Inspiring Stories – A Space Rendezvous in Rome

Inspiring Stories – A Space Rendezvous in Rome

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Melissa Mirino from the Open University in the UK, tells us how she is helping to organise meetings where the public can meet planetary scientists!

Space Rendezvous Rome official logo

In February 2018, during the lunch of the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, a group of space enthusiasts joined an informal meeting in Paris to talking about their passion for space and their personal experiences.

After this event the group of young scientists realised that space enthusiasts from their neighborhood were lacking opportunities to informally discuss their passion for space. This was the start of the Space Rendezvous Project which is running in many cities all over Europe. I had the amazing opportunity to be one of the founders of Space Rendezvous in Rome which is now supported by the Space Generation Advisory Council and Woman in Aerospace Europe.

Our rendezvous in Rome are providing an opportunity for undergraduates, Ph.D. students, and space enthusiasts without any limit of age or expertise, to discuss about topics and news related with the Space sector and Planetary Science.

So those who are interested in space exploration can be inspired from people already involved in the space research and possibly follow their examples in the future. Professionals have the opportunity to share their work and their knowledge with the attendees. In this context, professionals can also get fresh, innovative and sometimes crazy ideas for future research projects or developments

In May 2019, we decided to make our rendezvous a bit different, and dedicated it to Space Art. We thought about the best way to inspire the younger generation to be more involved in our work, and decided to let them be the main characters of the art competition. We asked them to choose a title and give an explanation about what inspired them about Space. As you can see from the examples below, the results were amazing:

By organising these meetings I have learned a lot: how to manage a meeting, and cooperate within an international team. Other members of my group are from all over Europe and around the world, so we have various backgrounds and diverse work habits. I have also had a valuable lesson in science communication, both in the real and virtual world as we are promoting our actions on social media. We are also having fun organising games and deciding what the event topic will be each month. It is challenging, but one of the rewards is the great chance to network with others interested in space around Rome area. I would therefore recommend young professionals to find out if Space Rendezvous is happening in their city, and if not to take the initiative and become one of the founders in their area. From personal experience I can assure you that it will be very rewarding and super fun. 

If you find yourself in Rome, join our meetings for an interesting chat and a good pizza! Visit our official facebook page @Spacerendezvousrome and discover the upcoming topic of the month. New volunteers and sponsors who would like to support our activities are welcome! So if you are interested please contact me at: melissa.mirino@community.isunet.edu. All participant cities host their Space Rendezvous on the final Thursdays of each month.

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Inspiring Stories – launching the stratospheric balloon

Inspiring Stories – launching the stratospheric balloon

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach StoryHannah Sargeant from the Open University in the UK tells us how she launched a stratospheric balloon with the help of school children in an attempt to spark their love for the space exploration.

Since winning the I’m a Scientist competition I did a lot of research into space balloons and how to launch them. I came across European Astrotech, who deliver high altitude balloon programs for schools, and they were excited to get involved in a joint project. With added financial support from the LUVMI rover team we were able to work with a local school in Milton Keynes (UK) to deliver a couple of space themed sessions cumulating in a launch of a space balloon.

After bad weather hampered the first launch, I spent a morning with year 5 looking at the scale of the Universe and wrapping our heads around just how far apart everything is. Once the weather cleared up we rescheduled the launch and an expert from European Astrotech delivered a talk to year 5 & 6 students on how science in space has affected our everyday lives. Then, we all launched our own science project into the edge of space with our space balloon equipped with a high-resolution camera.

Included on the balloon were also two drawings from the winners of a space design competition. As the Astrotech team chased the balloon the students could track with me its progress along with the chase car. High definition videos from the launch have been later recovered and shared for everyone to enjoy the launch all over again.

I’ve always had a passion for outreach but the I’m a Scientist experience inspired me to challenge myself and try to organise something involving various experts to provide the most exciting experience for the students. This allowed me to spend a great time with inquisitive children curious about the Universe and the ways in which we are exploring it, but also to learn how to organise a large outreach project lasting for couple of days and including many participants from several fields. I hope that I will have a chance of working again on future space balloon projects and collaborating with more experts to give further students a passion for space science and technology.

