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] 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.

Image credit: Andreas Freise Image credit: Andreas Freise

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.

Societies' Awards
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.

Eclipse sequence from Birmingham cathedral using solar eclipse viewing glasses. Image credit: Hannah Middleton Pin hole camera at the cathedral. Image credit: Hannah Middleton

Using a colander as a pin hole camera. Image credit: Hannah Middleton Solar eclipse at the Birmingham Cathedral. Image credit: Hannah Middleton Space-time demonstratons at the partial eclipse. Image credit: Hannah Middleton

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 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.

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 November 2016

University of Birmingham Observatory Image credit: Maggie Lieu

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

Black Hole Pong game screenshot. Image:

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

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

University of Birmingham Observatory. Image credit: Maggie Lieu

School visit 2011. Image credit: Andreas Freise

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