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As part of WISE (Women Into Science and Engineering), Haley has run (and I have helped with) an annual workshop for the past 5 years for 12-14 year old girls in Cardiff University. Its part of a year long club called Discover Club, where each year 30 girls do science workshops on Saturdays in different parts of Cardiff University and local science and technology specialist companies. The students have a chance to sequence their DNA, make wind turbines, investigate the strength of different types of rock, and analyse their own snot. Haley and I run the astronomy workshop in Cardiff University, School of Physics and Astronomy.
This year we made a workshop called "The Universe in a different light" which was looking at things which are largely invisible to our eyes. Mostly this covered looking at other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum than visible. We borrowed the infrared camera from the Herschel outreach officer to talk about what you would see if you had infrared eyes. We were also fortunate enough to have post-graduate students who volunteered their Saturday morning to teach the girls about science. One post-grad had recently won a prize for an excellent demo involving liquid nitrogen, every day objects and lots of mess - looking rather like a mad scientist (see image below)!
After this we took the students on a tour of the University Observatory on the roof, where they got to handle the 0.5m Newtonian. Then I showed the students a demo of another astronomical phenomenon which is invisible to human eyes - an exoplanet transit - out of a photo-diode (telescope), laptop, bright lamp (star), and plasticine balls of different sizes (planets). Although not strictly 'invisible' and exoplanet transit is certainly very challenging to observe, because you are looking for a very faint object next to a very bright one. With these simple bits of kit, you can easily see the effect of changing the size of the planet and time the transit takes, on the shape of the lightcurve, and from that you can tell the size of the planet (if you are interested in exoplanets, why not have a look at our Agent Exoplanet project).We then set the students a research project where they had to investigate a particular astronomical object and create a poster about it, as if they were research scientists going to a conference. All of the students made an excellent effort, producing well researched posters.
Three students won a prize for best poster on the day, but all the students will be awarded Crest Bronze Awards for their participation in the Discover! club. This snowy Saturday spent with research astronomers will have hopefully left the students all a little star-struck.
Well done to all the students involved and many thanks to our postgrad volunteers, Ciara, Chris, Ezzi, and Laura.
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