As I said in an earlier post, I’ve been offering free virtual planetarium shows via Zoom to Brownie and Guide groups around the UK since January 2021. This all started when a friend of mine (a daughter of my old Guide leader) asked if I could do something for her Brownie group – I’d visited them in person before and taken a telescope, getting all the Brownies through their space badge in one evening.
I figured that a virtual planetarium show using Stellarium would work pretty well over Zoom, so on a cold January evening I joined their meeting and took them on a tour of the evening sky, told them the story of Andromeda and Perseus, and then we visited some of the planets. They asked a lot of questions! The evening was such a success that I decided to offer it to other groups during lockdown. One Facebook post later and I was absolutely swamped with requests! I’ve been doing shows ever since.
It’s now eight months on, and as we pass the end of another term and groups have broken up for the summer, it’s a good time to look back and take stock.
From that first event, the idea developed into one of the most successful public engagement projects I’ve ever run. With a budget of £0, and the help of three of my colleagues I had to draft in to help me cope with the volume of requests, we’ve managed to reach over 1,200 girls around the country, through 60 individual shows, from Portsmouth to Clackmannanshire, Caernarfonshire to Yorkshire, and everywhere in between.
At UCLan we have an Observatory where we teach undergraduate astrophysics classes, but we also host public events for families, youth groups, and the general public. We get a lot of Scout and Cub groups coming along, but very rarely do we get any Guide or Brownie groups visiting, despite the Brownies having a recently revamped Space badge in the programme. It’s not hard to see why this is; girls are often perceived as being less interested in this sort of thing, and maybe it’s not something the leaders think of doing with the girls.
But my experience over the last few months is that Brownies absolutely love space! In fact, my experience with hundreds of schools and youth groups across the UK and Australia over the last 18 years (since I started doing public engagement during my PhD studies…) is that most children love space, at least to some extent. Space and dinosaurs. And I love answering their questions. Even when science hasn’t found the answer yet! (That’s half the fun of science, after all!)
I’m not aiming to create a huge number of budding astrophysicists, or even scientists – that is unrealistic – but if I can inspire just a few kids to take an interest in science, maybe develop an appreciation for it and keep being curious about the world around them as they grow up, then I will have achieved something.
If you are reading this and want a virtual visit for your group from September 2021, here’s the booking form. Best efforts though, I only have so many free evenings ☺️