SPS Winner of the SEPnet/GRADnet Summer School Consultancy Challenge

Vassilia Spathis from SPS and team win Real Life Consultancy Challenge

SPS Student Vassilia Spathis recently attended the SEPnet/GRADnet Summer School Training Conference, where she and her team won the Real Life Consultancy Challenge.

Vassilia Spathis (University of Kent), Harry Fox (Open University), Jarvis Brand (Herstmonceux Observatory and Science Centre Outreach Planetarium Coordinator), Elizabeth Swann (University of Portsmouth) and Azizah Hosein (University of Sussex).

Vassilia explains the task set for the Consultancy Challenge by Jarvis Brand from the Herstmonceux Observatory and Science Centre Outreach Planetarium Coordinator.

“I attended the GRADnet (part of the South East Physics Network) Summer School at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex from the 2nd-5th July. This was, essentially, a training conference for Physics PhD students of all stages within the SEPnet partner universities. It allowed us to interact with each other, discuss our respective research areas, make some new friends and, of course, encourage us to think about our future career prospects both within and outside academia.

During the summer school, we had various employer-led workshops (from AkzoNobel, AWE, Deloitte & Kindred Group, NVIDIA, Qinetiq and Royal Surrey County Hospital) in which we would be presented with some of each institution’s research, applications and problems. This gave a lot of insight into the different avenues my PhD could take me, most of which I hadn’t considered before.

We were then set tasks both independently and within small groups to try and solve those problems using both our critical and analytical skills gained throughout our research experience. Most problems required a more scientific approach, requiring the use of physics, coding and mathematics to come to a viable solution. However, one of the most important challenges we were assigned was a consultancy challenge, set by an employer themselves. In my case, this was done by Jarvis Brand, the Outreach Planetarium Coordinator from the Herstmonceux Observatory and Science Centre.

The task was to try to come up with a brand new, portable exhibit for all ages, which could be implemented as part of the present exhibits of the Science Centre, celebrating the observatory’s connection to space exploration. We were split up into groups and had approximately three hours to come up with a workable idea, create a poster, and then also make a two minute oral presentation to the employer and other delegates, discussing the benefits of our proposal and how our solution addressed the employer’s brief and requirements.

The idea that my colleagues and I came up with was to create an exhibit on Exoplanets. We decided to have a main exhibit which would allow users to determine to Goldilocks zone of different planets, followed by two supporting exhibits; one showing a mechanical representation of exoplanet detection and the other giving some audible information on the different types of exoplanets when each exoplanet dome is pressed. As it had to be portable, we decided a table-top activity would be ideal as it can be folded down quite easily, and the height could be adjusted depending on the height of the audience.

The main exhibit consisted of a robust bulb replicating a star, which would allow for the brightness to be adjusted by users, representing different temperatures of stars that exist in the universe. Upon changing the brightness of the star, the temperature of the star would also change to allow visually impaired users to feel the difference in temperature and so be able to determine the ‘size’ of the star. Then, on a set of tracks leading to and from the sun, would be a mobile exoplanet dome. The closer to the star the exoplanet is driven, the warmer it gets, and the further away it is moved along the tracks, the colder it gets. The exoplanet would also be colour-changing with relevant sounds to replicate ‘hot’, ‘cold’ or ‘just right’, allowing all users to be able to interact and find the exoplanet’s Goldilocks zone.

This was a very interesting project with a lot of ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, incorporating science and the observatory’s link to space exploration, while trying to accommodate for a range of people of different abilities and ages, and trying to make it as all-inclusive as possible without losing any of the learning experiences the exhibit has to offer. It was definitely a challenge to come up with something novel in such a short amount of time. However, each member of the team brought something different to the table, and through collaboration and teamwork we managed to come up with something unique, allowing for us to be hailed as the winning team for the Herstmonceux Observatory and Science Centre consultancy challenge!

I found both the summer school and the consultancy challenge itself were highly beneficial. They allowed me to realise the amount of skills I have gained throughout my degree, hone them, and put them to practice in some real-life problems. It was definitely an invaluable experience and I look forward to the next one!”

Jarvis Brand, the Outreach Planetarium Coordinator from the Herstmonceux Observatory and Science Centre, shares why he chose the winning team.

“This was felt to be a particularly strong solution with two main benefits; the solution was very flexible in the audiences who could access it because it lent itself to visual interaction and feedback but also made use of tactile and audible interaction and feedback, and the solution was very flexible in the audiences who could access it in terms of their knowledge level. At the lowest levels the physical interaction lends itself to simple ideas of ecology and environment and its connection with astronomy. At the higher levels the depth of the supporting displays and supplementary exhibits allow it to be extended to any depth.The exhibits also allowed their use in multiple contexts. They could be used in exhibitions themed around astronomy, ecology, the environment, weather etc.”

We would like to say a huge congratulations to Vassilia, Harry, Elizabeth and Azizah for successfully winning the challenge!