Support ‘Universe in a Box’

astronomy, communication, IYA, science, science communication, UNAWE

At the end of last year, I helped support Universe Awareness (UNAWE). Unfortunately my time there at Leiden University was so very short. My main role was to help expand the concept of Space Scoop – astronomy news for kids – exploring the different popular news channels that are available for children and how science can have a higher presence in them.

UNAWE is an international programme that uses the beauty and grandeur of the Universe to inspire children aged 4-10 years, particularly those from an underprivileged background. The programme uses astronomy to cultivate a sense of perspective, foster a global citizenship and stimulate interest in science at a crucial age in a child’s development.

This week UNAWE launched an innovative Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign to support their efforts in sharing the educational toolkit, Universe in a Box, with underprivileged communities around the world. 

The Kickstarter campaign runs from 9 May until 10 June and aims to raise €15,000:

You can try out and look through the activities online here.

Featured image credit: UNAWE

Beyond 2009

astronomy, IYA, travel
As I’m sure it hasn’t escaped you by now, unless perhaps you’re a TimeLord from Gallifrey and got the year wrong, it’s 2010. It means an end unfortunately to the ‘International Year of Astronomy‘, but now we are looking ‘Beyond 2009‘.I can’t quite believe that it’s been nearly a year since the opening ceremony I was fortunate to attend in Paris. I met so many wonderful people there and have so many fond memories of our time together; many which I still hold dear to in many, many photos and recollections in blogs such as those from Boba, Suresh, my Macedonian friends (Filip, Tanja and Martin). Some of us keep in touch in some form, sometimes quite regularly. It was very nice to meet some of these people in Krakow for the ‘International Conference of Young Astronomers‘, another great experience. I truly regard some of these people as ‘friends’ now, which I hope will continue for many years to come. We share a common interest amongst other things. I thank the Royal Astronomical Society for giving me this great experience with the invitation last year. 😀

Much has happened this past year for IYA. The list is too long to mention. “As the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) comes to a close, the true scope of the venture is becoming clear. The final count of countries involved stands at 148, a staggering number that confirms that the IYA2009 network is the largest ever in science. Activities and events from these participating nations paint a picture of professional and amateur astronomers bringing the Universe down to Earth through countless projects, opening the eyes of the public to the wonders above.”- I refer you to this news release:

For me, the involvement I have had with IYA has opened my eyes even further to the wonder of the Universe. I have been fortunate to make many contacts along the way, which I am sure will add to my options of employment come a few years time, when I will have to decide exactly what my next step will be. (I’m currently thinking a postdoc, but we’ll see how I feel after 3 years.) Anyone that knows me, knows I sometimes can’t shut up about astronomy. It’s a big part of my life! IYA has been a great mechanism to help inspire peope into the subject and realise their place in the Universe. The legacy of this great year I hope will remain for many, many years to come. Now we have a “Roadmap to IYA’s Living Heritage“. Let us continue our hard work and efforts to ensure we keep astronomy very much alive and active in much the same way we have done this past year.

In the UK various exhibitions and outreach projects are still continuing. ‘Cosmos & Culture’ is a major temporary exhibition at the Science Museum in London, running until January 2011. The exhibition will explore how people of many different cultures have studied the cosmos and how this has shaped our perceptions of the Universe – and of ourselves. ‘We Are Astronomers‘ is continuing to screen across the UK at the Armagh Planetarium, Centre For Life INTECH Science Centre & Planetarium , National Space Centre , Our Dynamic Earth , Royal Observatory Greenwich and Spaceport.

