Public Release: 

£9million telescope project brings astronomy into school classroom

The Faulkes Telescope project will give some 750 UK schools access to telescopes in Hawaii and Australia

Cardiff University

School pupils and science teachers across the UK will soon have access to the world's most sophisticated educational telescopes thanks to a £9million project led by astronomers at Cardiff University.

The project, funded by the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust, will make available two huge robotic telescopes on the island of Maui in Hawaii and New South Wales in Australia for remote use by some 750 schools by the start of the next academic year.

Using the telescopes pupils can take a guided tour of the Universe and they will also have the opportunity to take part in research programmes, mentored by professional astronomers in the UK, Hawaii and Australia. Extra help and advice will be on hand from professional astronomers at the Faulkes Telescope Operation Centre which is based in the University's School of Physics and Astronomy.

The robotic nature of the state-of-the-art Faulkes Telescopes means that science teachers and their pupils can control them directly from their classroom. All that is needed is a PC and an Internet connection to allow pupils to enjoy a 'real-time' experience of astronomy. Due to the difference in longitude, the telescopes will be available to pupils during the school hours - which will be the hours of darkness in Australia and Hawaii.

Teaching materials are also supplied to ensure that classroom activities involving the telescopes meet UK National Curriculum requirements.

Science teacher, David Bowdley of Abraham Darby School, Telford said: "This project is an excellent way of addressing the recent problem of failing interest in maths and the sciences in schools. It is a fantastic opportunity for teachers to fulfil the requirements of the national curriculum whilst inspiring the students with the very latest astronomy research".

Project Co-ordinator, Dr Lucie Green, at Cardiff University's School of Physics and Astronomy, agreed that linking into the Faulkes Telescope project could provide schools with an exciting new science resource.

"Projects carried out with the telescope cover maths, physics and computing and offer an exciting and simple way to explore the Universe. Most professional astronomers never have the opportunity to get their hands on an eight metre high, 25 tonne fully robotic telescope.

"In providing schools with access to a research class telescope, we not only want them to see how science is actually carried out, but we hope it will retain their interest in science to university level," she said.

Each telescope features a two-metre mirror and, instead of the traditional dome-type observatory, the new telescopes are housed in clam-like structures. This innovation offers huge benefits in terms of reaction times.

Whereas the traditional dome-type observatory rotates into a selected position, the clam-style opens very quickly to provide views from any direction.

The reaction times are very important when trying to catch sight of certain phenomena, such as gamma ray bursts, the biggest explosions in the Universe. The new telescopes will enable users to see the optical part of the bursts extremely quickly, much faster than any other telescope.

Schools will be able to sign up to be involved in this project in early 2004. However, there will be also be scope for groups other than schools - such local Astronomy societies and undergraduate students - to use the telescopes for their project work. It is estimated that, each year, thousands of pupils, university students, and members of the public will use the Faulkes Telescopes.

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Notes to editors

The Faulkes Telescope project is funded by the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, the Department for Education and Skills and the University of Hawaii. For information about the project visit: www.faulkes-telescope.com

Further information

Dr Paul Roche, Project Director
Cardiff University School of Physics and Astronomy
Tel: + 44 (0)29 2087 5121
Email: Paul.Roche@astro.cf.ac.uk

Dr Lucie Green, Faulkes Telescope Project
Cardiff University School of Physics and Astronomy
Tel: + 44 (0)29 2087 5121
Email: Lucie.Green@astro.cf.ac.uk

Wendy Sadler
Cardiff University School of Physics and Astronomy
Tel: +44 (0)29 2087 76884
Email: SadlerWJ@cardiff.ac.uk

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