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Projects funded in 2019

For the third year we are supporting researchers to run exciting and innovative public engagement projects. Projects last up to two years and have been awarded up to £10,000. You can see what we funded in 2017, 2018 and 2020, and get in touch with us if you have any questions about public engagement or any of the projects.

Projects we’ve funded

Dr Jonathan Mackey
Dr Sam Giles
Dr Richard Bowman
Dr Laura Kelley
Dr Sinead English
Dr Cristina Manolache
Dr Amy Bonsor
Dr Toby Cubitt

Watching the night sky

Dr Jonathan Mackey, Royal Society SFI University Research Fellow, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

Dr Jonathan Mackey with members of the NEMETODE meteor observing network at DIAS Dunsink Observatory in late 2016, with the first generation of meteor cameras on the pillar in the background.

Dr Jonathan Mackey will build a network of all-sky cameras across Ireland to better position his group to respond to meteor sightings and to enhance existing citizen science networks.

“In my research I use computer simulations to investigate shock-waves generated by winds from massive stars. The physics is surprisingly similar to meteors: a meteor hits the atmosphere supersonically and drives a bow shock, heating and ionizing the atmosphere and leaving a trail behind it.”

Dr Mackey and his team plan to work with existing groups in Ireland to communicate their research to rural audiences living in dark sky regions. They will build an online platform for the network of cameras allowing them to respond to shooting star or meteor enquiries from the public and press. He hopes that this project will increase awareness of astrophysics and help strengthen relationships between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Fantastic fossil fish

Dr Sam Giles, Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Birmingham 

Dr Sam Giles plans to inspire the next generation of palaeontologists by creating activities linked to her research on evolution.

“My research investigates the nearly half-a-billion-year evolutionary history of fishes, using x-rays to look inside fossils and unlock the secrets to success that have allowed them to rise from humble origins to be the dominant assemblage of living vertebrates. As my research uncovers anatomical innovations and links between mass extinctions and diversification, these discoveries will be fed into the activities”.

Dr Giles will work with The Lapworth Museum of Geology to target local primary schools and create ‘Fantastic Fossil Fish’ explorer backpacks and palaeontology loan boxes. They will use tactile activities and x-ray technology to explain what fossils are and inspire young people to consider a future in STEM.

Build your own microscope

Dr Richard Bowman, University Research Fellow, University of Bath 

Dr Richard Bowman will enable teachers and students with the skills and resources to build their own robotic microscopes.

“Microscopes are a crucial part of medical diagnostics and scientific research the world over. Robotic microscopes can automatically focus, move the sample, and run experiments that are too long or repetitive for a human to do well. My lab designs the OpenFlexure Microscope, a fully motorised digital microscope that is manufactured in Tanzania from our openly shared designs, and is in a clinical study there for malaria diagnostics”.

Dr Bowman and the team aim to share their passion for microscopy with secondary schools pupils and introduce students and teachers to modern research lab equipment. Their project will use feedback from school workshops to inform the design of the user interface for their microscope.

Building and artistry in bowerbirds

Dr Laura Kelley, Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Exeter

Dr Laura Kelley is co-designing a project with FoAM Kernow, a non-profit organisation, to link nature, artistry and construction through the lens of her research on bowerbirds.

“One component of my research investigates visual illusions and courtship displays in bowerbirds, where males build and decorate structures that females assess to choose a high-quality mate. We will run a free workshop that is open to all, themed around bowerbird biology focussing on the role of male bowerbirds as builders and artists, and female bowerbirds as art critics.”

Dr Kelley will work with local artists and crafts people to create structures to be exhibited in Cornwall. These structures will inspire the design of a virtual reality (VR) experience, where users can explore bower bird structures from the perspective of a female bowerbird. The VR system will form the basis of a citizen science project to feed back into Dr Kelley’s research.

Battling the bugs: an educational board game

Dr Sinead English, Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Bristol


Dr Sinead English and her team will develop a board game, linked to their work on insect biology and vector-borne diseases, aimed at primary-school-aged children in the UK and Zimbabwe.

“Understanding the diverse ecologies and biology of insects that transmit disease is key for predicting their population spread, and developing strategies to control them, in order to protect humans and animals. These general themes will underpin the game mechanics and the messages communicated.”

They will develop two versions of the game: one for UK school students and the other for students in Zimbabwe. Each will focus on insect vectors and diseases relevant in each country. The team will work with schools and researchers in the UK and Zimbabwe during game development, building on connections between academic collaborators, and creating links between the children involved in the project across the world.

The team comprises of researchers with expertise on tsetse, trypanosomiasis and other insect-borne diseases at the University of Bristol and the Bindura University of Science Education in Zimbabwe; as well as colleagues in the University of Bristol Public Engagement and Outreach team.

Maths puzzles

Dr Cristina Manolache, Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Sheffield

Dr Cristina Manolache plans to encourage more young women to pursue mathematics by working with Girlguiding UK and sharing her research on 3D geometries at their summer events.

“My research concerns geometry inspired by theoretical physics. More precisely, string theory starts with the assumption that the universe we live in has at least 10 dimensions and some of the conclusions it reaches can be translated into mathematical statements. Some of these statements boil down to the study of curves on given geometric shapes: such as lines on a (curved) surface. I check such statements.”

Dr Manolache will create two hands-on craft activities for girls aged 7 to 14, to explore the objects of her research. She hopes that these activities will inspire more women, an under-represented group, to engage with mathematics.

Telling the story of how planets formed

Dr Amy Bonsor, Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow, University of Cambridge

Dr Amy Bonsor will co-produce a story book about a class trip to her astronomy department in which the children discover fascinating research on exoplanets.

“My research studies planets. We are interested in how planet Earth formed, but also how planets form in planetary systems orbiting stars hundreds of light years away. Over the last twenty years we have discovered thousands of exoplanets, orbiting stars other than our Sun.”

During the visit the children will meet members of Dr Bonsor’s group who will show their work to the students. The teachers and students will then work with an illustrator and Dr Bonsor to produce a story book telling the story of their visit. The book will include information for teachers and parents to aid them to talk about the science with their children.

Pre-school science

Dr Toby Cubitt, University Research Fellow, University College London (UCL)

Dr Toby Cubitt is developing science activity resources for parents and teachers of pre-school children and reception classes. Dr Cubitt will work in collaboration with Dr Amanda McCrory, Lecturer in Early-Years Science Education at the Institute of Education, and staff at two local primary schools and nurseries. The project aims to build the confidence of parents and teachers to talk about and explore science with their children.

"With the Royal Society's support, I took two 6-month periods of parental leave during my URF. Talking to other parents, and later to nursery and school teachers, there was great interest in the simple science activities and discussion I engage in at home with my daughters. But lack of confidence, support and resources to replicate it, especially with pre-school and reception age children."

Early-years engagement is crucial to a life-long interest in science. Dr Cubitt will interest the children in hands-on science, developing these activities into a set of freely-accessible resources tailored to this age range, and use this as an avenue to discuss his research on quantum information theory with parents. He will also inspire the children by talking about what a scientist does.