UCL News


School pupils experience space science at UCL

14 August 2014

A group of secondary school students have designed their own space missions during a new week-long work experience programme at the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL).

School pupils experience space science at UCL

The week, which ran in July, was a unique opportunity for sixth form pupils from London and the South East to experience a range of different research fields and learn more about the tools used by space scientists in their day-to-day work.

The pupils attended a variety of presentations ranging from discussions about the practicalities of designing, creating and engineering instruments for space to the possible discovery of lakes, waves and rivers on Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

Daily workshops using real data from recent research discoveries were designed to give a flavour of the range of possible work in the field. These included:

  • modeling and simulating the evolution of star clusters
  • using Cassini spacecraft data to observe water plumes on Saturn's icy moon Enceladus
  • tracking sub-storms in observations of Earth's aurora (or Northern Lights)
  • predicting and observing the propagation of Coronal Mass Ejections (large solar storms) through the solar system - and understanding how dangerous these can be for both astronauts and satellites

The course has inspired me to study physics at university and given me a unique project to talk about at interviews.

Edward Offer, 17

Edward Offer, 17, from Tiffin school in Kingston-on-Thames, said: "Planning the manned mission to Mars was an inspiring and fascinating experience because I believe this could be achieved in my lifetime. The course has inspired me to study physics at university and given me a unique project to talk about at interviews."

The pupils worked in small groups designing space missions to answer scientific questions, then wrote proposals for these and presented their mission designs to senior academic staff who currently work on similar missions. They were offered feedback on their work and advice for future university applications.

William Dunn, an astrophysics PhD student at the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory and one of the organisers, said: "This is the first time we have run a programme like this at Mullard and we really hope the week will have helped these pupils to maintain their passion for space science and STEM subjects, showing them how exciting, interesting and realistic careers in the field can be for them.

"We felt that by introducing them to space science work, through dynamic and enthusiastic researchers who are still deeply involved in the field's latest developments, the programme would provide unique educational opportunities, while actively promoting physics and engineering as a possible University or career path."

The organisers hope that the programme can become an annual event, adding to the wide range of school outreach activities already carried out by MSSL.

View images of the work experience programme in the gallery below: