Schools Observatory wins Institute of Physics Gold Medal

A LJMU project to enable schoolchildren across the UK to explore the universe for themselves, has won a prestigious award for the communication of science.

The Schools' Observatory, based in the Astrophysics Research Institute, gives school-age youngsters easy access to The Liverpool Telescope, the world’s largest fully-robotic telescope, which is sited in the Canary Islands.

Today (Oct 16) the  project won the Institute of Physics Gold Medal for public engagement, previously won by Professor Brian Cox, Professor Jim Al-Khalili and Dr Sharon Ann Holgate.

The Institute of Physics jury said: “The School’s Observatory (TSO) is awarded for an outstanding contribution to inspiring young people and teachers to succeed in their STEM journey, making the universe accessible to everyone, empowering people to know more and do more.”

For the past 15 years, TSO has enabled young people to view the wonders of the universe in class or even in the comfort of their homes. In that time, the telescope has taken 200,000 images of space for students and giving the observatory 4 million web hits last year and 21,000 active users.

A newly-updated website called AstroLab allows students in science classes or at home even simpler access to all the latest imagery and data.

“It’s amazing to be able to use AstroLab in the classroom direct from the browser without any worry about installing software,” said Peter Briggs, Assistant Head at St Laurence’s Catholic Primary School, Kirkby.

The website contains over 100 activities for independent learners to explore their place in the universe and offers curriculum-linked lesson plans for teachers and the team offers a series of regular events including a Christmas Lecture and Work Experience Week.

Research shows that students who engage with TSO develop skills to think critically, handle data and become technologically literate. A Sheffield Hallam University evaluation described the project as “one of the most significant educational initiatives in the STEM field linked to a higher education institution”.

The Liverpool Telescope is one of Merseyside’s leading scientific assets and is regularly at the cutting edge of astronomical breakthroughs such as the discovery of supernovae and the role of magnetic fields in the creation of the Universe.

The team consists of Dr Stacey Habergham-Mawson, Dr Emma Smith, Alison Keen, Dr Jenifer Claydon, Dr Christopher Leigh, Dr Vicki Last and Professor Andrew Newsam. 

Professor Ndy Ekere, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Engineering and Technology at LJMU said: “This is a fantastic achievement and worthy recognition for a project which makes a tangible and everyday impact into science education in this country.

“Space science is hugely popular among youngsters and gives them an inspiring insights into not only physics but chemistry, biology, mathematics and engineering.

“Well done to Stacey, Andy and the team.”  


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