Astrophysics and Space Research: Public Outreach

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.

Upcoming Events

Coming up! Astronomy in the City
Astronomy in the City is back for a new season of astronomy talks, observing, tea and biscuits and your chance to ask us all your astronomical questions! The first event is 18 October 2017, where you can hear all about the latest gravitational wave news from our LIGO team. For more information and to book tickets visit here. Future events this season will be on 22 November 2017, 24 January 2018 and 7 March 2018.

News & Recent Events

Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition
At the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in July 2017 we presented our exhibition "Listening to Einstein's Universe" alongside several other universities. The exhibition showcased gravitational-wave science with interactive and hands-on demonstrations for all ages.

Image credit: Hannah Middleton Image credit: Hannah Middleton

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.

Image credit: Andreas Freise Image credit: Andreas Freise

Astronomy in the City
Astronomy in the City runs throughout the winter, and so the current season has ended. To keep up to date with upcoming events please join our mailing list mailing list or follow us on Twitter and facebook.

TEDxBrum
On 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.

 Image credit: Hannah Middleton

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.

Over 400 people came to the gravitational wave detection event on 17 February 2016. Image credit: Hannah Middleton We have detected gravitational waves! Christopher Berry presenting the results in the Elgar Concert Hall, of the Bramall Music Building. Image credit: Hannah Middleton Our own table top laser interferometer at the University of Birmingham. Image credit: Hannah Middleton

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.

Ongoing Activities

Hands-on Activities

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.

Online Material

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 Master, the classic game Pong 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.

Past Events

The group has participated in a wide-range of different activities in the past. An (incomplete) list of events we have been involved with:

Space Time Quest. Image credit: Paul Fulda


Page last updated August 2017

University of Birmingham Observatory Image credit: Maggie Lieu


Lycra Universe. Image courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust. Photographer: Anthea Bevan


School visit 2011. Image credit: Andreas Freise


Bending space-time at the Thinktank. Image courtesy of Birmingham Museums Trust. Photographer: Anthea Bevan


Playing Black Hole Pong! Image credit: Andreas Freise


Space Time Quest screenshot. Build your own gravitational wave detector! Image credit: Paul Fulda


University of Birmingham Observatory. Image credit: Maggie Lieu


Eclipse sequence from Birmingham cathedral using solar eclipse viewing glasses. Image credit: Hannah Middleton


Using a colander as a pin hole camera. Image credit: Hannah Middleton


Space-time demonstratons at the partial eclipse. Image credit: Hannah Middleton

Image credit: Andreas Freise


Pint of Science 2017. Image credit: Andreas Freise


Transit of Mercury across the Sun in 2016. Image credit: Hannah Middleton


Black Hole Master screenshot. Image: laserlabs.itch.io


Grub Telescope at the University of Birmingham. Image credit: Maggie Lieu