The Astrophysics & Space Research Group at Birmingham has a wide range of regular outreach programmes and public engagement activities aimed at school students, science teachers and the general public, some of which are detailed below. The group's activities are coordinated by an enthusiastic team, if you have any questions, please contact us via email (astronomy[at]star.sr.bham.ac.uk) or Twitter (@UoBObservatory). We also actively participate in the outreach programme of the School of Physics and Astronomy, which is coordinated by Maria Pavlidou.
News & Upcoming Events
Astronomy in the City Astronomy in the City is a series of (free) public events, each packed with astrophysics; stargazing, and tea and biscuits. Evenings begin with talks covering astronomical highlights and recent research, and a question-and-answer session (for everything from beginner's questions about the night sky to the latest work done here in Birmingham). Afterwards, if the weather cooperates, we have observing with telescopes on campus with members of the University's Astrosoc and the Birmingham Astronomy Society. A lucky few will be taken out to the University's Observatory and our powerful telescope.
Astronomy in the City runs throughout the winter, dates for this season are 19 October 2016, 23 November 2016, 25 January 2017 and 8 March 2017. To keep up to date with upcoming events please join our mailing list mailing list or follow us on Twitter and facebook.
Thinktank Exhibit In the summer of 2016, we opened a brand new exhibit at the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum, celebrating the detection of gravitational waves. Visitors can interact with a model version of the large gravitational wave detectors, using laser light to reveal tiny vibrations and also learn more about black holes and gravitational waves, through material prepared by students from our group. Find out more.
TEDxBrumOn 11 June 2016, Alberto Vecchio and Andreas Freise gave a talk at TEDxBrum on their work within the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and on researching gravitational waves. You can watch a recording of their talk on YouTube.
Discovery of Gravitational Waves!
On 17 February 2016, the Astrophysics and Space Research Group held a special event to celebrate the discovery of gravitational waves 100 years after Albert Einstein's prediction and the beginning of a new era of astronomy. As part of the global LIGO Scientific Collaboration, scientists from the University of Birmingham have confirmed a major prediction of Einstein's theory of general relativity through the detection of gravitational waves! Find out more about Gravitational Wave Astronomy at the University of Birmingham.
Laser Labs Games
We often use games in our outreach activities. Memebers of the group have now founded the spin-off company Laser Labs to update our apps and to bring them to popular mobile app stores (iOS and Android). Our first two apps are now available: try Pocket Black Hole to play with the light bending properties of a black hole and download Stretch and Squash to find our how gravitational waves affect things.
Congratulations to AstroSoc on being nominated in multiple categories for the College of Engineering & Physical Sciences' Societies' Awards. The awards celebrate the achievements of our student societies, and the nominations for AstroSoc are well deserved for all their outreach activities. We are especially grateful for all their help with Astronomy in the City.
Partial solar eclipse
We joined Birmingham Cathedral's 300th anniversary celebrations to view the partial solar eclipse on 20th March. The eclipse began at 8:25am, peaked at 9:31am, and finished at 10:41am. We were lucky to have a clear sky for most of the eclipse and many people joined us at the cathedral to get a view of the Sun using solar viewing glasses and pin hole cameras or colanders!
2015 also marked the 100th anniversary of Einstein's theory of General Relativity. The prediction that the path of light can be bent around a massive object was tested by Eddington in 1919 by measuring the change in apparent position of stars close to the Sun during a solar eclipse.
The group frequently run workshops and events which can be adapted for a wide range of audiences. We host masterclasses for school visits, ranging from key stage 3 to key stage 5; we visit science festivals and fairs, and we are a staple at open days. Many of our demonstrations, like the ever-popular Lycra Universe, have their origins in our exhibition Looking for Black Holes with Lasers. Some of our recent activities are listed below.
We have a wide range of online resources and downloadable material for those who want to learn (or teach) about astrophysics, or just want to have fun. These range from an eBook on graviational waves and a micro-site on X-ray astronomy (in particular the XMM-Newton satellite), to free games such as Space-Time Quest where you can build your own graviational-wave detector and Black Hole Pong, the classic game with a twist! A full range gravitational-wave resources can be found via gwoptics.
Astronomy in the City
Throughout the year we run a series of special public events. Each Astronomy in the City is an evening packed with astrophysics; stargazing, and tea and biscuits. Learn about astrophysics and astronomy with talks on this month's night sky and current research; a question and answer session with our friendly expert panel, and the chance to observe (weather permitting) with the University of Birmingham Astronomical Society's portable telescopes and the University's historic Grubb telescope. A lucky few will have the opportunity to visit the University's Observatory and see its half-metre telescope. Of course, there'll be our usual hands-on activities too. These events are supported by a community partnership between us, the Astronomy Society, Birmingham Astronomical Society, Knowle Astronomical Society and Solihull School.
