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University of Leicester astrophysicist highlights scheme which aims to fund £1 million of community science projects through the Royal Astronomical Society

Posted by ap507 at Nov 10, 2014 12:40 PM |
Unique ideas sought from December onwards to raise interest in astronomy – including for those afraid of the dark

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 10 November 2014

  • The Royal Astronomical Society celebrates its bicentennial in 2020 and is planning to mark the occasion by giving £1 million to community groups
  • Professor Martin Barstow, space scientists at the University of Leicester and President of the Royal Astronomical Society, has helped promote the scheme
  • Groups can bid for a share of the money to help fund innovative projects focussed on science, astronomy and geophysics
  • The formal bid process opens on Monday 1 December

The President of the Royal Astronomical Society and Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Leicester has helped promote a project which aims to give £1 million to community science schemes.

Professor Martin Barstow was at the National Space Centre, in Exploration Drive, Leicester, to highlight an outreach programme which invites organisations, clubs and groups - not necessarily linked with astronomy or geophysics - to bid for a share of £1 million.

The idea of the scheme – called RAS200, which is being run by the Royal Astronomical Society to mark its 200th anniversary – is to find innovative ways to bring stargazing and physics to the wider public.

Groups will get the opportunity to bid when the formal process opens on Monday 1 December.

Prof Barstow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Leicester, said: “Astronomy is one of the best ways of engaging students and the public with science.

“We all experience the night sky and stunning images from ground and space-based telescopes have revealed many secrets of the Universe. However, there remain groups that still don't get the opportunity to benefit from this engagement. The RAS200 project is specifically aimed at reaching out to these groups to leave a lasting legacy of improved educational opportunities.”

It is expected that the RAS will fund 20 projects, with grants ranging from £50,000 to £100,000, once all the bids have been assessed.

The cash will be released in two phases – one in 2015 and one in 2016, to initiate projects that run up to and beyond the RAS's bicentennial in 2020.

The event at the Space Centre, held on Thursday, November 6, included representatives the Leicester Secular Society and the National Youth Agency -who are both interested in applying.

They met with academics from the University of Leicester, including Jane MacArthur from the Space Research Centre who is on the Steering Board of RAS200, as well as other universities to discuss ways to reach out to the public and use the money to promote science.

Dr Sheila Kanani, education outreach and diversity officer for the RAS, said: “We want to encourage unique ideas - thing that have never been done before. For example, the National Autistic Society is trying to make the way astronomy is delivered more suitable for people with autism.

“So one of the ideas was to make it more accessible for people who are scared of the dark. But the money can be used for setting up any kind of project which helps people. It can be for those with mobility issues, or for kids in care, or for people who come from deprived social and economic backgrounds.

“We’ve had luck reaching those who are already interested in science, astronomy and physics - so this scheme is about getting to those who haven’t had the opportunity to take up an interest.”

Other ideas included converting a double decker into a mobile observatory and ‘guerrilla astronomy’ - where groups would turn up unannounced at events, such as festivals and football matches, and offer telescopes to members of the public.

For more information visit the Royal Astronomical Society website at: www.ras.org.uk/200

ENDS

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