Where for me the past year has been an ever-changing one; completing my undergraduate degree, applying for a PhD and various positions, moving and now starting a PhD, I hope to become more active in an outreach sense. It was difficult to do as much as I’d have liked last year in an outreach sense, depite it being the International Year of Astronomy. I very much enjoyed helping out at Space School UK at Leicester in 2007 and over the years,giving various talks for Leicester Astronomy Society. Now I am starting a new life in Kent and now need to find my way here a little. Having undertaken the Astrodome training last term I hope to be active with that once I am more settled. The Kent SEPnet Astrodome is one of Kent’s most advanced mobile planetariums, enabling groups of all ages to learn about astronomy and space science in a fully immersive digital environment. I hope to start giving talks over the next few years to societies and various groups, particularly now I’m qualified as a Master of Physics with Astrophysics (Hons).


International Conference of Young Astronomers 2009

astronomy, ICYA2009, IYA
Logotype by Mariusz Slonina

Back in May, I wrote about the The International Conference of Young Astronomers (ICYA). Once this was advertised my eyes lit up for me seeing this another valuable opportunity to get in touch with other young scientists, with whom we might cooperate in the future. It would also be a good chance to establish connections there with scientists, researchers and advanced amateur astronomers whom I could meet in the future and work together in projects which will develop modern astronomy. A good few of us from the opening ceremony of IYA, in Paris who have stayed in touch since that conference, mainly via a Gooogle Group, but with modern technology have managed to regularly keep in touch, as far as countries such as Venezuela, New Zealand and Indonesia, and now call each other friends. This event was something of a great opportunity for us all academically, where most of us study the subject, but also a great chance to meet with such friends it is normally difficult to see.
It was a great shame for us friends attending that it wasn’t possible for some of our other friends to make it. It is understandable in many cases, due to the severe distance and price involved, as well as general complications of everyday life. It was sad in particular, that one of our friends who put hard work into a spectacular poster, at the last minute could not make the conference due to visa problems in his country. I must say, he was there in spirit.

Between 6th – 13th September we attended the International Conference of Young Astronomers, in Krakow, Poland; a scientific meeting of undergraduate and PhD students of astronomy and physics as well as more advanced astronomers. We, as young scientists, feel we should contribute our share to this year’s International Year of Astronomy 2009. For this reason we aim to arrange an international conference to broaden our minds and to discuss challenging issues of astronomy. The goal of the conference is to establish the ICYA as a regular conference, held once a year in different countries, connecting young astronomers from all over the world. Let’s make it happen!

This year the ICYA was organised by the Polish Astronomical Society in collaboration with Polish universities (The Jagiellonian University of Cracow, The University of Warsaw, The Adam Mickiewicz University of Poznań, The Nicolaus Copernicus University of Toruń, The University of Zielona Góra, The University of Szczecin, The Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre of Polish Academy of Sciences) and supported by foreign universities and astronomical societies as well as international astronomical organizations.

The conference was very well organised, with great talks from professional astronomers, those also from some students, a mix of undergraduates and postgraduate researchers, also 10s of posters were on display. There was a great range of talks, although maybe I am now slightly biased saying this, but my feeling was there wasn’t as much planetary science and a dominance of high-energy astrophysics. I didn’t mind it however, as they are equally as fascinating to me, but maybe personally it would have been good to see what other students are doing in the field of astronomy. There was a great talk by Michal Drahus however, on ‘Microwave spectroscopy as a tool for studying the properties of active cometary nuclei’, who by coincidence works in the exact group I shall be working in, and knows my supervisor well. I know it can be difficult to get an equal balance, and I think was largely diverse, with topics including also GRBs, AGN, exoplanets, space physics, cosmology and projects for the International Year of Astronomy 2009. These were noticeably split up very well, largely into sessions of these particular fields.

On the Tuesday, interestingly for an astronomy conference, we had an International Sports Competition, and by way of vote we played volleyball. Personally I’d not played this in years. In our group, largely us ‘IYA’ friends, we came a respectable 4th place out of I think around 10 groups. Good fun, though after lack of sleep I probably wasn’t the most active in the group.

Throughout my time in Krakow, in particular at the conference I tried my best, within practical means of producing a Twitter feed about the conference, which you can search for under the tag ‘#ICYA09’. I only had internet access at the conference and that was a little temporamental unfortunately.

