Research in astronomy engages next generation of physicists
(25 May 2004)
Young people who could be the next generation of physicists can now get a glimpse of innovative astronomical research at the University of Durham.
The brand-new Faulkes Telescope Centre within the Department of Physics is offering school pupils access to real time astronomy using telescopes in Hawaii and Australia. As a leading player in astronomy and physics research, Durham is host to this regional centre as part of a wider science outreach programme.
Researchers at Durham University have developed ways to improve the quality of astronomical imaging through the correction of blurring from the earth's atmosphere. Expertise in adaptive optics is being used to compensate for the turbulence in the atmosphere that distorts the light beam in astronomical instruments resulting in much clearer resolution of images simply put; it is a way to stop the stars from twinkling.
Alongside this research, the Faulkes Telescope Centre now enables school pupils to look through huge astronomical telescopes on the other side of the world from a purpose-built classroom at Durham. It offers access to robotic telescopes in Hawaii and Australia which pupils and teachers can access via the web to carry out real-time astronomy during classroom hours. The longitude of the observatories, half way round the world, means when it is school time in Britain, the telescopes are looking into the night sky.
Dr Pete Edwards, Science and Society Coordinator at Durham University said: This is a unique opportunity for schoolchildren to take part in real life astronomy and to actually help our staff in some of their projects. We want to inspire young people by putting the universe right at their fingertips, and offering them the thrill of scientific research at the frontiers of knowledge.
The research in adaptive optics, led by Professor Ray Sharples, is now being used to further develop free space communications in areas such as telephone and internet connections.
Professor Sharples said: We are applying the technique of adaptive optics to improve the connections sent through the air for day-to-day applications such as telephone and internet. Many communication signals are sent down optical fibres instead of wires. This works very well for long haul links from city to city but proves to be less efficient for short distances within a city where a rapid connection is needed. The use of a free space optical link by shining a laser through the air is more efficient but has the disadvantage of interference from the atmosphere. The expertise in adaptive optics is being applied to improve the quality of the connection.
In addition to developing new technologies, the research group is a leading player in the construction of instruments for several of the world's observatories including the William Herschel Telescope on La Palma, the Anglo-Australian telescope in Australia, and the Gemini telescopes in Hawaii and Chile. The group will, later this year, expand to occupy new laboratories in the NetPark Research Institute in County Durham, UK providing unique capabilities for the assembly, integration and testing of major new instruments.
Information and images at: Astronomical Instrumentation Group or Physics Outreach
Centre for Advanced Instrumentation
Professor Ray Sharples, Physics, University of Durham
Tel +44 (0) 191 334 3719
Faulkes Telescope Centre
Dr Pete Edwards, Science and Society Coordinator, Physics, University of Durham
Tel +44 (0) 191 334 3782
Dr P Edwards
Public Relations Office
Dionne Hamil, Public Relations Officer, University of Durham
Tel +44 (0) 191 334 6078
Dionne Hamil This item will feature on Research TV to view the film visit Research TV