Real Science Pulsar Workshop at Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre

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


The University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre (JBDC) has been created in order to meet public demand for access to the Jodrell Bank Observatory (JBO) site. It is now a highly renowned science outreach and public engagement facility attracting 150,000 visitors a year. Since opening in 2011, it has received a number of Awards
JBDC has a widely-acclaimed Education Programme that welcomes 21,000 school pupils (aged 3-18) per year. It operates an extensive set of workshops aimed at inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers that cover Early years, Key Stage 1 through to 4 and Post-16. JBDC is currently at capacity (it is now, at the end of April 2016, booking schools for the new academic year in September as it has no space left in this academic year). In order to address this, it is working on an ambitious project to create more space and has recently been awarded £12million from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards this work.

JBO is home to the Lovell Telescope, the third-largest fully steerable radio telescope in the World, an iconic and active research instrument. JBO, which is part of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in the University of Manchester's School of Physics and Astronomy, produces world-leading research in various astronomical domains. One of these areas is pulsar astronomy, which involves the high precision timing of pulsars to test theories of general relativity and as part of a timing network to detect gravitational waves. Since they were first discovered in 1967 by Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, JBO has played an important, internationally-leading, role in pulsar astronomy.

The STFC Public Engagement Strategic Plan outlines the importance of students collecting their own data and performing analysis to achieve a scientific result with "emphasis on experience with hands-on real-science". A good example of this is the Institute for Research In Schools, set up by Dr. Becky Parker to provide the opportunity for students to undertake authentic new research including the CERN@school project. This project is informed by this work, and by early experience at JBDC of working with real data for 'A' level groups.

We aim to design and trial a workshop that will allow students studying A-level physics to experience and perform 'real science' with pulsar data from the Lovell Telescope. The workshop will fit within the A-level curriculum and be enjoyable, informative and inspiring. The experience will be designed to introduce students to how real and world-leading research is performed and for them to experience first hand the element of discovery that is part of scientific research. The workshop will encourage the study of physics and astronomy into further education and also highlight science research as a career option. Sally (see below) will also be a good female role model, something that is proven to encourage younger women to decide to pursue a career in STEM subjects.

The project will fit within the theme of 'Big Telescopes' and showcase current and leading pulsar research including important pulsar discoveries and gravitational wave research. We aim to include A-level students and teachers in the research process and community as well as aiding researchers by producing worthwhile science. This fits within the JBDC Vision to inspire scientists of the future, aligns with the STFC Public Engagement Strategic Plan, and provides support for the Government's Science and Innovation Strategy and to the national STEM skills agenda.

Planned Impact

Schools will be invited to book trial workshops through the JBDC dedicated Post-16 school database. The legacy of the project will be boosted by the use of Teacher Resource sharing forums, such as the European Space Education Resource Office or TES (ours can be found here: We would also make the workshop available for download from our own website. A reasonable estimate for teacher downloads is on the order of 1000 per year. The reach of the project will be greatly increased by not using live science (i.e. having a data set that teachers can download). The JBDC has a large reaching social media network and advertisement and updates will be reported as the project progresses.

The success and learning points of the project will be shared in a Public Engagement Paper that will detail best practice and impact of the project. This may also be presented at conferences such as the National Astronomy Meeting and Science Communication conferences. It is intended that future work at JBDC will build upon this project, further increasing the dissemination.


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