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4 mins read 18 Nov 2020

Remote Schools to Look Up with New Telescopes

Australian Government grants to power new STEM-related projects, including telescopes for students to study the cosmos.

ANU astronomer Brad Tucker showing students from Rockhampton High School how to use their powerful new telescope. Credit: ANU.

Curious school children in remote and regional locations will soon be able to start to study the night sky in detail, marvelling at all the magnificent sites of celestial objects, the wandering planets, and connecting this hands-on experience to their own stories and learning.

A new project, called ‘Scientist Taking Astronomy to Regional Schools’ (STARS) will connect dozens of primary and secondary students with working astronomers and PhD students, through a series of workshops, star-gazing events, and hands-on experience in operating telescopes – learning about astronomical data collection along the way.

Scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics in 3d (ASTRO 3D) and the Australian National University will additionally donate powerful telescopes and high tech gear to each school, so the learning can continue after the visiting astronomers have left. Its envisioned that by learning about by astronomy, inspiration might arise in the field or other STEM fields.

“Country kids can study STEM subjects at school, but access to professionals and specialist programs is difficult because they are mainly located in larger towns and cities,” said ASTRO 3D’s Dr Delese Brewster, one of the architects of the program.

“But kids in rural areas have a huge advantage in astronomy. They see big skies with minimal light pollution. This program aims to inspire children across Australia to look up and explore the Universe.”

“In rural locations, the skies are very dark, and the stars pop out, just using your eyes,” said ANU’s Dr Brad Tucker, who was key to creating the STARS project.

“But by using a good quality telescope you can see so much more. We know that the students, schools, and the communities will be able to make good, continuing use of the ones we bring. We will support them to develop detailed and inspiring astronomy projects for years to come, as well as a passion and love of science.”

Funding for the project was received through the Australian’ Governments ‘Inspiring Australia – Science Engagement Program’ which allowed the opportunity for organisations to apply for \$20,000 - \$100,000 grants for projects related to STEM activities that students and youth across the country could participate in. Overall, 21 organisations were granted a share of the \$1.8 million funding package to implement their activities.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said the successful projects under the Maker Projects: Community STEM Engagement Grants would directly benefit students across Australia, with flow-on benefits for the whole nation.

“At its heart, STEM is all about problem-solving – making things better than they were before. By inspiring students to hone their STEM capabilities, Australia will benefit from a more capable and diverse workforce in the years to come,” Minister Andrews said. 

“These programs give students opportunities to consider real issues, tinker with real technology and apply their creativity to invent real solutions. 

“In a post-COVID world, it’s easy to see how these practical skills can make an essential contribution to industry and innovation in the future.”

Along with STARS, a number of space-related projects picked up a few of the grants in this year’s round, which included the University of Melbourne’s Indigenous STEM Education Program which plans to work with secondary school student around Melbourne to learn about Indigenous-led science practices like astronomy and sustainability, as well as the STEM Access Program for Indigenous Students (run by The Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation Incorporated) which delivers aviation and aerospace STEM innovation workshops to young people around Alice Springs, Pilbara and the Kimberly regions.