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.


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