Bring Science to your Home with Armagh Observatory and Planetarium

Lead Research Organisation: Armagh Observatory and Planetarium
Department Name: Astronomy

Abstract

Science has never been so important. In a world challenged by public health and environmental crises, science provides the basis for responding to these and other challenges. Decisions made by governments and agencies need to be informed by the best science available and the public must have confidence that it is. There is therefore an essential need to communicate science and to explain how it works - whereby evidence is gathered, analysed and assessed - before decisions are made. There is a need to convey the complexity of issues, that understanding is rarely complete, that decisions need to be made based on the best available data, and that choices may change as deeper insights develop. Above all, and despite the complexity of the issues, the messages need to be delivered with clarity, and be tailored for a diverse range of audiences.

Our aim is to show how science matters to everyone and to spark an interest in the potential scientists of tomorrow through a range of science experiments that can be conducted at school or home that will inspire society to participate in and start asking questions about science. In fact, while the coronavirus pandemic rightfully has the full attention of government today, beyond it lies the even greater challenge of climate change, its impact on the environment, the consequences for society and the question of how humanity responds.

Through an App that we will develop, that builds upon our current online science-at-home programme in response to the COVID-19 lockdown, accompanied by a printed book, we will have experiments looking at these important topics and other areas of STFC science. We want our product to be local and to reflect the science that is also being done at Armagh Observatory and Planetarium (AOP) which links in with STFC science, tapping also into the 50-years-reputation of AOP as a research-informed centre for the understanding of Astronomy. Our education team and PhD students will work on the 50 science experiments to showcase in the book and record them for the App. Our target audience will be learning about science but also how this is done locally on their doorstep and how they can make a difference should they choose a STEM career all whilst having fun through the example of our research students. The experiments will be aimed towards the "wonder" target of 8-14 year olds.

Our goal is to reach families with low science capital either through the technology of the App or through a physical book and by giving two mediums we aim to reach a greater audience. To achieve this we will give a free book and link to the App to every Primary 7 teacher in Northern Ireland (Approx. 850) with information for their families on the downloadable free App. Furthermore, we will concentrate and target areas of social deprivation through outreach visits in community centres where free books will be distributed, the App promoted and our outreach mobile dome will be used for science movies and for showcasing a selection of the experiments. We understand that we have difficult times ahead due to COVID-19 and as a plan B we can conduct video conferencing calls with communities to develop the outreach aspect of the project should large gatherings not be advisable at that time. Through the book and App, we want to secure a legacy of the project and this will be achievable by teachers having the physical copy in schools to use in years to come. It will promote AOP and STFC and will be a tool to create conversations around science.

By completing this project, which will have local links and focus on STFC science, in the longer term we aim to increase schools and public visits to our facility, increase our social media following and make links with every primary school in Northern Ireland. To enable us to reach our goals of providing science to hard-to-reach audiences and to create a spark in 8-14 year olds we require STFC funding. Without the funding our project could not go ahead.

Planned Impact

We will send an experiment book to every Primary 7 teacher and every special school in Northern Ireland which equates to approx. 850 books. Within the pack that we are sending the school we will include details of the App and where to download for the teacher to disseminate to the pupils so that parents can have access to the App to enhance our reach and their learning. We will encourage teachers to share details of the App to fellow teaching colleagues who would be interested.

With our outreach element of the project we will target deprived areas, giving a further 1150 books to the community through three outreach events. At these outreach events staff will be available for questions on the experiments, the book and the App. Staff will be able to help families download the App and demonstrate some of the experiments. Through this will make links with community leaders and build a rapport with families. We will encourage word of mouth advertising for the App through the community outreach engagement.

The App will be available for free download on the play store and App store for anyone that wishes to download it. Links will be prominently displayed on our website and on our social media channels with instructions on how the App works. We will use our 16,000 Facebook following as well as our growing Instagram and Twitter audience to promote the App. We will continually promote the project in our building to customers through advertising on our TV screens in the exhibition area, by handing our leaflets and through word of mouth.

We currently use a PR company and they will be engaged to advertise and promote the App to local and national media outlets. The company will arrange radio interviews of local media and will test the national market for interest in interviews as well as local TV. As the project will show how science has continued through the COVID-19 pandemic and the innovation of adapting to the climate through bringing astronomy content online and learning in a virtual world, there will be interest in how we have overcome challenges and kept our audience engaged. Thus the App and the book will be of interest to news outlets. The details of how to download the App will be shared with communicated to these organisations. We will also utilise STEM influencers to use the App and try the book of experiments. The Influencers can target their audience to try the App and can help us to reach fellow scientists and educators in a quick form of communication through social media - in particular Instagram and Twitter. We have links with many STEM ambassadors and Influencers across Ireland and the UK which can enable us to reach a huge audience base. The PR company will also target this form of communication as they have many links within the Influencer market with STEM, Science and the Family audience of influencers.

We will have an email address for families, educators and scientists to contact if they have any questions or queries regarding the science and experiments.

Through our own networks and in particular our astronomers and researchers in the Observatory we will communicate to fellow scientists on the project and share resources and ideas. Our researchers are world-renowned and have many links internationally which will give our project a huge reach.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Set of girl/boy/pet Mascot for Armagh Observatory & Planetarium 
Description With an extra 3,000 of end-of-year funding from STFC that we have added to the original value of this grant we have produced a set of three 3D graphic characters that featured in our The Big Book of Experiments and bright ideas book. These include a boy, girl and a dog mascot in astronaut suit in various poses. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact These 3D mascots will also be used in the future events, leaflets and planetarium shows at the Armagh Planetarium. Their features were also designed to appear signal of message of inclusivity. 
 
Description Collaboration with Library NI 
Organisation Libaries NI
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Our planetarium team has reach out to the Library NI department, who would welcome a copy of our Big Boog of Experiment and Bright Ideas in each public library in Northern Ireland.
Collaborator Contribution Welcoming a copy of our STFC-funded book in each public library in NI. This agreement was reached in March 2022 so the project is still on going.
Impact This will yet to be assessed but we will monitor with Libraries NI the number of time this STFC-funded book has been freely borrowed.
Start Year 2022
 
Description Official Launch of Big Book of Experiments and Bright Ideas 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We organised at the Armagh Planetarium an official launch event for the production and distribution at each NI primary school of the STFC-funded Big Book of Experiments and Bright Ideas on Dec 16 2021. At the event we invited the NI Education Minister Michelle McIlveen and Campbell College students who got a sneak preview of the book. The event was followed on NI media and advertised on our own Social Media.

e,g, https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/education/countdown-to-launch-of-planetariums-new-science-book-for-children-41158375.html
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021