Originally posted as an I’m a Scientist Winner report.

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Inspiring stories – Doodling for Science

Inspiring Stories – Doodling for Science

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Zach Dickeson of the Natural History Museum & Birkbeck, University of London in the UK, tells us how he draws inspiration from the planets!

Figure 1 – Sketch summaries of work presented by @DalyPlanet (left) and @ciara_mcgrathx (right) at the recent National Student Space Conference (@UKSEDS).

As scientists, we are passionate about the work we do and the discoveries being made in our field, but to communicate that excitement to a wider audience is a real challenge. Publications covering new science can be dense, difficult reading even for specialists. To outsiders – especially those with no science background – this is a barrier that keeps many from understanding or engaging with science at all. Social media can be a great way to share the science we love, and including a fun image is a great way to stand out amongst the avalanche of other posts.

I’ve always enjoyed sketching and doodling, but never did much with my random creations. At the weekly space science seminars held at my university I found it helpful to draw summary sketches of the talks to help myself remember the key points. On a whim I began posting some of the summaries. I soon got requests to do summaries for other peoples work, and many of the speakers have requested copies of the sketches for use in their own presentations and outreach. The talk summaries are a bit more shareable than a link to the latest paper and even though the summaries assume some science knowledge they can be a great introduction for someone who may not have found the subject any other way.

Figure 2 – Science comics based on the entry, decent and landing of @NASAInSight on Mars (left), and the asteroid sample collection manoeuvres of @haya2e_jaxa (right).

Science based comics are also a great way to grab the public’s attention and impart a bite sized bit of science in a fun way. There are plenty of good science comics and cartoons out there covering a range of subjects, but I’ve found them to be great for highlighting topical events in space exploration. A smiley face on a satellite or a rover can go a long way to helping someone relate to the excitement of a mission, and it’s easy to sneak in a bit of science. At the very least it may help someone remember a few small details about a mission, and with any luck it will inspire a few people to look for more information on the subject.

Since beginning to draw science comics and talk summaries the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and the online engagement with the comics and sketches has been great considering the small following of this humble doodler. Sharing the science is the goal, and we all benefit from a more scientifically literate and engaged public. So whether you think of yourself as artistic or not, have a go at sketching or doodling some science you’re interested in, or reach out to someone like me and pitch your idea. When it comes to sharing exciting research, a scientist’s perspective may count for more than artistic ability.

Twitter: @ZachDickeson
Website: TheSpaceologist.net

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Inspiring stories – A place where people are fighting for knowledge

A place where people are fighting for knowledge

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Anna Łosiak of the University of Exeter boldly goes where science meets fantasy in the magical world of comic-cons.

There are places on this Earth where people are really determined to learn about science. Really, really determined. They not only spend hours in queues, but also occasionally participate in proper fist-fights in order to win their way into a lecture room. Those magical places are comic-cons.

I have always been a nerd. I know The Silmarillion almost by heart, live according to teachings of Terry Patchett and follow Capitan Jean-Luc Picard nearly religiously. It should be no surprise to anyone that I have been attending comic-cons. At first, I was only listening: about the science behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (we can mutate turtles, but they will most probably not turn into ninjas), about extinct fantastic beasts (gigantic spiders – yes, dragons breathing fire – no), and all about faeces (can you try to foretell the future from your own excrement? Yes, you can, but it works only if you are asking about your own health and have quite a lot of modern medical equipment handy). Lectures were usually given by other nerdy scientists: PhD students and full professors alike, who were combining their knowledge with their hobby to produce something that was both informative and entertaining. I wanted to be like them.

So, one year, 5 months before the event, I sent in an abstract and a short motivational letter to the comic-con, and was accepted. My first lecture was discussing what is scientifically correct and incorrect in the movie Armagedon. This topic is quite close to my hart, because I study impact craters and the environmental mess that they can induce on Earth. The one thing I will always remember from the evening of the presentation is a quite interesting-looking fight to get to the lecture room (Spiderman vs Conan the Barbarian – the latter won).

