Inspiring Stories – Roving with Rosalind

Inspiring Stories – Roving with Rosalind

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Sara Motaghian, a doctoral student at the Natural History Museum (London), tells us about her experience organising ‘Roving with Rosalind’ for classrooms across the UK.

Roving with Rosalind is a series of curriculum-based activities which give students the opportunity to overcome challenges and solve problems based on the ExoMars mission. We have created 5 large practical kits to be housed at STEM hubs across the UK filled with engaging workshops and activities linked to space science. 

We applied to the UK Space Agencies Aurora Outreach funding in the summer of 2019 to make the Roving with Rosalind project a reality and were ecstatic to be awarded the funding at the end of that year. The project aims to reach to 7000 students across the UK in total during its primary funding period. At the end of the project’s nominal funding timeline, the kits and resources will be hosted indefinitely by STEM Learning ensuring the kits can be collected and used well beyond the first 7000 students. 

In total, 20 educational, curricula-mapped resources have been created to accompany the practical kits. The project funds the postage of the kits to schools in order to remove funding and geographical barriers to participation in STEM initiatives, improving opportunity and equity in STEM learning. This model helps us to reach schools and students that are geographically distant from science centres, universities and museums, and schools that don’t have the funding to engage with other initiatives. 

Roving with Rosalind breakdown

The main activity categories are: 

  1. Landing site selection, geology and remote sensing
  2. Rover and mission design
  3. Instrument design and building
  4. Analogue missions (the most fun!)
  5. Sample analysis
  6. Learn to code in Python
Romanby Primary School building programmable rovers to explore the Maps of Mars – our pilot school!

The main activity is the analogue missions where students explore a map of the ExoMars landing site, in one of three ways, to search for points of interest and data to analyse. First, students can walk around the map as the rover, communicating with their team as mission control. Secondly, they can utilise remote-control rovers with video feedback to simulate the difficulty in controlling a rover from afar. Or thirdly, they can build and program the included rovers to execute a path across the map. For every point of interest students locate they receive a data downlink from Mars to analyse!

Spectroscope the students build as part of the designing instruments activity and the solar spectrum you can see with them. 

We were really lucky to be able to launch Roving with Rosalind during National Astronomy Week and deliver a rover design and building workshop to over 200 school classes and ~5000 students! We have been able to send our kits to three classes so far, restricted due to COVID, and 100 students to date. We have been able to partner with several STEM equity programmes, like In2Science and Girls into Geoscience, to deliver out Python programming workshops to over 300 upper secondary students with amazing success, and the program has already received some great feedback:

“[It] has been one great interesting and informative experience. I enjoyed everything … provided for the participants. One particular event: I had never done coding before. It was a bit challenging since I had no idea where to begin but the mentors made it so easy to grasp. I’m very excited, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I will definitely do it as an extracurricular activity in my free time. There were a lot of courses. I was clear about what I wanted to do, but the courses gave me a lot more information about the university and beyond. I want to study physics so I’m looking forward to University and onwards.”

As well as reaching students, the Roving with Rosalind programme also aims to improve teacher confidence in the delivery of STEM resources and has provided training to over 50 teachers, technicians, STEM ambassadors and lecturers. The Roving with Rosalind framework is also now being used as a basis for a Europe-wide outreach project run by the ESA Robotics Working Group. 

Example Downlink Target

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Inspiring Stories – The Brilliant Club

Inspiring Stories – The Brilliant Club

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Melissa Mirino, a PhD student at the Open University, describes engaging school students with her thesis.

My strong enthusiasm for space exploration started from a very young age, after attending planetarium shows and astronauts’ events. Since I have been largely inspired by outreach events myself, I have developed a personal interest in inspiring the younger generation to consider a career in science. I have taken up many teaching and outreach opportunities to develop activities for students of different ages and to share my passion for space with the public.

One of the most important and inspiring experiences I have taken part in so far relates to my work as a PhD tutor with The Brilliant Club. This award-winning charity that works with schools and universities across UK.  The aim of the organisation is to inspire students from under-represented backgrounds to progress to highly-selective universities. 

As a Brilliant Club Tutor, I have been creating and delivering tutorials related to modern topics in STEM, from  climate change to planetary science.

Thanks to the support of my mentors, I had the opportunity to create a custom Handbook, where I could create lessons and activities based on my personal experience (Figure 1). The Handbook is structured in sections to introduce pupils to the many aspects of the space exploration, creating  interactive and different types of activities (see images) to cover and stimulate multiple intelligence types (logical, verbal, visual, etc.). 

