School kids get their own research-class telescopes


School children throughout the UK will be able to see the most amazing astronomical images in the sky from the comfort of their classrooms by controlling two, remotely operated research-class telescopes.

British Entrepreneur Dill Faulkes and the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees have today (March 16th) launched the Faulkes Telescope Project - a unique educational resource to ignite children's enthusiasm for science. Concerned by the declining interest in science and maths, Dill Faulkes, who attributes his own business success to the state education he received in these subjects, has funded the construction of two state-of-the-art robotic telescopes for use by schools.

The twin telescopes are located in prime astronomical observing areas - Faulkes North in Hawaii and Faulkes South in Australia - close to some of the world's most powerful professional telescopes. Because the telescopes are located in different time zones school children in the UK will be able to use them in daytime classroom hours. The telescopes are robotic and will be controlled over the internet. A web cam will show how the telescope is being controlled to focus on a selected object and the resulting images will be returned to schools in a matter of minutes. Schools simply book their timeslot; plan the work they want to carry out and take control of the telescope.

"The idea of giving British youngsters access to a world-class telescope immediately appealed to me," says Dill Faulkes. "I could see that spending a few million pounds making science and maths in schools more interesting would have much more effect on children than spending half a billion on truancy measures".

Prof. Ian Halliday, Chief Executive of the UK's Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC] said, "Making research-class telescopes available to students in schools will bring the wonder of astronomy right into the classroom. Through real-time observing schools will have a unique resource through which to teach maths and science in an inspirational and exciting way".

Educational materials to help teachers plan the use of the telescope, both as part of the National Curriculum and beyond to stretch able students, are available as well as support from astronomers. Schools will be able to select their own projects or team up with local Universities across the country to take part in genuine research projects.

Some of the available projects include tracking near-earth asteroids, imaging galaxies and studying gamma-ray bursts - the most violent explosions in the Universe. Materials have been prepared for Key Stages 3 and 4 (ages 11-16 years) as well as for older groups at A-level, University and amateur groups, who will be able to use the telescope out of school hours.

These resource materials have been tested by John Cleveland College in Hinckley, Dill Faulkes' old school. Teacher Sue Thistlethwaite said "We are delighted to be involved in the telescopes project because they are instruments that can bring both Science and Mathematics alive for young people. They will support our mission to improve performance in these subjects and to involve young people outside of their studies as well. Finally, Dill Faulkes is an ex-student of the College and he is a tremendous role model for our students!"

Notes to Editors

Images

Images of and taken by the telescope are available online at www.pparc.ac.uk/Nw/FT_images.asp You need to enter the username: ppmedia and the password ?v2030! to access the images.

Project Funding

The project has been realised through a GBP10 million donation from the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust. This trust was set up in 1998 with the aim of providing projects which would inspire young people. The Faulkes Telescope Project has also received additional funding of approximately GBP750,000 from the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council for basic sponsorship, spectrographs and staff effort; and funds from the Department for Education and Skills to enable an online educational programme to be developed. The Faulkes Telescope Project is part of the National Schools Observatory, making professional telescopes available to schools. See http://www.schoolsobservatory.org.uk/ for details. The launch event has been organised with, and funded by PPARC.

The Telescopes

The telescopes were built in Birkenhead by Telescope Technologies Ltd, a spin off company from Liverpool John Moores University. Each telescope has a 2 metre diameter primary mirror, a 2048x2048 pixel CCD camera and a field of view of 4.5 arcminutes in diameter. They are mounted so they can move in elevation and azimuth independently, with the two axes controlled by a computer to track the movement of stars across the sky. The telescopes are housed in state-of-the-art enclosures that open like a clam shell.
The whole telescope system is designed to operate automatically. When users take control of one of the telescopes, the commands entered onto the webpage are sent to the telescope via a control centre in the UK. The telescope control system will then decide if the weather is good enough to open the enclosure, point the telescope and take the images requested. At the end of night, or if the weather deteriorates, the enclosure will close automatically.

Operations Centre

Cardiff University is host to the Operations Centre for the Faulkes Telescope Project.
The operations centre will provide users with help and advice on using the telescopes and carrying out the educational projects. It will also monitor the use of the telescope and ensure smooth operations.

