Liverpool Telescope team scoop Institute of Physics award

Colleagues who run a project to enable schoolchildren across the UK to star-gaze, have collected 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, sited in the Canary Islands.

For its role in democratising access to astronomical data, the team earned the Institute of Physics Gold Medal for public engagement, previously won by Professor Brian Cox, Professor Jim Al-Khalili and Dr Sharon Ann Holgate.

They were given the award at the IOP Summer Festival  'A celebration of physics at Silverstone, the home of the British Grand Prix and MotoGP. 

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 webs 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. LJMU is currently planning a much larger facility – the New Robotic Telescope – to take science into the 2030s and beyond.”

The Observatory 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. 



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