Lectures during a comic-con are among the most challenging outreach activities I have participated in (and I do a LOT of outreach). It needs to be understandable, engaging and entertaining for people of different ages (from early teenagers to people in their 70s), education levels and backgrounds. Luckily all those people have something in common that can be used during the presentation: their love and knowledge of sci-fi and fantasy culture. For example, probably they do not know much about impact craters, but they all are aware that Wakanda (a home of the Black Panther) was created thanks to the impact of a large vibranium meteorite. And this common comic-related base can be used to create a tale of real impact craters.

After a couple of years lecturing at comic-cons about space science I have been given large, 450 people rooms to fill and I have gained a very small but an absolutely heartwarming group of people who regularly enjoy my efforts. I have had a couple of long discussions after my lectures (e.g. 3-hour long deliberations about the habitability of planets known from sci-fi books and movies). Last but not least, as an invited first-level VIP, I have met (in a toilet) a couple of famous actors (flown to Poland from the USA). It was fun! 😊

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Inspiring stories – Back home, back in time

Inspiring stories – Back home, back in time

In the third of our Early Career Inspiring Outreach Stories, Erica Luzzi of Jacobs University Bremen shares her impressions of revisiting her old school.

A very long time has passed since the last time I was in my old school. That’s where I decided to start my outreach experience. As a sensitive person, I just thought that feeling at home would have relieved some of the pressure, helping me to actually reach the kids I was there for.

Just walking through those corridors, I realised how much I missed that place. I remembered the dreams of becoming someone one day, with something to say to the world. I remembered the infinite mornings sitting behind that desk, no clue what the future might be.

And then, I finally came back as an adult. As a scientist. Some of my former professors were still there, calling me “colleague”: it blew my mind. The awe I had back then for those figures who looked invincible. And now, they just look to me as they really are: humans. Frustrated, sad, disappointed, tired. Even the rooms that were looking so big to me, in that moment appeared to be the smallest place on Earth. Everything changes once you grow up, but some things don’t: some of us, are still dreamers.

My presentation for the kids was: “Planetary geology: how, where and why”. While I was telling them that I was happy to be back in my hometown and at my old school, they looked at me like an alien. They were wondering,  whispering to each other: “Is it possible to become a planetary scientist coming from here?”.

I reassured them, the answer was yes. They had the power to become whatever they wanted. In their smiles, full of hope and joy, I recognised my own dreams and my own innocence.

I asked them to interrupt me whenever they wanted to ask questions, express their curiosities, and not feel ashamed and embarrassed. And, against my expectations, they responded so actively to my presentation, that they had no idea how much it meant to me. They were not only asking silly questions just to show the professors they were involved in the presentation, they were really curious, smart and  aware. I have always had doubts about the next generation: I guess it is typical to believe that the good values of the old times are gone forever.  Somehow I was scared by the lack of interest and curiosity, I thought that since they were born in a society were everything is immediate – every piece of information, every human contact – they would not know the patience, the perseverance, the preciousness of waiting even for a small result. But I was wrong. Those kids showed me how passionate they are and mostly, how they are naturally provided with the logical and intellectual means to process the inputs coming from the outside.

They kept the discussion alive for the entire hour of the presentation, feeding it with their curiosity, facts they knew, looking for confrontation, even challenging my knowledge sometimes.

When I was leaving, their smiles were a testament to an unexpected gratitude. They filled my heart, they really did.

This outreach experience was my first one and I am glad I took the chance to let this happen. Now I know, there is something noble that makes us even richer than improving our scientific knowledge: spread it, make it a property of those who have an entire future to build with the eyes still full of hope. Make them participate to human progress, because they are our future, and it is way much brighter that we could possibly expect.

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Inspiring stories – ExoWorld Spies

Inspiring Stories – ExoWorld Spies

An exoplanet project as a vehicle for public outreach!

In the second of our Early Career Inspiring Outreach Stories, EPEC Outreach Co-chair Anastasia Kokori explains how the public can become ExoWorld Spies and contribute to missions exploring worlds orbiting other stars.

Introduction: Exoplanet research today

To date, more than 3.900 exoplanets have been discovered. Exoplanets are planets orbiting other star, outside our Solar System. However, we know very little about them. For example: What are they made of? How were they formed? Could they host life? Future space missions such as NASA’s JWST and ESA’s ARIEL will try to answer to these questions.