During my seven tutorials, students explored the various stages of space missions from the primary concept to the data collection phase. They debated the best target for a space mission, selected landing sites, interpreted data from real active missions (Figure 3-4-5), described the martian surface using 3D images (Figure 6), and much more. 

For the final assignment, NASA Mission Calling, I asked students to propose a mission to NASA, selecting a target and identifying a main research question, as well as the instruments they would need to carry out their investigation. This exercise allowed them to express their imagination, and have fun exploring and learning about the Solar System. They also gained experience of following rules of structure and references, and an important mind-set that they can apply to future challenges.

Reading their essays was inspiring and a lot of fun! You can read some excerpt from their essays below. 

Working as PhD tutor made me realise how great and smart those kids are, but how the lack of support and self-esteem could influence their performances  or could demotivate them in pursuing a career in STEM or academia. Space and human missions can be very engaging for young people and I hope that my contribution will have had a positive impact. I really hope that those kids will find their personal space, wherever it means for them.

The Brilliant Club was an amazing experience and I would recommend young professionals in UK to consider getting involved. More information can be found at: https://thebrilliantclub.org/

Excerpts from a few of the students’ essays, where they explained why their missions would benefit the human race:

[…] This mission is particularly important for the advancement of future human knowledge because if we were to find signs of extra-terrestrial life, we could use this to work out the conditions needed for it to survive. We can then move on to bigger things, like creating an environment on earth that matches these conditions and possibly grow new forms of life. […]The knowledge we acquire from possibly finding and sustaining life on Mars can improve our agriculture as we would need to develop new techniques to grow crops, using less water which is very limited on Mars. 


[…] This mission is important because it will help us determine if there is other life in our solar system, even if it is primitive bacteria.  If we do discover life in the subterranean oceans of Europa, this mission could teach us about how bacteria evolved over the millennia by comparing them to bacteria here on Earth. This mission may also inform us about whether it is possible for life to exist so far away from the Sun. […] We also might be able to learn more about cryogenic storage and how to preserve things in ice, as may have happened on this celestial body. All of this it will enhance our knowledge about other celestial bodies bigger than Europa, including another moon orbiting Jupiter called Ganymede which also has a subterranean ocean. It will also enable us to prepare for colder environments deep in space where solar panels are not as effective at producing power. This would help us plan for and prepare deep space missions. For example, if the water and ice is clean, we could rely on using planets and moons like this to resupply water and oxygen rather than having to transport large quantities from Earth, helping us conduct deep space manned missions. 


In conclusion, my proposal is to send a satellite with a lander to test for biosignatures in the ice. My target is Enceladus due to it fitting all the requirements for life as the temperature stable liquid water has inside it the energy source of hydrothermal vents, Enceladus has an atmosphere and it is less radioactive than possible moons of the Jovian system. By finding biosignatures in the sub-surface ocean of Enceladus we could further human knowledge about the conditions needed for life to form, it could prove to us the existence of extraterrestrial life and it could provide key information about how life on earth originated and adapted.


[…] I think that this mission […] could improve the future greatly because then NASA can be sure that they can populate Mars and then attempt to do it. This has the possibility to change where people live forever. If there were bacteria living on Mars, it would be incredible. If life were to be found, then NASA could study how that life form survives in such harsh conditions. To help with NASA’s future, this would be a huge potential way of making an enormous amount of discoveries, potentially leading to minerals being discovered, since everyone knows how scientists and the world of science are desperate to make such discoveries.


[…] The first reason I believe this research will be beneficial to humans and scientists is because Europa has liquid water, which is rarely, if not never, found on other planets besides Earth. This means that Europa has at least one of three main components needed for humans to thrive and survive. Europa also hosts key elements needed for humans to survive – oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen – which suggests we could somewhat find and get oxygen and water. Compared to other planets with thick atmospheres, high temperatures or gas planets, they don’t contain liquid water, although they may contain deltas or frozen lakes. This gives Europa an advantage over these planets, as they have something which planets do not have, except for Earth. Since Europa also has flowing water, scientists could study as a terrestrial analogue and try to find an area similar to the flowing river or lake underneath the surface of the moon Europa.


[…] This mission is crucial in human advancement as it will definitely deepen our understanding of Mars. […] This will help us to understand our solar system more in depth but that is for the future first we have to get to Mars. This would greatly improve the quality of our lives. Let us say we do find extra- terrestrial life this tells us life can exist outside of Earth which if one day we need to move we have a location to go. It would be a way to assure the survival of humanity in the case something bad occurs in the future to our planet who know climate change might make us have to leave our beloved Earth.

