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£500k for public engagement in astronomy and geophysics: six teams win RAS funding

Last Updated on Monday, 01 June 2015 10:25
Published on Friday, 08 May 2015 16:00

For family carers, ‘hard to reach’ young people, adult workers, for everyone: the RAS has announced £500k in grants for six innovative public engagement projects. The awards from the RAS 200: Sky & Earth programme were made public at the RAS Ordinary Meeting on 8 May 2015.

Prof. Steve Miller, Chair of the RAS 200 Steering Group, announced the winners. He commented: "We had 92 applications for this scheme, showing great enthusiasm for outreach and engagement with astronomy and geophysics, and the grants panel has had a really hard time picking out just six to receive funding. But the ones we have chosen are truly innovative and exciting."

RAS President Prof. Martin Barstow added: "This is an exciting new chapter in the history of the RAS, marking the nearly two centuries since our foundation. In funding these projects, we are making a serious commitment to widening participation in astronomy and geophysics. Our aim is to make these inspiring sciences open to everyone, irrespective of their background – RAS 200 is a way of helping to realise that ambition."

The five main projects receiving funding are:


Stars and Space

RAS - Princes Trust - Fairbridge photograph smallYoung people on an outdoor trip as part of the Prince’s Trust Fairbridge programme. Credit: Prince’s Trust. Click for a full size image.

by the Prince’s Trust and Techniquest.

The Prince's Trust is a charity that helps disadvantaged young people to get their lives on track, giving vulnerable young people the practical and financial support needed to stabilise their lives, helping develop self-esteem and skills for work. The Prince’s Trust Stars and Space project aims to progressively embed astronomy and space science within a range of its activity.

The Trust will introduce astronomy sessions into the wilderness trip element of their Fairbridge programme, making stargazing an integral aspect of this horizon expanding experience. They will also develop and pilot a series of short courses themed around astronomy and space science.


The Planets 360

by NSC Creative, sonicXploras, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the British Association of Planetaria.

The Planets 360 will be a re-imagining of British composer Gustav Holst’s The Planets orchestral suite. It will use the 'fulldome' planetarium show format to create a sonically driven and immersive experience. After development, the work will be made available to all UK planetariums license free.

ThePlanets360 RAS200 NSCC 04 smallAn impression of the Planets 360 show projected in a planetarium dome. Credit: NSC Creative. Click for a full size image.Each movement will be self-contained so that the perfect playlist for each audience can be created by choosing classic or contemporary interpretations of each planet. The project will aim to bring teens, young adults and mature adult audiences to planetarium and science centre venues by fusing art, music and science into a 360° spectacle.


Astronomy and Geophysics through the traditional culture of Wales

by Aberystwyth University, Urdd Gobaith Cymru and the National Eisteddfod of Wales

This project extends the reach of Astronomy, Space, Planetary Science and Geophysics through the traditional culture of Wales. The National Urdd Eisteddfod and the National Eisteddfod of Wales provide a natural platform for this aspiration. The Urdd Eisteddfod is one of Europe’s largest youth festivals and the National Eisteddfod is one of the world’s greatest cultural festivals.

The three main partners will deliver a programme of activities based on Astronomy and Geophysics, led by experts in the arts, in collaboration with scientists and science communicators.


Open your eyes, look up to the sky…!

by the Workers’ Educational Association and Liverpool John Moores University

This project aims to make science attractive and relevant to everyone, taking advantage of people’s innate interest in astronomy.  It will engage with hard-to-reach groups through a partnership between the Workers’ Educational Association’s (WEA), the UK’s largest voluntary sector provider of adult education, and Liverpool John Moores University’s Astrophysics Research Institute (LJMU ARI).

WEA Astronomy 21 11 2012  5604-3 smallAdults enjoying an astronomy lesson provided by the Workers’ Educational Association. Credit: Michael Czajkowski, WEA Tutor. Click for a full size image.The project team want to leave the legacy of an astronomical and geophysics-based science curriculum for adults, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic background; from entry level up to degree level and beyond. Starting in the North West and rolling out nationally, the project should engage thousands of people each year – and above all it will be fun, funky and fascinating.


Stepping Out: Astronomy Short Breaks for Carers

by Care for Carers (C4C), Our Dynamic Earth, the Royal Observatory Edinburgh and Cosmos Planetarium

Unpaid family carers need breaks from caring in order to cope with their often complex and challenging situations. This project aims to provide those carers with a range of organised short breaks revolving around the subject of astronomy, engaging them with a new interest and subject as part of a structured break.

The project team plan to take carers to astronomy sites and places of interest, and to Dark Sky sites in Scotland to participate in new and existing programmes and projects.  They want the carers to have fun, a break, to learn something new and to have a shared experience in new settings that they may not have explored before.


Space, Earth and Autism

by National Autistic Society

This is an additional pilot project. The NAS will work with the other winners to help shape additional ideas that are spectrum-friendly.  For example, the NAS could help develop a spectrum-friendly version of a planetarium show that is less noisy, has fewer dark portions, different language etc. all making it more accessible for people with Asperger’s or autism.


Media contact

Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 x214
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035 (please use this number in the first instance)
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Project contacts

Prof Martin Barstow
President, Royal Astronomical Society
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Prof Steve Miller
Chair, RAS 200 Steering Group
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Dr Sheila Kanani
RAS Education, Outreach and Diversity Officer
Mob: +44 (0)794 730 8616
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Notes for editors

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3800 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others. Follow the RAS on Twitter

In 2020 the Royal Astronomical Society will be 200 years old. To celebrate its bicentennial, the Society has set up RAS 200: Sky & Earth, an outreach and engagement Fund of £1,000,000. The fund supports astronomy and geophysics projects that create a real buzz about science – understanding, discussion and dialogue – in diverse sections of the community.

RAS 200: Sky & Earth projects aim to:

  • Have a lasting impact beyond 2020 and inspire a new generation to broaden their interest in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM)
  • Go 'where no outreach project has gone before', engaging people from all age groups, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds etc.
  • Harness the shared ambitions of world-leading researchers and national, local and community organisations

For more information on RAS public engagement work follow @RAS_Outreach on Twitter.