The ExoWorlds Spies project

To help these space missions and make them more efficient, we need to know when exactly these planets pass in front of their stars. In our project “ExoWolrds Spies”, we use small and medium scale telescopes to “spy on” already known exoplanets for long periods of time. In this way, we can track their paths around their stars precisely and let the spacecrafts know when exactly to observe them. The public can become “ExoWorlds Spies” by obtaining or analysing observations and contribute to real astronomical research.

What is the methodology we use?

After obtaining the data with the telescopes we analyse them with computer software in order to measure the light coming from the star. As the planet passes in front of the star, the star is becoming dimmer. The drop of the light will give us information about the planet: its size, its orbit and its transit timing.

Exoplanet research as a collaborative effort!

This research involves a variety of audiences including professionals and amateur astronomers who are observing target stars with their telescopes. We believe that science can be done by everyone and science is for everyone and thus, volunteers from the public can also become participants. In the near future we aim to create more interactive tools so everyone can access them and get directly involved in real exoplanet research! You can find more information here

Public outreach

The project is a great tool for public outreach. For the past three years our team has been organising presentations both for the public and school students in Greece to spread the science behind exoplanets and planetary science. A dedicated website has been created where we upload articles and publish posts related to new observations of targets and other exoplanet articles.

 

We have been running a social media page on Facebook where our followers get information both on the ExoWorlds Spies project and planetary science news. A variety of audiences have already been engaged through the project and the feedback so far is very positive. We wish to spread the word in other communities around Europe so more people can learn about exoplanets. If you would like to get involved, e-mail us at: exoworlds.spies@gmail.com
You can visit our website for more information or follow us on Facebook and get updated on the exciting field of exoplanets!

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Inspiring Stories – Barrel organ of plate tectonics

Spotlight on Outreach – Barrel organ of plate tectonics: an innovative tool for outreach and education.

This guest post on the “Barrel organ of plate tectonics”  for our Spotlight on Outreach series has been contributed by by Dr. Petr Brož of the Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Science and co-chair of the Outreach Working Group of the Europlanet Early Careers Network (EPEC). 

Plate tectonics is the major geological concept to explain dynamics and structure of Earth’s outer shell, the lithosphere. In the plate tectonic theory, processes in the Earth’slithosphere and its dynamics are driven by the relative motion and interaction lithospheric plages. The regions on Earth that are most geologically active often correlate with the lithospheric plate boundaries. Thus, for explaining the Earth’s surface evolution – mountain building, volcanism and earthquakes’ origin – it is important to understand processes at the plate boundaries. However, the processes associated with plate tectonics usually require a significant period of time to result in effects and, therefore, their entire cycles cannot be directly observed in nature by humans. It is a challenge for scientists to study these processes, but also for teachers and science communicators trying to explain them to students and to the general public. To more effectively engage people with these concepts, we developed a mechanical model of plate tectonics which demonstrates the most important processes associated with plate tectonics in real time.

The concept of plate tectonism is usually explained by schematic illustrations which are static and therefore can be hard for the public to imagine the complexity of the processes.

A cross-section of the Earth, showing the sub-surface layers that compose the inner structure of our planet. Credit: USGS

How does the model work?

The mechanical model is a wooden box, more specifically a special type of barrel organ, with hand painted backdrops in the front side. These backdrops are divided into several components representing geodynamic processes associated with plate tectonics, specifically convective currents occurring in the mantle, sea-floor spreading, a subduction of the oceanic crust under the continental crust, partial melting and volcanism associated with subduction, a formation of magmatic stripes, an ascent of mantle plume throughout the mantle, a volcanic activity associated with hot spots, and a formation and degradation of volcanic islands on moving lithospheric plate. All components are set in motion by a handle controlled by a human operator, and the scene is illuminated with colored lights controlled automatically by an electric device embedded in the box.

Conclusion and feedback

This mechanical model can be used as a unique outreach tool of geological processes usually taking eons to occur. Thus, students and the general public can understand the most important concept in geology in an easy and entertaining way. The very positive feedback from the audience showed us that we developed a really efficient tool on how to explain this interesting theory.

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