Universe' project. All additional resources are available to download from the 'Explore Your Universe' website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
Description Exhibition created at Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre (no appropriate option in drop-down list below) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A vibrant exhibition that will showcase the ideas surrounding Big Telescopes (both existing and currently in development)
This has reached over 260,000 visitors to date (i.e. between Jan 2014 and March 2016)

The 'Big Telescopes, Big Science!' exhibition opened in January 2014 and is located in the Discovery Centre's Space Pavilion, utilising a previously unused section of interpretation space. Including an exposition of the requirement for and advantages of big telescopes, it incorporates interactive exhibits and digital content which invite visitors to discover how, through cooperation across the global community of engineers and astronomers Big Telescopes are being developed to expand the frontiers of knowledge and understanding of our universe. A range of new exhibits were commissioned, comprising of the following:

• 'Bigger is better' -Illustrating how observing begins with the eye and how all telescopes are in some way an extension of the eye's capabilities. Look at your eye in a mirror and see how your pupil dilates when light intensity is decreased. The accompanying interpretation draws a parallel with telescope sensitivity illustrating how having a big telescope is like having a bigger pupil and how larger telescope apertures allow us to see fainter and therefore often more distant objects
• Anatomy of a telescope - a reflecting telescope with transparent perspex tube revealing how a simple telescope collects light using a curved mirror
• Multiwavelength astronomy: Touch screen showing how telescopes operating at wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum collect radiation which can then be combined with optical data to give a more complete picture of the Universe and show many phenomena which are literally invisible
• 'Using more than one telescope' and 'Many telescopes working as one' - This exhibit highlights how the technique of interferometry allows astronomers to circumvent the engineering problem of building enormous individual telescopes. Visitors investigate the interferometry technique by manipulating the number and arrangement of individual telescopes in an array and viewing the resulting image. This exhibit illustrates the versatility of interferometers for zooming in to see detail or showing the large scale structure of objects in space. Accompanying interpretation charts the pioneering of this technique at the early Jodrell Bank Observatory and Jodrell Bank's current role as a partner in European and global endeavours such as e-MERLIN and the Square Kilometre Array
• Large digital projections of films created by various Big Telescope institutions, such as ESO. These show how international collaboration has been pivotal to the success of ventures such as ALMA and the VLT, partly because of the physical environment required for different types of telescope (such as optical telescopes being located on mountains, radio telescopes away from interference) but also due to the sharing of expertise and resources. The films also feature some of the scientists from across the globe and the projects they are undertaking with big telescopes such as: mapping the stars of the Milky Way galaxy, observing how planets form around young stars, detecting water and organic molecules in young planetary discs, observing the evolution of distant stars and galaxies in the (therefore) early universe, creating an inventory of the changing content of the elements of the Universe, detecting exoplanets and testing the theory of general relativity.
• 'Big telescopes, global science' - a wall map showing the location of some of the world's biggest observatories, illustrating the UK's role as a key player in a truly international endeavour
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
Description Lesson plans (design and delivery) for KS3 and KS4 (no appropriate option on drop-down menu below) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Lesson plans exploring a range of scientific and engineering aspects of the telescope projects and their science.
A comprehensive set of Teacher's Notes has been developed for both sessions. These include an equipment list and presentation which is available to download from our website and is also available on teacher forums such as TES and Guardian Teaching.
To date there have been 5020 downloads of the Big Telescopes lessons from the TES website.
Details below :

Two brand new lessons have been developed and will be offered as part of the Centre's educational programme from September 2014: 'Gravity' (for KS3) and 'Exoplanets' (for KS4). Both sessions utilise hands-on practical activities which simulate real experiments in order to link classroom experience with actual research science undertaken by big telescopes. The scope of the lesson plans was originally intended to link to telescope operations, suggesting live link ups with STFC-funded astronomers and engineers across the world but this proved unfeasible in practice. The topics were chosen for their relevance to the national curriculum but also as they are subjects in which students are interested but about which there are common misconceptions.

Gravity lesson (KS3):
Students learn the basis of the Newtonian theory of gravity and perform an investigation into the strength of gravity on Earth before moving on to use a 3D model of gravity, similar to the model of General Relativity put forward by Einstein. They learn how big telescopes are testing Einstein's model and investigating the effects of gravity across the universe.

Exoplanets lesson (KS4):
Students are introduced to the use of telescopes for astronomy across the whole electromagnetic spectrum. They learn about the need for big telescopes and their advantages before focussing on how big telescopes are used to hunt for exoplanets. Students perform a simulation of the transit method of detecting exoplanets either in a practical activity, or by analysing real astronomical data, going on to manipulate mathematical equations to calculate the size and orbital distance of their exoplanet. Finally the lesson concludes by considering the big question: are we alone in the universe?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016