‘There is a bewildering amount of equipment available for astronomy,’ says Dr Mark Nason, Section Leader for Maths, Science and Social Science and Chichester College. So how do scientists choose? This is the question Mark asked of his students, in an astronomy project funded by the Royal Society Partnership Grants scheme. Before even beginning their observation of the planets, A-level science students and vocational science learners participating in Chichester College STEM club collaborated with each other and with professional scientists to research and select a powerful telescope for the school to purchase, enabling them to progress to projects including measuring the speed of light by observing Jupiter’s moons, astrophotography, the discovery of exoplanets and measurement of the orbital velocity of planets.
The students did not work alone. Mark developed relationships with three key scientists, including Dr Chris Arridge, postdoctoral research fellow at University College London and Royal Society Research Fellow, who studies planetary science within our solar system. Chris uses the observations of the Cassini satellite to study the space environment of Saturn, as well working on theoretical modelling of the atmospheres of Saturn and Jupiter. Also supporting were Dr John Mason, from South Downs Planetarium and Science Centre and Dr Karen Masters, research fellow at the Institute of Gravitation and Cosmology at the University of Portsmouth. These scientists offered expert advice to the students in the selection of a telescope, as well as delivering inspiring talks on space themes to members of the STEM club and working with students on a one-to-one intensive basis to support their learning.
The students opted for a Celestron CPC 800 XLT telescope, which transformed their learning about space and the solar system. ‘I have had the most amazing opportunity and I have seen some amazing things,’ says Imogen Warr, and A-level Science student participating in the project. ‘Like a double star and the landscape of the moon in the clearest of detail.’ However, the really unique feature of this project is its ability to unite astronomical and scientific learning with practical project management skills which are just as essential for scientists working on research projects. ‘I have really enjoyed working so closely with a group of people over the time,’ says Imogen, and Mark comments that one of the great strengths of the project is the opportunity afforded to students to ‘gain understanding both the collaborative nature of scientific investigation and the processes involved in administering research funding to achieve maximum value for money’.
The project at Chichester College continues, with community stargazing events where students from local schools are invited to share and learn with the Royal Society-funded equipment, and continuing relationships with scientists, who deliver inspiring talks to new cohorts of students each year.