The hunt for life beyond Earth: a co-ordinated school and adult outreach programme

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


Astrobiology is a new field of science, dealing with the possibility of life beyond the Earth. It is deeply interdisciplinary, and pulls together the threads of many different fields of science: geology, biochemistry, microbiology, robotic exploration, planetary science and astrophysics, the last few of which represent core STFC areas. Astrobiology research potentially offers knowledge of profound societal importance - the discovery of extraterrestrial life in our solar system, or perhaps signs of life in the atmospheres of distant plants orbiting other stars. Such a discovery, and the realisation that we are not alone in the cosmos, would be as fundamentally important as realising that the Earth isn't flat, or that it is the Earth that orbits the sun not visa versa.

I also find that astrobiology is a compellingly effective means for engaging diverse members of society with current scientific research - work that they have paid for with their taxes, and which is crucial to continue supporting, especially during times of economic hardship. People have a great innate interest in the search for life beyond the Earth. Thirdly, astrobiology is a wonderfully successful way of inspiring school children with the rewards of science, and highlights just how multidisciplinary and inter-linked modern research is. This is important for society in encouraging students to study STEM (science, technology and maths) subjects at school and then choosing a career. We live in a deeply technological and numerical society, and yet the numbers of university applications for STEM degrees are slumping.

It is for all these reasons that I believe astrobiology and space exploration are of great importance within both science and society, and over the past handful of years I have been striving hard to engage both school students and the general public with the cutting edge of research. With a STFC Science in Society fellowship I will have the devoted time and resources to be able to expand and grow this activity.

I propose to focus on three key projects over the three years of the fellowship:

1 Extending the number of public events and live shows I deliver to just over 50, reaching a calculated 3,900 people every year. I would also like to develop several new shows over the course of the fellowship, to highlight different aspects of astrobiology space exploration
2 Expanding my mass media involvement beyond the live radio and TV interviews, and TV documentary appearances that have achieved so far. With some of my time bought-out by the STFC SiS fellowship I would like to focus on preparing pitches for mainstream TV documentaries about astrobiology to be commissioned.
3 Completing my third popular science book. With the opportunity a STFC SiS fellowship offers to devote a portion of my time to science writing I would like to focus on researching and writing a major new science book for the public. This book has already been signed to large international publishers, including Penguin, so will reach a very wide audience worldwide, and will look at the interrelationship between crucial scientific principles and the technological advances they enable.


10 25 50
Description This is not a research grant
Exploitation Route This is not a research grant
Sectors Education

Description This is a Science in Society fellowship for outreach and engagement. There are no findings
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Combined outreach activities - I have delivered ~50 events Apr2013-Apr2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Over the past year, I have reached a total audience of 8,500. These events invariable trigger a lively discussion and Q&A session, as well as emails and tweets from students/interested members of the public in the following days and weeks.

Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
Description Combined outreach activities - I have delivered ~50 events Apr2014-Nov2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Between Apr2014 and Nov2014 of my STFC Science in Society Fellowship, I delivered 80 events at 50 different venues, reaching a total audience of 9,050 people (split between school students, teachers, parents, and general members of the public). Most events sparked a vibrant questions and answer session afterwards

Impacts after these events include discussion through social media such as FaceBook and Twitter, and the feedback from teachers is invariably that their students have been greatly enthused by the event and have declared greater interest in the subject afterwards
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014