Jodrell Bank’s public engagement programme brings £27 million to local economy

From music festivals and the BBC Stargazing Live series to schools outreach, Jodrell Bank likes to share its science. Following the 2011 launch of its new £2.9 million Discovery Centre, the observatory now attracts 150,000 visitors including 15,000 school children each year. Alongside the educational impact, this renewed public engagement programme has also created 26 new jobs and is estimated to have brought £8 million to the local economy over the last three years.

For thousands of years humans have looked to the skies in wonder. In pre-scientific times, we created stories that reflected our fascination with the heavens. More recently we have used technology to reveal previously undreamt of wonders: black holes, exploding stars, the fading glow of the Big Bang.

Jodrell Bank harnesses the innate public interest in astronomy and introduces 150,000 visitors each year to its science.

But Jodrell Bank does not spend all its time staring into space – the University of Manchester’s world-famous observatory is a hub of public engagement activity. Here researchers and specialists in science communication harness the public interest in astronomy; they engage with up to 150,000 visitors annually and introduce them to the wonders and science of the universe.

The engagement activities span exhibits and exhibitions in the Discovery Centre, a schools programme, public lectures and mainstream media involvement, plus a nationally acclaimed summer festival of music and science. Together this activity has created 26 new jobs in the Discovery Centre and is expected to inject some £27 million into the area over the decade since its opening in 2011.

Education

Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre

In 2011 the University of Manchester opened its new Discovery Centre at Jodrell Bank, funded by £2.9 million from the Northwest Development Agency and the European Regional Development Fund. The exhibits cover many aspects of astronomy and physics, including the work of the famous Lovell Telescope, pulsars, MERLIN and gravitational lensing. The popular school holiday ‘Meet an Astronomer’ sessions inspire children – the next generation of scientists – while adult audiences are attracted to sell-out public lectures.

With their love of space and enthusiasm for learning, school children are a key target audience for the Discovery Centre. School trips include workshops that link astronomy research to the national curriculum; a new programme, which now reaches nearly 15,000 students each year, goes a step further and provides additional teacher training in the subject matter.

The new Discovery Centre has created 26 jobs and contributed £8 million to the local economy since opening in 2011.

The success of the Discovery Centre is marked by its growing visitor numbers, up from 69,000 visitors in 2011 to 145,000 in 2013. Visitor surveys show that over three-quarters are ‘likely’ or ‘absolutely certain’ to recommend a visit to friends. In 2011 and 2012 the Centre was awarded Tourism Attraction of the Year by Marketing Cheshire.

Festivals

Outside of education, Jodrell Bank organises and hosts pioneering, award-winning festivals which combine science and music. The first ‘Live from Jodrell Bank’ event in 2011 attracted an audience of 5,000, increasing to 12,000 in 2012. In 2013, Jodrell Bank organised two weekend-long festivals which attracted a total of 28,000 people, many travelling from long distances. A CD and DVD of 2012’s event, “Elbow: Live at Jodrell Bank”, was released in 2013. Alongside the bands, festival-goers enjoy the science arena showcasing the work of researchers from across the University and beyond. The events have won several prizes including the ‘Best Outdoor Event’ at the 2011 National Event Awards, the ‘Extreme Creativity’ award at the 2012 UK Festival Awards and Marketing Cheshire’s Tourism Event of the Year award in 2013.

Media coverage

Stargazing Live

Jodrell Bank also engages with the public through numerous media channels. The observatory was mentioned over 1,500 times in print and web news stories since 2008. Frequent television appearances include BBC2’s ‘Stargazing Live’, which has attracted over three million viewers per show in four series so far – a pleasingly high viewing figure for a science-based programme. Jodrell Bank research students even produce their own podcast, The Jodcast, which has over 4,000 listeners.

Media engagement contributes to the high public perception of Jodrell Bank. An online survey showed that 54% of the UK population has heard of the UK science facility. The site is now officially recognised as ‘a major modern scientific development which has greatly enlarged human understanding of the Universe’ following its addition to the UK Tentative List for World Heritage Site status.

Facts and figures:

Economic impact

Over the next decade the work of the Discovery Centre is expected to inject £27 million into the area.

Household name

3 million viewers watched ‘Stargazing Live’ hosted at Jodrell Bank.

Visitors

Over 350,000 people visited the Discovery Centre in its first two years.

Highly recommended

76% of visitors to the Discovery Centre would recommend a visit to friends.

Background

The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank is one of the world’s largest and most powerful radio telescopes, which allows scientists to perform world-leading research across a range of areas. For example, Jodrell Bank researchers played a leading role in the discovery and analysis of the first ever double pulsar system, providing the most stringent test ever of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, work which led to the 2005 Descartes Prize for Research by an international collaborative team.

Lovell Telescope

Researchers at Jodrell Bank developed the radio-linked interferometer MERLIN, recently upgraded to an optical-fibre linked network of seven telescopes across the UK called e-MERLIN. High-sensitivity radio images from e-MERLIN have similar resolution to those from the Hubble Space Telescope. Plans for the world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) build on techniques developed for e-MERLIN, and the global headquarters for SKA is at Jodrell Bank.

The first gravitational lens, the warping of space-time by mass, was discovered by a team led by astronomers at Jodrell Bank. Gravitational lensing is now a key technique used to study dark matter in the Universe and Jodrell Bank astronomers continue to play a major role in a number of experiments based on this approach.

Jodrell Bank astronomers have studied the fading glow of the Big Bang, the cosmic microwave background, for many years. Researchers developed the Very Small Array which made early observations of the power spectrum of the radiation. Recent work includes building ultra-low noise amplifiers for the low frequency instrument on the European Space Agency’s Planck spacecraft and analysing its observations.

Funders

The Team

The scientists and engineers in the Jodrell Bank Observatory and Centre for Astrophysics work together with the staff of the Discovery Centre to help deliver an innovative and wide-ranging programme of engagement with their research.    

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