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A place in the sun: Taking solar system science to the public

Project: Funded ProjectResearch

1/04/1030/09/12

"A place in the sun: Taking solar system science to the public"
STFC Science in Society Fellowship

In terms of understanding planetary systems, the Earth's backyard is an enormous scientific laboratory. What's more, it's the only laboratory we have! Solar system science incorporates solar physics, solar-terrestrial and solar-planetary physics, planetary science and heliospheric physics. During this fellowship I will engage with the general public in order to demonstrate the relevance of research activities in solar system science to UK society.

I am particularly interested in communicating the direct relevance of research into the space environment to the public and policy-makers. For example, society is becoming increasingly reliant upon modern technologies for utilities, communication, commerce, entertainment and security, but many of these technologies are susceptible to the rapid changes and disturbances in the space environment often referred to as "space weather". Events at the Sun, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, can result in disturbed space weather in the near-Earth space environment and potentially disruptive consequences for technologies on the ground and in space. Large disturbances, on the same scale as the enormous solar flare observed by English astronomer Richard Carrington in 1859, could have a massive impact on space- and ground-based technologies such as communications satellites and electricity distribution networks, with obvious economic consequences. Solar system research is also relevant to global climate change, the search for life in our solar system and the hunt for potentially life-sustaining exoplanets - clearly issues of huge societal and cultural importance.

This fellowship will give me the time to build upon my previous outreach activities and engage with public audiences via innovative channels. As well as developing online and face-to-face activities for adult audience and schools groups, I am especially interested in exploiting mobile phone technology to deliver value-added data products and solar system science content via smartphone applications. The immediacy and interactivity offered by this technology is opening up new and exciting possibilities for public engagement and has clear potential for further exploitation across the STFC remit.

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