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Inspiring Stories – Instagram Infographics to Share Space Science

Inspiring Stories – Instagram Infographics to Share Space Science

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Lanre Logan, Space Exploration Systems Masters student at the University of Leicester, tells us how to share passion for science on Instagram.

I love sharing what I’m passionate about; you might know the feeling. There’s a topic you’re enthralled with, and it’s all you can manage not to talk to your friends about it…all the time! When it comes to science it can be exactly the same, except in this case it’s vitally important that we share this information with others.

By communicating science to a few friends, or especially to the wider public, you are helping the scientific method work. Afterall, who are these discoveries being made for if not the wider world? On a local scale, sharing a scientific tidbit or a recent discovery could lead somebody to think “Huh. I want to know more”, become inspired, and launch their own career in the field!

Personally, I simply find great satisfaction in getting to the crux of a topic and getting a deeper understanding of how a physical concept works. Furthermore, being able to instil the same feeling in others is even more gratifying.

The rise of social media has made this an even more accessible possibility where people don’t need to sift through endless journals or newspapers to find the latest developments. Simply following their favourite YouTube channel or Instagram page can give them all the science stories they need.

I hadn’t considered all of these possibilities when I began Straight Outta Quantum (I hope you get the pun), but I am all the more satisfied for knowing them now.

At first, I was in the position I mentioned earlier – I couldn’t stop talking my friends’ ears off about a new astronomy fact that I’d learned, figured out, or had recently been turning over in my head. I’d always have something I was eager to share with people, and then it hit me: I had Photoshop skills I could combine with my love of science and explain my favourite ideas through Instagram!

The freedom that the Instagram medium brings is a welcomed break. The topics which I write about are mostly content from the courses I have studied, a fact somebody has told me in passing which piqued my interest, or a science video I watched which intrigued me to research further. Before I even realise I want to make a post, I’ll have caught myself turning over the details of it in my head (while I should be revising!) The challenge then is turning it into a story.

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you may not have realised that they are essentially mini narratives, as simply posting the facts line by line would convey the information, but not in any manner that will encourage the viewer to read on. Once I’ve summed up my points coherently, all the while picturing how I’d like each slide to look, the drawing begins! Each slide of course compliments the lesson I’ve written, but to decide how they’ll specifically look I mostly think to myself: “What will look the most exciting?”

For example, instead of showing a diagram of a comet’s constituents, why not draw it rushing past you in the dynamic vacuum of space? All my graphics are made in Adobe Photoshop Elements, purely by myself, and from conception to posting I spend about two weeks between each publication. However, seeing as this began as a hobby, I don’t keep to any strict schedule and mostly work on the posts when I like!

To figure out how to break down complex information into reasonable chunks, I realised communicating science like this successfully comes down to three factors: how comprehensive vs abstract my graphics are, the detail vs brevity of the explanations, and the scientific accuracy vs artistry of my depictions. It’s fun finding the balance with these as too much of any would be detrimental. For instance, I strive to maintain scientific accuracy while still making posts artistic enough to be eye-catching and memorable. Similarly, more detail allows for a deeper understanding of the ideas but too much is of course unmanageable, and not what Instagram users tend to stick around for. Fortunately, I know my audience well through their responses to previous posts, for instance, ones with more words on each slide don’t do as well, most likely because they look less welcoming to read. Once I’ve chosen the key messages of the story I try to add as little to that as possible while keeping it coherent, as this follows my chosen mission statement of simplicity.

Inspired by YouTube channels such as Kurzgesagt and PBS Spacetime, my vision is to share aspects of astronomy and other science which I find interesting. Simple infographics are my chosen information vessel, explaining things from astronomical events such as “The Great Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction”, to more obscure facts such as that “Stars Aren’t Star Shaped. Your Eyes Are”. I believe science should be accessible and making it as easy to follow as possible is my target, even encouraging my followers to see astronomy facts for themselves by reminding them to ‘keep looking up.’

In the end, Straight Outta Quantum serves as a great pastime for me, creating designs about space; both things I love. I don’t know exactly where it’s going, or where it will end up, but I suppose that’s part of the journey when it comes to outreach. There are limitless forms it can take, anybody can do it, and if you enjoy sharing your interests then it is a great option.

I love sharing what I’m passionate about. Do you?

You can find my page here: @StraightOuttaQuantum. I hope you enjoy it, and keep looking up!

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Inspiring Stories – Unlocking the Secrets of Enceladus with a homemade video

Inspiring Stories – Unlocking the Secrets of Enceladus with a homemade video

In this EPEC Inspiring Story, Grace Richards, a doctoral student at The Open University (UK), describes how she developed a winning video for the #PlanetaryScience4All video competition.

