Student scientists given the chance to
study the stars at home

May 2020

The Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) have launched a project to boost the research skills of secondary students while learning from home.


The ‘Research in Schools – At Home’ project gives students – at this all-important stage in their education – a unique chance to explore data that came from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Those students who choose to work on the project will learn how scientists select potential targets for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) planned to launch 2021 – described by NASA as the world’s premier science observatory for the next decade.


This at-home project will allow students to transition to the full ‘Cosmic Mining’ project where they can analyse data from the Spitzer Space Telescope looking for unique and unusual stellar objects which could assist astronomers around the scientific preparation for the JWST.


In the comfort of their own homes, students will explore key Physics themes such as the Electromagnetic Spectrum and Life Cycle of a Star. This cutting-edge project introduces students to the advanced skills of Photometry and Spectroscopy, expanding learning outside the curriculum and developing their science capital.


Hundreds of secondary school students across the UK are expected to participate in this project from home. They will learn and then use techniques used in professional astronomical research to examine the data. The project is aimed at 14 to 17-year-olds and designed to complement curricula across the UK.


The project takes around 10 hours for a student carrying it out at home. When they have finished the project students will submit it to IRIS and receive a certificate recognising their achievement.


Dr Jo Foster, Director of IRIS, said:

“It is so important that students don’t find themselves losing out on science education even though they are no longer going into school, this is especially true for secondary students who may not go back to school until September. That’s why we have designed a programme to challenge and support them to continue their scientific learning from their own homes at this vital stage in their education.


“Our mission is to inspire young people to develop a love of science through cutting-edge research projects, working alongside professional scientists. We are preparing the next generation of scientists to help tackle the global problems that we know are coming, and that work doesn’t stop during lockdown.”


Dr Olivia Johnson, Campaign Lead for Webb Public Engagement at STFC, said:

“It’s fantastic that the Research in Schools at Home project is allowing student researchers to work from home at this time, just as professional astronomers are doing. We look forward to hearing more about their work, as they hone their analysis skills and learn more about the sorts of discoveries the Webb Telescope will make possible.”


Amy Walter, 18-year-old student at Plymouth High School for Girls, comments on taking part in the project:

“I have a conditional offer to study Design Engineering at Imperial College London next year, and therefore I need to have good foundations in Physics. I am passionate about Astronomy and want to get involved where I can, especially since I have the time in lockdown which I want to use wisely to prepare for university.


“It was interesting and exciting to read around the content I covered at A level and apply my knowledge to research that is essential for us to further our understanding of the universe. The project advanced my independent research skills and has given me an overview of what research projects involve, which I’m sure will be required when I go to university.


“It is unsettling not knowing whether term will start on-time or if it will involve online teaching. This experience has been useful since it promotes online, self-supported learning. I certainly feel more ready and confident, no matter if I start my degree in person or online.”