The Astronomy Unit participates in many outreach activities with the goals of increasing public awareness of astronomy and encouraging more students to study mathematics and physics at A-level and physics and astronomy at degree level.
The Astronomy Unit is part of SEPnet-Astro, and there are also SEPnet associated outreach activities: For more details see www.sepnet.ac.uk.
The outreach activities of the AU continue to increase each year. The main programme of activities include a week-long course on Astrophysics for teachers, a Saturn-themed week-long summer school called Media Space for local 15-16 year olds and a taster course for A-level students to allow them to get an idea of what it’s like to study Astrophysics at university. For the past two years, twice a year, the AU has also taken part in the Cassini Scientist for a Day competition organised by JPL. We accept and judge entries from the UK and Ireland whereas JPL only accepts US entries. This will continue until the end of 2009 when the competition will finish.
As well as these activities we have a number of one-off events which take place throughout the year as schools contact us. The Astronomy Unit works with the Outreach Officer for Mathematics and Physics, who is employed by the College to work with schools in these subject areas, to build links. Postgraduate students have been very keen to attend schools to run sessions on cosmology, the solar system and planet formation, for example as they realise the role that the subject can have in inspiring school students to study science and maths. Staff are also regularly asked to deliver talks to schools on the work that they do.