We had some good times, with tours of Krakow, a guided city tour, an open bar, also an amazing candlelit buffet, bonfire and free beer, wine and soft drinks all night at the Jagiellonian University!

Thanks go again to the organisers who did a remarkable job, who made this truly an experience many of us will never forget. 😀

For more information about ICYA2009, visit:

Proceedings should follow shortly, as well as a photo gallery containing many of the pictures we took during the week.

My own photo album of the conference can be viewed here.

Clear skies ^-^

July rantings…………

graduation, IYA, moving, phd, rantings

Something I’ve done very little of lately is blogging; with good reason really, I’ve been busy sorting out odds and ends after the exams. I was busy trying to get my life in order; whether that be a PhD, job, internship etc, as well as try to get a summer job as I, like most students at the end of the academic year need money. All of this was a major panic and I think most in good reason, though perhaps inhindsight I worried far more than I should have. Of course this is a big time and it’s important to try and get something sorted, but my goal throughout the exam period was to get the best possible grade that I could. Once I had the satisfaction of knowing my degree results things seemed a little more positive and I knew which directions I could go. The major worry was with exams, which as expected I didn’t do as well as I had hoped for. Nonetheless I came out with a high 2.1 overall and that’s really all I need to pursue with a PhD.

This was another concern, getting a PhD. With some poor luck with interviews the first time round I needed to put a second round of applications through around Easter, facing the possibility of interviews after the exams which was a concern as I knew things wouldn’t exactly sorted on that front before then. With exams out the way I think I felt a little more positive of which directions to go with astronomy for a PhD and with less of a worry now with everything over I could just concentrate on these. I awaited news from Armagh, the Open University, UCL and Kent, as well as a position in Cagliari, Sardinia. Time pressed on but finally I got interviews. Deep inside me I felt the project on offer at the University of Kent, Canterbury is the right kind of project for me. Having had the great pleasure of meeting Prof. Mike A’Hearn, P.I. of the Deep Impact mission in 2005 it is a subject that is close to my heart, as well as remembering Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997.

The project is “Astronomical Observations of Comets at Optical and Thermal-Infrared Wavelengths” and will focus on Jupiter-family comets (JFCs), which are a subset of the known cometary population. Dynamical studies have placed their source region within the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, a vast reservoir of cometary bodies that formed in-situ some 4.5 billion years ago. Studying JFCs provide valuable insight into the physical and compositional properties of small Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), much too faint to be observed from Earth. I was really excited in particular about this project, despite having a good interest in the others. After speaking to the project supervisor, Dr. Stephen Lowry, as well as having some good e-mail contact the University of Kent offered me the position which I must say is a dream come true.

One major goal is to accumulate high quality physical data on cometary nuclei in order to make accurate statistical comparisons with other small body populations such as near-Earth asteroids, Trojan asteroids, Centaurs, and KBOs. I will be using datasets that include thermal IR imaging data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope (at 16-22 μm), as well as optical imaging from many large ground-based observatories (400-700 nm). These optical observatories include the European Southern Observatory’s 8.2m VLT array (Chile), Palomar Observatory (California), and the 10m Keck facility (Hawaii), among many others. It is anticipated that I will participate in several observing trips. I just cannot wait!

So that’s the PhD position sorted. Now I just need to find accommodation in Canterbury which should be fun.

Graduation is next week; Thursday afternoon for me. My family will be visiting; in particular my uncle, cousin and my parents. Something to look forward to. I get to dress as Harry Potter for the day, as do my fellow graduands. Before the ceremony at 3pm, we have the honour to meet Professor Jocelyn Bell-Burnell at a free lunch (my second time to meet her in fact).

