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Department of Physics and Astronomy

Royal Society exhibitions explain our discoveries to thousands

The annual Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition has showcased research from The University of Manchester on eight occasions in six successive years.

Every year the Royal Society showcases innovative science in its Summer Science Exhibition - one of the UK's top science events for the general public.

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Over six years 94,000 people visited our exhibits at the Summer Exhibition.

The work of researchers in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Department of Materials and the Department of Computer Science has been the centrepiece in four exhibition displays during this time: 'ALMA Observatory', 'Putting sunshine in the tank', 'Carbon flatland' and 'Liquid crystals'.

Our research has also contributed to four other exhibits in collaboration with other universities: 'Planck', 'Higgs Boson', 'From the oldest light to the youngest stars' and 'Is there anybody out there?'

Every exhibit features hands-on demonstrations: at the 'Carbon flatland' display visitors used sellotape to make graphene, which they could see using a microscope. Visitors were rewarded chocolate Nobel Prize medals for their work.

Top quality

The Royal Society runs a competition to select the content for these exhibitions. Entries are judged on the quality of their underpinning research and the submitting institution's track record in public engagement.

The selection of eight entries in six years is a simple reminder that our research stands out; the Royal Society chose our exhibit 'Putting sunshine in the tank' from a pool of 97 applicants. When professors Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010, the Royal Society directly invited them to mount a special display about their discoveries.

Promoting science

Our eight exhibits attracted roughly 94,000 visitors overall during the six events we attended. The 2011 solar panel and carbon exhibit welcomed 14,000 GCSE and A-level students; in feedback surveys 60-75% of students said they left more enthusiastic about science and science-based careers.

Beyond the summer season

Since the Royal Society event, the displays have continued to tour science festivals, museums and other public events.

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Student enjoyment

91% of students enjoyed talking to scientists at the exhibits.

Post-exhibition audiences:

  • Our graphene display has been a highlight at European Union graphene events, including the Graphene 2012 International Conference in Brussels.
  • Web-based resources developed for each exhibit - including websites, blogs, hand-outs, factsheets, teaching materials, videos and an 'Ask the Scientist' forum - remain online after the exhibition.
  • Our game to fuel a rocket has been played over 4,500 times and a YouTube video achieved more than 18,500 views.
  • iPhone users downloaded our graphene virtual microscope app over 10,000 times.
  • Software from our Higgs Boson exhibit was converted into a 'touch table' exhibit for the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre.
  • The online Higgs Boson app had 1.5 million users in its first year.

We estimate that these legacy activities have influenced around 60,000 students towards choosing a science-based career.


Our contributions to the Royal Society exhibits arose from a variety of groundbreaking discoveries and research by scientists from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Department of Materials and the Department of Computer Science.

Did you know?

60-75% of students said they left our exhibits more enthusiastic about science and science-based careers.

Key research discoveries and developments include:

  • techniques such as microlensing to locate planets that are orbiting other stars;
  • low noise amplifiers for the Planck space mission - the lowest noise receivers ever built at this frequency;
  • a new model for the origin of polarised vision in vertebrates;
  • graphene: its unique properties and derivatives;
  • observed 'carrier multiplication', which increases solar cell efficiency;
  • design of the Atacama Large Millimetre/Sub-Millimetre telescope and subsequent scientific observation;
  • construction and operation of the ATLAS detector at CERN, which led to the discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs Boson.


We worked on the following exhibits: