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LJMU receives Royal accolade for developing the world’s largest robotic telescope


Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) has been awarded one of the UK’s most prestigious educational awards for its astronomical excellence and public engagement in science.

The Liverpool Telescope

Gamma Ray burst

The biennial Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Further and Higher Education recognise and reward the outstanding contribution that universities and colleges in the United Kingdom make to the intellectual, economic, cultural and social life of the nation.

LJMU’s winning entry relates to the development of the world’s largest and most sophisticated ground-based robotic telescopes, which are opening up new areas of research for professional astronomers. The University is praised for the creative application of this technology not only as part of its innovative undergraduate programmes and distance learning courses, but also because it is being harnessed to reveal the wonders of science to school children around the UK through LJMU’s National Schools’ Observatory.

Professor Michael Brown, LJMU’s Vice-Chancellor said: “Our Astrophysics Research Institute has led the world in developing robotic telescopes, which can monitor variable astronomical objects in a way not possible with other telescopes. What’s even more ground-breaking is that they have been able to harness this cutting edge technology to enthuse future generations of scientists, from primary school pupils right through to postgraduate students, through innovative courses and the National Schools’ Observatory.”

He continued: “The Liverpool Telescope is the only optical telescope in the world, where science, education and outreach are really working side by side. It’s extremely pleasing to receive this recognition and the Queen’s Anniversary prize is a fitting tribute to the high calibre and the dedication of all the staff involved.”

Working to the scientific imperative identified by its astronomers, LJMU established a subsidiary company, Telescope Technologies Ltd (TTL), in 1996 to design and build the world’s largest robotic telescope, the LJMU-owned Liverpool Telescope, located in La Palma, Canaries.

The development of the Liverpool Telescope – and four other subsequent robotic telescopes – has enabled the ARI to play an instrumental role in realising the scientific vision of a network of research class telescopes, on world-class sites around the globe. This idea was first espoused by Mike Bode, LJMU’s Professor of Astrophysics, through the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC)-funded RoboNet project.

The Liverpool Telescope has now been delivering front rank science to the UK and international communities fully robotically since late-2004. Unlike other ground-based telescopes, it is flexible enough to respond to objects that appear suddenly in the sky – such as supernovae, gamma ray bursts and comets – while also contributing, for example, to the study of planets outside our solar system.

In his endorsement of the University, the famous astronomer and presenter of The Sky at Night, Sir Patrick Moore CBE said ‘a full understanding of science is essential in the modern world and in this respect the Liverpool Telescope is of immense importance’.

A proportion of the Liverpool Telescope’s observational time is set aside for use by UK schools through LJMU’s National Schools’ Observatory (NSO). Over 500 schools are currently members, enabling thousands of primary and secondary school pupils to reach for the stars by bringing high quality astronomical images right into their classrooms.

Furthermore, as part of its drive to make science both more accessible and fun, LJMU played an instrumental role in the development of Mersey Ferries’ new £10 million visitor attraction in astronomy and space exploration, Spaceport. This partnership further demonstrates the unique approach adopted by the University and its astronomers in that they are directly contributing to the regeneration of Merseyside.

A permanent Spaceport exhibit showcases how schools can join the National Schools’ Observatory and visitors can also see some of the latest Liverpool Telescope images for themselves. LJMU now hopes to increase its NSO member schools to 1200 by 2007.

Mike Bode, Professor of Astrophysics, said: “If you want people to consider a career in science, you have to excite teachers and pupils. They have to be able to see something of the real work that scientists do. The NSO enables us to show science in action. The Queen’s Anniversary award – and the increasing number of schools who have signed up to the NSO – prove that our approach is working.”

Shonagh Wilkie | alfa
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