School students needed for Lunar Mission One

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Where would astronomy be without the breakthroughs of early career researchers?  Consider the following scientists, who made their names whilst still young:

Johannes Kepler was only 25 when he defended the Copernican solar system model, which places the Sun and not Earth at the centre of the solar system.

William K Hartmann proposed the now widely-accepted Giant Impact Hypothesis about the origin of the Moon while he was still in his 30s

It was the 26-year-old Albert Einstein, not the white-haired old man, who developed the special theory of relativity which revolutionised our thinking about gravity.

Without these radical thinkers, would Lunar Mission One be even possible? Young people are more creative and less self-conscious than older scientists.  OK, so they don’t know as much, but they are pretty good at finding stuff out when they want to and they don’t have to worry about their professional reputations.

When people talk about early career researchers, they are usually referring to post-docs in their early 30s. I think that original science ideas can come much earlier, whilst still at school. My experience of teaching teenagers is that with an atmosphere that nurtures curiosity and encourages creative thinking, coupled with the skills needed to carry out and communicate science, early research can be successful. Certainly in the field of astronomy, there is loads of potential for original discoveries – and this is incredibly exciting.

School students can analyse big data sets using Zooniverse, which now hosts ten different space projects. These include investigations into the weather on Mars and searching for planets around other stars.

Robotic telescopes such as the National Schools Observatory, the Bradford telescope, or the Faulkes Telescope allow every schoolchild to obtain images of the cosmos themselves. This makes it possible for them to discover new asteroids, supernovae or gamma-ray bursters.

I founded the Young Scientists Journal for these early researchers, because it’s no good carrying out ground-breaking research without publishing it. Indeed, writing for publication can organise and even stimulate thinking. The journal is entirely written, edited and run by school students aged between 12 and 20 from all over the world. Its twin aims are to publish school students’ research and to enhance their communication skills. It’s free and open access.

Now, as a member of the Education Team at Lunar Mission One, a science teacher and STEM education consultant myself, I’m interested in exploring ways of using this exciting lunar mission as a catalyst for sharing ideas about space.

In partnership with Lunar Mission One, Young Scientists Journal would like to devise a platform for sharing research and ideas generated by those aged 12-20 relating to the mission to the Moon. We’d like to hear from students or their teachers who are interested in having a real input and making a genuine difference to the decisions made in this mission. Let’s share ideas and work together across the globe to solve problems and generate better solutions to the challenges faced by travelling to and drilling into the Moon.

Citizen science projects like the Zooniverse, bring students in at the final phase, data analysis. Here, we want to bring them in at the very beginning: during the definition of what the mission will do.

Teaching astronomy is always fun but helping students collaborate across international divides is a real privilege, and very exciting.  Together, I hope that our ‘very’ early career researchers can help this mission ‘take off’.

Contact Christina Astin:

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