Cosmic Con Rounds Off Physics Research in Schools

On 21 March 2016, the Outreach team at the School of Physics and Astronomy ran the first annual Cosmic Con 2016. This student conference featured talks and posters by 15-18 year old students from 5 local schools and sixth forms, who presented the results of their six-month long independent research projects in collaboration with Queen Mary University of London.

The students had been working on one of two different research areas. Dr Jeanne Wilson was the academic lead on a project surrounding cosmic ray muons, which serve as a background to the underground neutrino experiments that SPA are involved in using fundamentally identical detectors to those loaned to the schools. The other project, devised by Dr Martin Archer, involved listening to ultra-low frequency waves of Earth's magnetosphere, a key component of space weather research, and analysing them using audio software.

Prof Richard Nelson, Head of the Astronomy unit and one of the judges on the evening, noted the high quality of work from all the students involved. The feedback of the entire research in schools programme has been immensely positive, one student noted "(the project) opened my mind to the realm of physics in space and prepared me for future prospects of knowing the complexities" and one of the teachers added that it had "helped me to explain to the students the nature of research" and that it had "allowed the engagement of all my students".

The Outreach team aim to run these projects again next year at even more schools, thanks to recent STFC Public Engagement and Queen Mary Access Agreement grants, and will be adding to the roster of research areas available with an additional project based on Prof Nelson's work hunting for exoplanets using the Kepler mission. Please do get in touch if you'd like to be involved in next year's research in schools programme.