Over the years I have developed many activities and talks, appropriate for all ages and levels of knowledge. Most of the activities are intended for school or youth groups, or in science-busking environments, while most of my talks can be tailored to a given audience on-the-fly. Below is a list and brief description of some of my material. If you are interested in booking one of them, please contact me.
When Galaxies Collide!: Once upon a time we thought the Universe was static and unchanging. These days of course, we know differently. The whole Universe is in motion and, from time to time, galaxies pass too close to each other and gravity takes over; the results are often spectacular. Join us for a tour of the universe as we look at what galaxies are made of, take a bird’s-eye view of our own Milky Way, then look at what happens when gravity becomes irresistible, and ending with a sneak preview of our own galaxy’s distant future. Audience: Beginners in astronomy of any age, astronomy societies.
The Kaleidoscopic Universe: Astronomy is the study of the entire universe using the only thing that reaches us: light. But visible light is only a tiny part of the much larger electromagnetic spectrum, encompassing everything from radio, microwave, infra-red, and visible, to ultra-violet, x-ray and gamma-ray. This story takes us on a tour of some well-known astronomical objects to illustrate what each part of the spectrum can tell us about the physics of our universe. Audience: general public, schools.
The future of radio astronomy – the SKA: The Square Kilometre Array is going to be a revolutionary new telescope. It will have a vast collecting area, helping us collect more information from the sky and make better images of the Universe, helping us to understand the physics which drives the evolution of the cosmos. This talk starts by introducing the idea of astronomy outside the optical part of the spectrum and introduces the idea of radio interferometry, the technique of using many small telescopes together to create a much larger instrument. Audience: upper high school, general public, astronomy societies.
Supernovae and other cosmological explosions: Supernovae are highly destructive stellar explosions, but there are many different types of explosion in the supernova zoo, and more are being discovered as larger surveys are carried out. This talk starts with a look at the life-cycle of stars, and takes a look at the different ways stars of different types come to an end. We then look at the different explosion mechanisms and what supernova studies can tell us, not only about the extreme physics involved, but about the eventual fate of the entire Universe. Audience: upper high school, general public, astronomy societies.
Going over galaxies with a fine tooth comb: Radio astronomy has been transformed over the last fifty years, from an era of large single dishes, able to map the sky only at resolutions of degrees, to arrays of telescopes working together to create images with milliarcsecond resolution (1000th of 1/3600 of a degree). Until a few years ago, this spectacular feat was only possible for very small patches of sky, making it a useful but very inefficient way of exploring the universe. But new techniques, developed over the last few years, are now allowing us to map areas the size of the full Moon at this outstanding resolution. This powerful new capability is opening up new areas of research and enabling us to carry out large-scale studies which were impossible in the past. I will illustrate this new technique and show how we are using it to study the nearest galaxies at spectacularly high resolution. Audience: upper high school, astronomy societies.
General astronomy talks
Finding Earth 2.0: The Earth is doomed. In five billion years (when the Sun runs out of fuel) certainly, if not before, our planet will become uninhabitable for humans. How do we find another refuge? Could the solar system provide a second home for humanity, or do we need to look further afield? What qualities should we look for in a replacement planet, and how on earth do we get there? Audience: astronomical societies, general public.
The Solar System: a tour of our solar system, a look at how we think it formed, and the evidence we have to back up those ideas. Along the way we explore star forming regions in the Milky Way, do a little bit of stellar chemistry, look at planetary formation, and explore the scars on the surface of some of the rocky bodies in our solar system that let us trace the history of plantary bombardment. Audience: general public.
The Modern Universe: a tour of some of the most important ideas in modern astronomy, including the process that powers stars, the various ways they come to an end, and the effects they have on the surrounding environment, a look at what galaxies are made of, their different shapes and sizes, how they have evolved over the lifetime of the Universe (so far!). Audience: general public.
Schools talks and workshops
Around the Universe in 60 minutes*: A whirlwind tour of the Universe, starting from the Earth-Moon system and heading out through the solar system, to the nearest stars, the Milky Way, local galaxies, the expansion of the Universe, and ending with the question of what happens in the future.
Audience: Originally intended for lower/primary school groups, but easily adapted to any audience of interested beginners in astronomy of any age. (*depending on how many questions the audience ask, the talk can go for much longer!)
Rockets!: A highly interactive schools/family workshop looking at how rockets work, exploring some examples (including a real five-foot example which has flown to a height of two kilometres!) and ending with a balloon-powered rocket race (space permitting).
Audience: primary school, families with primary-age children.
We Share the Same Moon: I can run any of 20 science activities that were developed and piloted during 2019, the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing, as part of a project to develop creative and engaging ways of teaching aspects of the primary school science curriculum in a fun and hands-on way. The activities are all available on the project website for free, and include detailed instructions, as well as introductory science descriptions to help teachers with little formal training in science. We Share the Same Moon was funded by the Arts Council England, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Royal Astronomical Society and the International Astronomical Union, and was an IAU100 Special Project celebrating both 50 years since the Moon landings and 100 years of the International Astronomical Union in 2019.
Audience: primary schools – each activity is aimed at teaching or introducing a particular topic from the primary science curriculum.
Science and culture
The Moon and Us: A look at how the Moon has influenced and shaped human cultures over thousands of years, how our scientific understanding of the Moon has developed, and what we still have left to learn about our nearest neighbour. From ancient stone circles to Apollo and beyond, this talk gives an overview of how our knowledge of the Moon has evolved. Where did the Moon come from? Why does the far side look so different? What is the legacy of the Apollo missions, and what are we still learning from the lunar samples? And, most importantly, is the Moon really made of cheese? Premiered at Gloucester Cathedral as part of the Museum of the Moon in 2019. Audience: general public.
Ilgarijiri: things belonging to the sky: the story of three astronomers, a group of Aboriginal artists, and an ABC film crew, on a road trip through outback Western Australia to visit the site of the Square Kilometre Array during the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. Along the way they explore the telescopes sprouting like mushrooms from the desert floor, swap stories about the night sky and what the patterns mean to them, and view the night sky through optical telescopes. The cultural exchange resulted in a large exhibition of original Aboriginal art which subsequently toured internationally. This talk describes the experience, showing a selection of the art and describing some of the stories exchanged during the trip. Audience: any.