Welsh A level Students learn about saving the Earth from Asteroids
Having seen blockbuster Hollywood films such as Deep Impact and Armageddon, we are all familiar with the scenario: a colossal asteroid is heading towards Earth, the human race faces imminent destruction. What do we do? We know that an asteroid just 7 miles across was responsible for annihilating the dinosaurs (and 75% of all species) 65 million years ago, and asteroids don’t always miss. Scientists at NASA are concerned about this problem; they are busy making a detection and deflection system so that we can avoid the same fate. Students here in Wales were also invited to work on this problem, through their involvement with an innovative workshop.
Welsh A level students from Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Cardiff, Merthyr and Caerphilly had the opportunity to attend an innovative and exciting masterclass examining the potential impact of asteroids on a collision course with Earth. Through a ‘fast-paced, exciting and educational experience’, students learnt all about planets, stars, galaxies, cosmology and Observational astronomy. They attempted to find, track, divert and destroy approaching asteroids, whilst engaging in discussions and debates about the moral and ethical dilemmas associated with natural disasters. This 5 day workshop enabled the students to work alongside experts in detecting threats, problem solving and using core skills in a way that stretches the imagination.
Students attended lectures and labs, and did online research themed around the storyline of an impending impact threat. Role-play was used to engage participants in the ongoing story, building their knowledge day-by-day as the "plot" developed. Each day they worked on new aspects of the impending problem, making decisions, discussing, debating, and managing budgets and scarce resources.
Through this unique project students engaged with relevant topics in science, technology, engineering and management. The project built on the previously successful "Back Down to Earth" programme funded by Beacons for Wales.
The leader of the project, Dr Allan Trow is an astronomy lecturer at the University of Glamorgan. He runs the program Dark Sky Wales (DSW) which delivers astronomy and engineering workshops. He said:
‘The workshops provided a platform for young people to work with cutting edge research in Astronomy, whilst simultaneously allowing researchers at the University of Glamorgan to engage with the young people surrounding the university’.
Another leader of the project was Dr Paul Roche. Paul is the Director of the Faulkes Telescopes Project, and the UK National Schools Astronomer (STFC Science in Society Fellowship). He works all over the country with school groups, teachers, universities and amateur astronomers, and has over 20 years experience in science educational/outreach. He has also developed the national "Down to Earth" programme, which uses the science of asteroids, comets and impacts to engage students of all ages in science subjects.
The benefits for Wales of programs like ‘Impact Earth’ cannot be overstated, the need to engage children in science, technology, engineering and maths is great, which is why the Welsh Assembly Government recently announced a £3 million project aimed at increasing the number of young engineers, scientists, technologists, and mathematicians in the Welsh workforce.
Previous Beacon Project: Down2Earth
Dark Sky Wales
The Faulkes Telescope Project
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