This year, EPSC-EPEC launched the #PlanetaryScience4All video competition, where PhD students and early career researchers involved in planetary science were given the opportunity to showcase their research through a 4 minute video. Although I have very little experience making videos and no camera equipment, I decided to enter. I am a first-year PhD student at The Open University, studying icy moon surfaces, with a focus on Enceladus. I will be working on developing a system which can analyse surface composition and determine the effects of space weathering processes, such as micrometeoroid impacts, on icy surfaces. 

Having just bought some watercolours to keep me occupied during the lockdown in the UK, I decided to take inspiration from stop-motion videos made by Stacy Phillips (her videos use Lego figures to explain the geology of mountains – watch here!). I wanted to make something which was accessible to non-scientists and fun to watch, while maintaining a high level of science.

My resources were fairly limited because I’d just moved to a new flat. After watching some YouTube tutorials, I downloaded the Stop Motion Studio app for iPhone, and used voice notes to record the audio. The only issue with recording the audio in this way was getting it recorded in between noise from my family/dogs/neighbours. Luckily, I have a lot of experience editing audio files from taking part in dance competitions!

Making a winning entry for the EPEC-EPSC Video Contest. Credit: Grace Richards
Making a winning entry for the EPEC-EPSC Video Contest. Credit: Grace Richards

After making a storyboard of the video, I started matching up the audio with how many frames were necessary for each section of the video. I used 5 frames a second, so had to take 1,200 photos to meet the 4-minute mark. This gives the video a very “stop-motion” effect. Although it may have looked smoother and more professional to use more frames, I thought that 1,200 photos was my limit (and my phone’s storage limit). The Stop Motion Studio app is extremely easy to use, especially for someone like me who isn’t very good at taking photos and there are some really great tutorials online for how to use it.

The longest part of the process was the painting. Using watercolours can be a fairly quick process, as you use thin washes to build up the colour, but care is needed to ensure the paper doesn’t wear through. I’d work on multiple pictures at a time, but the whole process took me a few full days of painting. I also enlisted my sister and her friend to help me cut out the little figures of spacecraft and text, so that was a lot less painful than I initially thought it would be.

I filmed the video by balancing my phone on a shelf above my paintings and surrounded the whole (very technical) set up with lamps. The only issues here were trying not to move my phone, some lighting problems while the Sun was setting, and trying not to move the paintings too much. I divided the filming into blocks so I could take a few breaks, then merged the audio and video files together using iMovie. My final video was called “Unlocking the Secrets of Enceladus” and can be seen at the bottom of this post.

I would like to give a big shout out to all the other contestants who submitted their videos, illustrating the fantastic science that is being conducted throughout out the EPEC community. The other films in the competition ranged from a detective story about the geomorphology of the Martian surface, insights into planetesimal formation using comets, and planetary mapping of the moon and Mercury.

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Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement 2020 awarded jointly to Dr Sheila Kanani and The Travelling Telescope

Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement 2020 awarded jointly to Dr Sheila Kanani and The Travelling Telescope

The 2020 Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement with Planetary Science has been awarded jointly to Dr Sheila Kanani and to the team behind The Travelling Telescope, Susan Murabana and Daniel Chu Owen.

Dr Sheila Kanani is a planetary physicist, broadcaster, comedian, author and teacher, with a background in research as part of the Cassini science team, studying Saturn’s magnetosphere. She is the co-founder of the STEMMsisters charity, a STEM ambassador and a representative of ScienceGrrl. Since 2014, she has been the Education, Outreach and Diversity Officer of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), where she has transformed the public engagement activity of the Society, delivering a comprehensive programme across the UK, concentrating on areas of socioeconomic deprivation and cultural diversity. She has written five non-fiction books for children, including two space themed books, and has just signed to write a further two science books for children.

Since establishing The Travelling Telescope in 2014, Susan Murabana and Daniel Chu Owen have enabled hundreds of thousands of children to engage with planetary science and astronomy by bringing a portable 12-inch telescope, an inflatable planetarium and outreach resources to remote and underserved regions of Kenya. In January 2020, they completed the construction of the first digital planetarium in East Africa. The Nairobi Planetarium has been built in a low-cost and environmentally sustainable way using bamboo harvested at the site. Susan Murabana is the president of the newly formed Africa Planetarium Association and the United Nations Space4Women mentor 2020.

