IOP Scholars’ Programme: the wonders of the universe viewed from a field in Cheshire


Jodrell Bank Observatory is part of the University of Manchester. It has been welcoming parties of school visitors for generations. So it was the obvious place for an IOP Scholars supertrip



Jodrell Bank is home to the Lovell Telescope. Since 1957, it has been probing the depths of space and it is still the third single largest telescope in the world. The team of astrophysicists based at Jodrell Bank carry out world class research in radio-astronomy, combining observation, theory and modelling techniques.

In April, 18 scholars from across England gathered at Jodrell Bank for a Supertrip focused on how to run a school trip here. IOP Teaching and Learning Coach Brendan Ickringill led the event, sharing his experiences of school trips and the best practice for the unexpected.

Getting up close to the iconic 42ft Lovell radio telescope is enough to excite even the coolest of pupils. So we were pleased to see that it was a beautiful – if a bit chilly – spring day. Walking around the site and standing in the shadow of that iconic telescope is a key part the visit and a wet day would have meant that we’d be stuck inside.

Of course, there’s also a blow up planetarium and, as part of its fantastic Discovery Centre exhibitions, a 5,000 year old meteor that your students can get their hands on so the day wouldn’t be a total wash-out.

The Discovery Centre has an education team which has been working hard over the years to match what they offer with the curriculum and they are keen to support teachers coming onto the site any way they can. Their top tip was for teachers to make sure they have an initial discussion with the team, to let them know what has been covered and what can be skipped, so that the pupils can get the very most out of a session. Suggesting the level of maths before the event is also important.

The scholars had two sessions with the team. First off was a look at the night sky in an inflatable planetarium and an overview of the classroom sessions available to students.

Then, in the classroom the scholars conducted an exoplanet experiment detecting light intensity levels for a planet orbiting a star. From their measurements in the KS4 activity, the scholars were able to calculate the radius of their exoplanet.

A snapshot of an A-level session on radio telescopes was similarly well thought out and easy for students to follow: by using data from the Lovell telescope, the scholars could calculate the rotational velocity and mass of star M33.

Jodrell Bank’s website gives full information about the suitability of a trip for students of all ages and access to some curriculum-linked resources. They design these activities so that they can be completed in school as well as in their classroom for all key stages and they provide simple worksheets to step students through tricky calculations.

The day finished with a final round-up from Brendan who led a discussion on the main worries that teachers have before taking the leap into school trips. If you are organising your first school trip, Brendan’s top recommendation is to go to a closed site such as Jodrell Bank as this eliminates many key issues (travelling by public transport, walking through busy public museums, limited access to qualified first aid staff). And don’t forget to tell them you’re coming – that was a plea from the Jodrell Bank team.

See photos from the event on Flickr

Jo Keogh

IOP Education Team