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2023 William Thomson, Lord Kelvin Medal and Prize

The Schools' Observatory for an outstanding contribution to inspiring young people and teachers to succeed in their STEM journey, making the universe accessible to everyone, empowering people to know more and do more.

The team consists of Dr Stacey Habergham-Mawson, Dr Emma Smith, Alison Keen, Dr Jenifer Claydon, Dr Christopher Leigh, Dr Vicki Last and Professor Andrew Newsam. 

Award winners from The Schools' Observatory

The Schools' Observatory (TSO) makes the universe accessible to everyone, empowering them to know more and do more. For the past 15 years, TSO has enabled young people to view the wonders of the universe through the fully robotic Liverpool Telescope. In that time, the telescope has taken 200,000 images of space for students. The project actively engages over 1000 teachers and their students annually through the website, over 80% of these are from state-funded schools. The data provided allow for real science and inquiry. The website contains over 100 activities for independent learners to explore their place in the universe and offers curriculum-linked lesson plans for teachers. All resources are engaging, encourage exploration, promote curiosity and support students to become empowered global citizens. They are carefully curated and evaluated to ensure quality. Annual events, which include a Primary Christmas Lecture and Work Experience Week, have logged a total of over 50,000 engagement hours.

External evaluations evidence the impact TSO has on students’ learning outcomes. Students who engage with TSO develop skills to think critically, handle data and become technologically literate. Students enjoy themselves and acquire new knowledge and skills, as well as changing their awareness, behaviour and attitudes to STEM through being inspired. A Sheffield Hallam University 2013 external evaluation described the project as “one of the most significant educational initiatives in the STEM field linked to a higher education institution”.

Professor Andrew Newsam has been with the project since its inception in 1998 and has led the expansion of the team. It is now managed by both Dr Stacey Habergham-Mawson (since 2014) and Dr Emma Smith (since 2021) who have embedded structure and efficiency into the team, allowing TSO to provide better and wider support for schools. The website is key to engagement, with around 3 million hits annually, and has been developed and maintained by Alison Keen since 2012. Dr Jenifer Claydon joined the team in 2020. She has built and strengthened relationships with teachers and embedded a continuing professional development programme that reaches 800 educators per year. Dr Christopher Leigh has worked with TSO since 2004 and leads strategic projects, most recently securing Science and Technology Facilities Council funding to bring astronomy to thousands of geographically remote students across the UK with the very able support of Dr Vicki Last.

Images - top row right: Dr Stacey Habergham-Mawson. Middle row left to right: Dr Emma Smith, Alison Keen, Dr Jenifer Claydon. Bottom row left to right: Dr Christopher Leigh, Dr Vicki Last, Professor Andrew Newsam.