Registration Procedure

Schools pay a subsidised subscription of GBP160 per annum to book up to three, half-hour observing sessions, with an additional 10 minutes of off-line time. Further details and the registration form can be found online at www.faulkes-telescope.com Other groups, such as Astronomy Societies, Youth Clubs and Adult Learning Groups will be able to use the telescopes outside of school hours.

Users can operate the Faulkes Telescopes in two ways, the real-time mode and the off-line mode.
Real-Time Mode - Users will be able to experience controlling a large telescope and pointing it at any object currently visible in the night sky directly from their classroom. The project has developed a simple web interface that will allow a class to use the telescope with little training. The images taken with the telescope will be returned immediately, enabling the users to see their data within minutes of telling the telescope to start the observation. Webcam images of the telescope will show users what is happening at each step.
Off-Line Mode - This mode will be used to carry out observations that do not need to be made in real time, e.g. monitoring a variable star. Users will request observations of a particular object. The telescope will carry out this observation at the next available opportunity, usually within days, after which the users can download their images via the web site.

Biography of Dr. M.C.Faulkes

Dr Martin C Faulkes, Founder and CEO, The Dill Faulkes Educational Trust Ltd

Dr Faulkes attributes his financial success in business to his mathematical and scientific training and is keen that young people in the UK benefit from the same studies that were freely available to him. Being concerned that many UK children perceive mathematics and science as difficult and boring Dr Faulkes established a charity in 1998; the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust. The aim of this trust is to support educational programmes aimed at inspiring young people in science and maths.

Recent projects from the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust include the Faulkes Telescope Project, The Faulkes Institute for Geometry at Cambridge University, The Faulkes Flying Foundation, and a computer system for the dyslexic children at Knowl Hill School in Surrey.

Dr Faulkes had a traditional grammar school education in Hinckley (where he was nicknamed Dill), followed by a Special Maths degree at Hull University and a PhD in Mathematics from London University, Queen Elizabeth College. Dr Faulkes continued in research as a post-doctoral researcher, specialising in general relativity because he wanted to work at the cutting-edge of science. After several years of post-doctoral research in the UK and Canada, Dr Faulkes left academia and began a career in computer software with Logica, after a brief spell as a trainee patent agent.

His mathematical training was ideally suited to his initial assignments at Logica as a scientific programmer where he worked on defence projects and on the design and implementation of computer networks. In 1979 he set up Logica's business in the US and as President, developed the business by focusing on international network projects for major multi-national companies; especially airlines, banks and telecommunications companies.

After five years in Manhattan, Dr Faulkes returned to London as Managing Director of software company SPL, where he worked for just over one year before selling the company to Systems Designers plc. After a year with SD plc he started his own mergers and acquisitions business with international software companies.

He invested in a number of private software companies that were subsequently floated on the UK stock market or sold privately; it was the proceeds from the flotation of software company Triad plc that enabled Dr Faulkes to establish his educational trust. Whilst he remains an active investor in small high-tech companies, he can often be found pursuing his favourite pastimes which include: cycling, skiing, climbing Munros, gliding and church bell-ringing.

John Cleveland College

John Cleveland College (formerly Hinckley Grammar School) is a comprehensive College which serves the town of Hinckley in Leicestershire. It educates 1600 students, boys and girls, between the ages of 14-19. It also has a thriving community education programme.

John Cleveland has a National reputation for its music, the orchestras, jazz band and ensembles regularly play to packed houses at home in Hinckley, and further afield, for example at Disney world in Paris. It excels at sport, with students representing their countries at different age levels in rugby hockey and athletics. Former John Cleveland students regularly feature in the England rugby squad. There is a large, thriving sixth from which offers a full range of advanced subjects and reaches excellent results. In 2003 College gained its best ever GCSE results and is aiming to improve again this year.

Academically they now plan to continue to move forward quickly. The College particularly wants to make Science and Mathematics exciting subjects that appeal to young people and in which they excel. Science results have dramatically improved and we are applying to be a Specialist College in Science from September. This will include a strong mathematics component.

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.

PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), and the European Space Agency. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank observatory.

PPARC's Public Understanding of Science and Technology Awards Scheme funds both small local projects and national initiatives aimed at improving public understanding of its areas of science.

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