José Antonio Gordillo Martorell, Chair of the Europlanet Outreach Jury, said, “This is the first time that we have awarded two Europlanet Prizes for Public Engagement in the same year. Sheila Kanani and The Travelling Telescopehave both made outstanding contributions to reaching diverse communities, showing profound personal commitment and innovative approaches to inspiring young people through planetary science and astronomy. We are delighted to have two such worthy winners.”

An awards ceremony will take place during the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020 virtual meeting on Tuesday 22nd September and this will be followed by 15-minute prize lectures by the winners. Both winners will receive an award of 4000 Euros.

Dr Becky Parker, Chair of the Education and Outreach Committee of the RAS, said: “I cannot think of any person more actively engaged in promoting physics and astronomy than Sheila. Collaborators all value her clear and purposeful determination to raise the profile of physics and astronomy and develop engagement in a number of new ways, always thinking about how to support teachers and students. In this extraordinary time of COVID 19, she has been incredibly innovative, providing online activities, teacher training, national activities. Her commitment to such a range of public engagement activities well beyond her day job is phenomenal.”

Dr Mark SubbaRao, President of the International Planetarium Society, said: “Susan and Chu are advocates for astronomy and planetary science education across Africa. The Travelling Telescope is an incredibly important model for Africa, where it is difficult to rely on support from government, or private donations. Whether in the planetarium or at the eyepiece of the telescope, I was struck with the enthusiasm and passion with which Chu and Susan communicated science to everyone from world leaders to small children. I also saw how they hired and mentored many local astronomy students, nurturing the next generation of Kenyan scientists and outreach professionals.”

Dr Sheila Kanani said: “I’m honoured and quite speechless to win this award, especially in being able to share it with such esteemed colleagues in Africa. I’ve always been entirely supported in my endeavours by my family and friends, which has led me to want to support others to be part of the wonderful world of astronomy. Being able to include the space diversity aspects into my job has also been extremely fulfilling, after all, we all share the same sky and earth, so I hope I can help others enjoy space as it has so inspired me!” 

Sheila at a book signing at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Credit: Helen Giles
Sheila at a book signing at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Credit: Helen Giles
Dr Sheila Kanani. Credit: Lynda Laird
Dr Sheila Kanani. Credit: Lynda Laird
Susan Murabana leading an observing session. Credit: The Travelling Telescope
Susan Murabana leading an observing session. Credit: The Travelling Telescope
Daniel Chu Owen leading a school session. Credit: The Travelling Telescope
Daniel Chu Owen leading a school session. Credit: The Travelling Telescope

Contacts
Dr Sheila Kanani
Royal Astronomical Society
skanani@ras.ac.uk

Susan Murabana
CEO and Co-Founder
The Travelling Telescope
smurabana@travellingtelescope.co.uk

Daniel Chu Owen,
Technical Director and Co-Founder
The Travelling Telescope
chu@travellingtelescope.co.uk

Media Contacts

Anita Heward
Europlanet 2020 RI Press Officer
Mobile: +44 (0)77 5603 4243
Email: epsc-press@europlanet-society.org

Livia Giacomini
EPSC Press Officer
Email: epsc-press@europlanet-society.org

Adriana Postiglione
EPSC Press Officer
Email: epsc-press@europlanet-society.org

Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
rmassey@ras.ac.uk

About the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020

EPSC (https://www.epsc2020.eu/) will take place as a virtual meeting for the first time in 2020 from 21 September to 9 October. The meeting has a hybrid format of asynchronous presentations and discussion alongside a programme of live webinars.

The Europlanet Science Congress (formerly the European Planetary Science Congress) is the annual meeting place of the Europlanet Society. With a track record of 14 years and regularly attracting around 1000 participants, the Europlanet Science Congress is the largest planetary science meeting in Europe. It covers the entire range of planetary sciences with an extensive mix of talks, workshops and poster sessions while providing a unique space for networking and exchange of experiences.

Follow on Twitter via @europlanetmedia and using the hashtag #EPSC2020

About Europlanet

Since 2005, Europlanet (www.europlanet-society.org) has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. 

The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149 to provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s planetary science community. 

The Europlanet Society promotes the advancement of European planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the community and is open to individual and organisational members. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).

The Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement

The Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement with Planetary Science (https://www.europlanet-society.org/prize/) aims to recognise achievements in engaging European citizens with planetary science and to raise the profile of outreach within the scientific community. Established by Europlanet in 2010, the Prize is awarded to individuals or groups who have developed innovative practices in planetary science communication and whose efforts have significantly contributed to a wider public engagement with planetary science. The 2020 Prize has been supported by the University of Kent.

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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