The group has participated in a wide-range of different activities in the past. An (incomplete) list of events we have been involved with:
- Astrophysics workshops & masterclasses: We regularly organise activities for school students, using the resources of the Astrolab and our hands-on demonstrations. Most recently, we have hosted year 9–11 students for a workshop to coincide with BritGrav 15; year 10 and 11 students for Physics Experience Week; year 10 students for Discovery Day, and year 9 students for Girls in STEM Day. These are primarily organised through the Schools Liason Officer.
- Science fairs and school visits: We venture outside of the University to attend a variety of festivals and other events. Some highlights include Teen Take-over at Thinktank; the Think Corner pop-up shop; the Cheltenham Science Festival (2013); the Gravity Fields Festival (2012, 2016); the Big Bang Fair (2014, 2015); the WINGS 2014 international scouts and guides jamboree, and the Pint of Science Festival (2015, 2016) in Birmingham. We have helped out regularly at the British Science Festival, with demonstrations, classes and talks; in 2010 (where we debuted our exhibition Looking for Black Holes with Lasers) and 2014 this was at the University of Birminigham, so it was especially convenient. We also visit local schools. Simon Stevenson has given a lunchtime talk at
King Edward VI Camp Hill School, Christopher Berry gave a talk at King Edward VI Five Ways to coincide with the opening of their observatory, and Maggie Lieu has given a Skype call to Selsdon Primary School & Nursery, London on exploring Mars! Michaela Nelson, with support from the Royal Society, ran a project on electromagnetism at Perrifeilds Primary School constructing a small wind turbine. We gave a talk and workshop for school physics teachers at the IOP Physics Big Day Out at Cosford. A group of our PhD students gave talks and showed demonstrations at William Brookes School as part of their series of Cafe Scientifique evening events.
- Talks at other venues: Group members regularly deliver popular talks at schools, astronomical societies and other events. Audiences have included the Ogden Trust Physicists of the Year, Birmingham Astronomical Society, Knowle Astronomical Society, and the Federation of Astronomical Societies Convention. Andreas Freise gave a talk at the Royal Institution as part of the IOP's 2013 Physics in Perspective, and Ilya Mandel gave a talk at the Aspen Centre for Physics which you can watch or listen to.
- Talks by guest speakers: The Patrick Moore lecture series organised with the Astronomical Society is a tea, talk and telescope evening with observing when weather permits. Past speakers have included Lucy Hawking, John Brown and Brian Cox. To coincide with BritGrav 15, Prof. Jim Hough gave a guest talk on the science of gravitational-wave detection and what to look forward to in 2015.
- Combining arts and science: Trevor Ponman helped to create an emersive retelling of the history of the Universe featuring poetry, music and a planetarium: e-x-p-a-n-d-i-n-g: The history of the Universe in 45 minutes featured in the Arts & Science Festival, the Wenlock Poetry Festival, the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival and the Birmingham Literature Festival. We have also exhibited at the Birmingham Fun Palace, which celebrates both arts and sciences.
- Online communication and popular writing: The Gravitational Wave Group post short summaries of recent papers for those interested in their research. You can also keep up-to-date with gravitational-wave news from LIGO through the LIGO Magazine, which group members edit and contribute articles too. Jim Barrett took part answering questions in I'm a Scientist get me out of here. Some group members write about science and astronomy in their personal blogs, including Maggie Lieu and Christopher Berry; Andreas Freise shares research-related pictures from his Instagram, and several group members share science stories on Twitter, you can also follow the Obervatory or Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy.
- Work placement for school students: We accept school students for work experience programmes lasting one or two weeks during vacations, to provide them with an early taste of research. This activity is coordinated by the Schools Liaison office.
- Collaboration with ThinkTank: Members of our group have played important roles in planning and running events and exhibitions for ThinkTank, Birmingham's popular museum of science.
- Media coverage: Occassionally stories about our research or outreach activities are covered by the popular press. BBC News reported on the progress of Advanced LIGO following the British Science Festival 2014. BBC Midlands Today has reported on our Stargazing Live activities in 2012 and 2013. Somak Raychaudhury has actively participated in various science programmes on BBC Radio 4, including Stars in their Eyes.
Page last updated November 2016