SpaceJunkies: a comic platform for astronomy engagement

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Abstract

To increase awareness of world-class UK (STFC) astronomy and space research amongst young people aged 11 - 14.

Planned Impact

Marketing and audience reach
The comics will be distributed on the Planet-Science.com website. This website already has a loyal following of young people and regularly attracts around 60,000 unique visitors across the website as a whole, with individual pages receiving 3-6,000 unique visitors. However, the project will seek further awareness through the following 'marketing' activities. Planet Science newsletter: weekly newsletters are provided to registered users, including one for over 11 year olds (2,000 subscribers) and a teacher/parent newsletter (3,000 subscribers). Information about the project will be provided in both newsletters each week that an episode features on the website. This provides an extremely strong starting point from which to grow the project. Regular posts will be made on the Planet Science Twitter and Facebook accounts about the project. Planet Science users will be encouraged to share information about the project through their own social networking (an activity popular with young people). Publicity and promotional opportunities will also be sought with Blue Peter, Stargazing Live, Future Morph, National STEM Centre, STFC Magazine for Schools, ESERO-UK and the UK Space Agency. Links to other websites is important for Google rankings, so organisations such as Science Made Simple and the various Dark Sky groups, will be approached regarding cross promotion on their websites. This combination of promotional tools was effective in securing traffic to the ScienceComics website (see: final report to the EPSRC).

Networking and sharing practice
Details of the project will be presented at the annual BA Science Communication Conference and the National Astronomy Meeting (St. Andrews) in 2013. These are ideal venues to share practice with science communicators and scientists. In addition, the proposed evaluation plan for this project will enable a detailed understanding of the potential of this type of project as a means of engaging young people with physical sciences. As such, the team plan to seek publication of the findings in relevant academic journals, such as Astronomy Education or International Journal of Science Education, Part B. Alternatively, shorter summaries of the evaluation findings could be disseminated in other journals, such as Communicating Astronomy to the Public or Journal of Science Communication, which are open source publications and attract wide readership from practitioners. The project will be promoted to the astronomy educators Jisc mail list, and other relevant forums such as the IoP's PTNC etc. Findings from the evaluation report will be made public on the Science Communication Unit's website and promoted through the University of the West of England's Research Repository.

A long life
Although the project has a relatively short period of intense activity, the resource will be available on the website for much longer, either on the Planet Science website and/or be archived on another suitable website (e.g. The Science Communication Unit website or the National STEM Centre website), ensuring that the materials are available for use in subsequent years. As such, the project will make a long term contribution to the resources available to young people interested in space science and astronomy. The existence of the resource base will be promoted after the end of the project to young people through the regular Planet Science newsletter. Teachers will also be reminded of the resources and encouraged to promote them to students. Although we have emphasised the topicality of the proposed storylines in the late 2012/early 2013 period, future STFC and ESA science programmes would open up the possibility of reusing some or all of the plotlines.

Publications

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