Big Telescopes: Big Science


STFC logoThis multi-faceted project was developed by a collaboration of Jodrell Bank educators and research scientists and was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). The core aim of this project is to give both children and adults an insight into the huge scope of modern astronomy. Why do we build big telescopes? How do they observe objects in deep space? What science is being achieved?

The project has three strands: a vibrant new exhibition at the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, the development of two new lessons for school students aged 11-16 and a kit of hands-on equipment for a public audience that can be used at Jodrell Bank and at external events.

The exhibition was unveiled ready for the February half term in 2014. It showcases some of the largest telescopes around the world and uses a number of interactive exhibits to communicate some complicated, yet awe-inspiring science and engineering concepts. For example, included is the story of the early work at Jodrell Bank in the 1950s on combining telescopes into networks to boost their power and how this evolved into modern telescope networks. Today astronomers use massive arrays of telescopes spread across countries, continents and even out into space. This allows them to see more clearly, deeper into space and further back in time than ever before.

The two lessons for school students that were produced are ‘Gravity’ for Key Stage 3 (ages 11-13) and ‘Exoplanets’ for Key Stage 4 (ages 14-16). Both lessons focus on current areas of astronomical research being done with big telescopes, and also link to statutory parts of the National Curriculum. Above all they are intended to inspire students with the scope and ambition of modern astronomy. Both these lessons are available for teachers to download below for free. Included are detailed lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and instructions on carrying out a number of practical investigations. Alternatively, if for example schools lack the necessary equipment, teachers can book these lessons as workshops delivered at Jodrell Bank as part of our education programme.

Finally the kit of hands-on equipment is used as part of Jodrell Bank’s summer holiday family activities (we launched this in 2014). The activities are proving to be very popular for family audiences and children of all ages. Some of the concepts include light of different colours and wavelengths, the shape of curved mirrors to magnify images, galactic magnetic fields and some ‘sounds’ from space taken from real data. We will utilise this kit a lot in the future, either at Jodrell Bank or at external events and will develop resources so that other Science and Discovery Centres can easily source their own version of these activities to run.

The Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre has enjoyed the opportunity to run this project. It now allows us to reach more individuals and has expanded our ability to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Professor Tim O’Brien, Associate Director of the Jodrell Bank Observatory said, “Our research here is far-reaching and often people don’t have a chance to appreciate the scope, in terms both of the technology and the huge level of international collaboration that takes place between scientists”. Big Telescopes: Big Science is certainly helping us do that.

 Gravity: lesson resources (for KS3)

Exoplanets: lesson resources (for KS4)