Educational/Outreach Programme

On this page we describe the Education, Outreach and Heritage activities to be carried out during the IAUS350 “Laboratory Astrophysics: from Observations to Interpretation” symposium


Exploring the Universe Exhibition – Family and holiday club event

On Wednesday 17th April, 2-5 pm, the International Astronomical Union will host a Space Science exhibition at Jesus College in Cambridge with lots hands-on experiments for the whole family. You can build comets and spacecraft shielding, explore what light is made from, investigate some actual meteorites, and much more. We’ll be bringing laboratory astrophysics to you and you get the chance to get your hands onto your own little piece of space, right here on earth!

Tickets are free and available here

Outer Space Hands-on – Exploring the Universe from the Laboratory

Can you imagine bringing space into the lab? Humans have been observing the stars, trying to understand how the universe works, for thousands of years; but we can only observe, not control, what is happening so far beyond our reach.

How can we solve that? In laboratory astrophysics, we create our own little space environment in the laboratory or simulate it on a computer. That way, we can control the environmental conditions, while investigating millions of individual processes that together will form a bigger picture: When I mix this or that chemical into water ice, how will it look through a telescope? Can I collide and stick together small icy or rocky grains to form a planet? Is there anything in space that could “glue” them together?

Researchers across the UK have set out to tackle these challenges, and this spring we bring laboratory astrophysics to you. You get a chance to get your hands onto your own little piece of space, right here on earth!

Please note that children must be supervised by accompanying adults at all times.

Leisure time activity

Junk model competition for late primary to early secondary ages: Modelling a state-of-the-art research experiment from everyday materials

Do you like arts and crafts? Do you enjoy working with your hands? Do you like tinkering with materials, re-purposing them, or creating something from scratch? Then this activity is for you.

We invite entries to a junk model competition from groups and/or individuals in late primary to early secondary school stages.

You will use everyday materials to re-create a state-of-the-art apparatus, used in laboratory astrophysics. Wondering what that is? Laboratory astrophysics recreates the conditions found in outer space in a laboratory, so that we can investigate processes like planet formation or the origin of biological molecules hands-on. This helps us to interpret the observations astronomers make through their telescopes. Developing such a laboratory experiment is much like this model building competition: often, we need to look at the available materials and parts and find a way to combine them to do what we want to do, or we need to design something no-one has ever done before, from scratch – and then get our hands dirty putting it together. Now it is time that you have a go at it. We are looking forward to seeing what you make and hearing about your experience. Therefore, we would like to meet you in person!

If you have already registered for our exhibition event at Jesus College in Cambridge on Wednesday 17th April, 2-5 pm, you can register here for the competition and to receive further instructions.

At the exhibition event, you will get to display your model next to those of your competitors and next to the actual apparatus. The most accurate model will receive a prize.

Curious? Then register by 16th April 2019 here or ask us for more information by emailing We hope to see you at Jesus College soon.

School Competition

Curriculum enhancement activity for KS 3 & 4: Modelling a solar system body or a spacecraft surface

This competition will provide options to address the KS 3 & 4 scientific curriculum objectives in physics and chemistry to understand energy transfers, forces and motion in collision processes, researching into specific features of the solar system and into the structure and properties of different materials. Students will have to work scientifically in selecting the most appropriate materials based on prior knowledge, predicting the expected outcome of the impact collision experiment and presenting reasoned explanations in written form.

Will a spacecraft survive the impact collision of a small meteorite? What sort of crater will an impact leave on a rocky or icy moon? At the University of Kent, we simulate such impact events to improve our understanding of them and the materials of the target and projectile bodies. We have a huge experiment to fire the right projectiles at the right speeds (up to 8 kilometres per second) to investigate the effect of impact collisions on different materials found in the solar system. Our experiments range from looking at how impact collisions form large craters on rocky bodies to testing out suitable space craft shielding materials, which will provide the best protection for the astronauts.

The equipment used is called the Two Stage Light Gas Gun (LGG) and actually fills a whole room.

Our challenge to you is to build realistic models of the surfaces we want to study.

In this competition, we invite you to tackle the challenge that we face, mimicking the surface of solar system bodies or spacecraft in the lab. You should use everyday materials to design a model of a solar system body (e.g. the surface of a moon or a planet) or spacecraft surface; you should justify the material choice and explain why the design is a good model for the chosen solar system body/spacecraft. For example, what material would be best to model an icy moon, an asteroid, or even the earth or a Space Station.

The submitted designs will be judged for creativity and justification of materials and the winning model will be built and impacted using the LGG (shipment costs will be reimbursed). Video recordings of impacts will be made available to the winners and any other interested parties.

More details on dates and prizes will be announced soon. Please email for further information.