Mini-planetarium shows youngsters the sky’s the limit

June 10, 2010

A hugely successful project which is opening up a new world of science opportunities to youngsters in Wales made its debut at the Senedd in Cardiff today.

The Dark Sky Wales initiative uses a portable digital planetarium to introduce school pupils to potential careers in technology, engineering and maths and is on track to be accessed by 32,000 youngsters and their parents by the end of the year.

The project has been devised by the University of Glamorgan with funding support from the Newport-based secure communications company EADS Defence and Security (EADS DS).

In its first year of operation, almost 16,000 people sat inside the pitch-black, 4-metre high semicircular canvas planetarium to enjoy a show which introduces them to the wonders of the universe, with a further 17,000 expected to do so this year.

The presentation fires their enthusiasm for science and technology subjects which is then catered for by workshops on subjects ranging from astronomy and robotics to rocketry.

Assembly Members heard that as well as going into primary and secondary schools, the planetarium also visits public shows and festivals to target parents who go into the show with their children.

They also heard from pupils from Hawthorn High School in Pontypridd who were at the event to share their experiences. After their visit to the planetarium last year, science teachers at the school were so impressed that they asked Dark Sky Wales to develop a program of workshops on astronomy, robotics and rocketry for students which have attracted a healthy number of volunteer participants. A GCSE Astronomy course is also being considered for September this year.
Dark Sky Wales project manager Allan Trow said the sky was the limit for how the planetarium could successfully reach out to youngsters.

“So far, we have delivered our activities mostly in South Wales, but through our partnership with EADS DS, our goal for the next 3–5 years is to expand into North and West Wales in order to get ourselves in front of as many schools, adult education and family learning groups as possible,” he said.

“This should increase our participation numbers considerably, and we would hope to see an increase of at least 50% in those years. We’re also aiming to expand our after school activities for A-level students to provide ‘tasters’ to higher education.”

EADS DS Chief of Staff, Ian Griffiths, said the company was keen to support the take-up of science, technology, engineering and maths as a career amongst school leavers.

“These areas are the ones our business is built on, but there’s been a decline of young people’s interest in them in recent years,” he said.

“Dark Sky Wales is an excellent way of firing their imagination from a young age in what science, technology, engineering and maths could lead them onto – whether it’s building rockets and satellites to explore the solar system – or designing and putting in place the kind of secure communications systems which EADS DS develops to support police services and counter-terrorism units around the world.”

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