I need to move out of accommodation by July 19th, when my contract ends. I’d hoped to get a job over the holidays although the prospect of getting a job to fit around various items to sort out over the holidays seems a little bleak. Moving to Canterbury will be a big change I’m sure, but for the better I believe. Not being too far from London but having the glory of the coast and countryside not too far I think will make this an amazing place to study a PhD as well as a great project and department. The concern is when exactly I will need to move. So far the start date seems a little uncertain although I am told the latest is 28th September. My worry is when exactly I would be funded with regards to rent. No doubt I will have to pay deposits. All these things I am sure will add up to be expensive. Luckily I now have sorted how I will transport my stuff between Kent, home and Leicester. I’m indebted to my good friends the Morjarias for a helping hand for a temporary solution of storage at theirs here in Leicester. Saves moving everything majorly twice.

Then I turn to home. Anyone that knows me well will know how I rant on about not having internet for long periods at home. I always have to use the public library and book time which gets annoying. 5 weeks or so with little internet? Can I survive? I just might have to. It’s just that it’s one of those things I think we all rely upon in our daily lives. I’m not too fussed about Facebook or Twitter. I’m sure I can survive those. It’s just important e-mails that get to me which mean if I need to reply to an e-mail in length I need to book more unexpected time. Hopefully most important things will be sorted by then. It’s just the ease and simplicity of access to information that makes my life a living frustration while at home, being the impatient person I can be. I don’t have to worry about my stuff now which was a big concern as it’s not going to be very likely I’ll get a job for the short period of 5 weeks now. I think though this should be a well-earned break, with a bit of ‘me’ time. I have a good excuse not to have to use the internet I guess and I can sit back and relax a little for an enjoyable vacation before the world of work/a PhD approaches me.

Moving on, it’s been nice to enjoy a few real life activities. It’s been nice to chill at a few friends’ house parties, meet for drinks in the hot weather at Dry Dock, play pool, go for coffees, read a non-academic book and watch random videos on YouTube, amongst others. I’ve also had time to sort out the unwanted paperwork I have as well as organise bits that needed to be organised (far more than what I thought). I also have managed to dedicate a bit of my time updating my website every now and then, and hopefully to a good state in preparation to talk about my PhD project. I’ve also managed to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while which is to organise and then upload all the pictures I collated from people from the ceremony in Paris to one place for everyone to access and upload themselves. I also managed to construct a blog like this for everyone to be an author and add/edit what they like. In particular this is meant as a means to help keep connected and easily see in one place what we all are doing for IYA.

Talking about IYA, I am looking forward to see
ing everyone at the International Conference of Young Astronomers (ICYA) in Cracow, Poland. It should be a unique opportunity
to establish global, annual conference for all scientists, researchers and advanced amateur astronomers who could meet in future and work together in projects which will develop modern astronomy. It should prove to be a great networking conference, as well as to meet old friends from the Paris meeting. As luck goes, unfortunately another rather important meeting coincides. That same week is the astrobiology summer school at the University of Kent, Canterbury which may prove useful for my PhD project. I just have to see what might be relevant in each and see about going to half and half maybe. I wouldn’t want to miss anything that may prove relevant to my PhD project, but also the ICYA should be a great opportunity also in itself.

Meanwhile I have to find accommodation in Kent, so a visit down there is in order and maybe to see family while I’m there. Who knows? I hope to enjoy the summer and relax for a change. I need it!

Anyhow, knowing the way things are going at the moment, I probably won’t get a chance to blog again for a while. Maybe I will have time to write a short bit about graduation, though it all depends on how things pan out.

We Are Astronomers

astronomy, IYA

We are Astronomers is an exciting new 360° Fulldome digital planetarium show launching 23 May 2009 across the UK. The show is being produced by NSC Creative with input from UK astronomers. It is funded by STFC, the Science and Technologies Facilities Council.

WAA Trailer 1 from NSC Creative on Vimeo.

We are Astronomers will be showing at the following planetariums (please check show times with each venue before you travel) :

Armagh Planetarium
Centre For Life
INTECH Science Centre & Planetarium
National Space Centre
Our Dynamic Earth
Royal Observatory Greenwich (showing from 17 October 2009)