Pupils in Cosmic Collision with Top Space Scientists

Sanquhar Academy and Wallace Hall Academy students among the speakers at event featuring internationally renowned astrophysicists

Three Dumfries and Galloway teenagers are to speak alongside scientists involved in some of the greatest recent research breakthroughs into the origins and nature of the universe.

The Cosmic Collisions event in Sanquhar includes activities at Crawick Multiverse and a day of talks on Saturday, 24 June by scientists endeavoring to unlock the fundamental secrets of the universe.

Among them is Martin Hendry, Glasgow University Professor of Astrophysics, who is a leading member of the 1,000-strong international LIGO-Virgo team, which recently detected ripples in space and time caused by the collision of two black holes three billion light years from Earth.

Gravitational waves were predicted in 1915 by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, but their signal is so faint they were only detected a century later. The latest detection, from the third pair of colliding black holes to be observed, lends even stronger support for Einstein’s theory.

Prof. Hendry will be introducing talks by Jack Randall (18) and Billy Carlyle (17) from Sanquhar Academy and Aleksei Wishart from Wallace Hall Academy, Thornhill.

He said: “I feel privileged to have the chance to meet and introduce members of the next generation of scientists and engineers and it will be exciting to hear about their ideas and ambitions.

“This is an important moment in our quest to understand and explore the universe and there is so much that can be achieved by young people like these in their future careers.”

Prof. Hendry helped design the physics content of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, one objective of which has been to ensure that subjects like physics encourage young people to explore big questions, think deeply and tackle open-ended problems rather than simply memorise facts.

He said: “We want physics to be a living, breathing and inspiring subject. And Scotland is very fortunate to still have a very high quality of physics teachers. This is so important because it means that schools across the country, in rural areas as well as cities, can offer a superb education for their pupils.

“It’s especially pleasing to see so much good work taking place in Dumfries and Galloway with its legacy as the home of James Clerk Maxwell, one of the truly great figures in physics.”

Tom Snow, Head Teacher at Sanquhar Academy, said: “Jack and Billy have been fantastic students over the past six years, showing a real dedication and flair for mathematics and the sciences, especially physics. It’s great to see them grasp this opportunity to share their research with such an eminent group before they leave Sanquhar Academy for their respective physics related studies at university.

“Coming from an area with such a rich heritage in science and engineering its really pleasing to see that our young people are also going play a key role in future developments in this field.”

Ray Fulton, principal teacher of science at Wallace Hall, added: “Aleksei is a very talented pupil who has shown exceptional skills in maths and physics from a young age. He, along with other pupils from Wallace Hall, have been successful in a number of national STEM competitions over the past couple of years building robots to complete a range of tasks.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for him to share a stage with scientists at the forefront of research and for it to be happening on our doorstep is fantastic news for the local area.”

The pupils and their talks

  • Aleksei Wishart is a fifth-year student from Wallace Hall Academy who has wanted to study engineering since he was 11 years old. His talk is entitled The Next Giant Leap and is an analysis of why people need to leave Earth and how it will be done. He is currently studying Higher maths and Higher physics with the view of completing Advanced Highers in S6 before heading to university.
  • Jack Randall, from Mennock, studied Advanced Higher physics, Advanced Higher Mathematics and is heading for Strathclyde University to take a degree in Aero-Mechanical Engineering. Outside school he plays the guitar and plays the euphonium in Sanquhar and District Silver Band.
  • Billy Carlyle is from Kirkconnel and also took Advanced Higher maths and Advanced Higher physics. He has a place to study physics and astronomy at St Andrews. He also plays the bagpipes in the Upper Nithsdale Youth Pipe Band.

Billy and Jack will deliver a joint talk inspired by a Glasgow University project they were involved with last year that planned a mission to the moon. Entitled Lunar Mission 1 it will describe how a lunar mission could be carried out that would place a radio relay on the surface and carry out deep drilling to collect samples.

The event and other speakers

The other space scientists taking part in the event are:

  • Carlos Frenk, Ogden Professor of Fundamental Physics and Director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology, Durham University
  • Monica Grady, Open University Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences
  • Noam Libeskind, Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Deputy Head of the Cosmology and Large Scale Structure Group

Cosmic Collisions brings together art, science and architecture. Other participants include land artist Charles Jencks and Daniel Libeskind, the architect responsible for the acclaimed new £11.5 million Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy at Durham University. Libeskind (father of Noam) also designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Ground Zero site in New York.

Cosmic Collisions will explore the fundamental secrets of the universe and its creation. It takes place in Sanquhar to give people the chance to visit the nearby Crawick Multiverse, a world-class 55-acre artland created by Jencks and inspired by space, astronomy and cosmology.

An exhibition, entitled Cosmic Collisions, Birth, Rebirth and the Universe, will also be opening at MERZ Gallery in Sanquhar. This will include previously unseen work by Daniel Libeskind showing how spiral galaxies lie at the heart of his design for the Durham University building.

A new body of work by Jencks will be on display along with pieces by the artist Rachel Libeskind in her first ever collaboration with her brother Noam.