Public Engagement Case Studies

We have collected a range of case studies from across our partner universities. We want these to showcase the work happening at SEPnet universities and to act as sources of inspiration for the range of possible public engagement activities.


Tactile Universe – University of Portsmouth

Participants at a Tactile Universe training session

The Tactile Universe is a public engagement project based at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, part of the University of Portsmouth. The project uses multilevel tactile representations of real astronomical data/images to make current astronomy and astrophysics research accessible to the blind and vision impaired (BVI) community.

Initially funded by a small SEPnet award, the team were able to start prototyping 3D printed models and improve them with collaboration from the local BVI community in Portsmouth. Since initial testing, the team has mostly focused on providing teaching resources for KS2 and KS3 school students, to show how research into galaxy morphology and galaxy optical colour/stellar populations can be used to understand more complex ideas like galaxy evolution and formation.

A Tactile Universe galaxy model

In 2017 the project won a Nucleus Award from STFC which allowed Tactile Universe to expand nationally and to:

  • produce 20 kits that would be freely distributed to interested groups across the UK
  • provide these groups with training in how to use the resources
  • deliver the KS2 and KS3 lessons to BVI individuals in remote locations

The training has taken place and the kits have been distributed, so the next step for the Tactile Universe team is to keep the momentum going and provide support to those delivering the project across the UK.

To find out more, download 3D printable models and all of the resources for free, and to keep up with the project, please visit the website,


QMUL’s Physics Research in School Environments

A student presents his poster at the PRiSE student conference

QMUL’s ‘Physics Research in School Environments’ (PRiSE) programme is a novel model of protracted researcher-supported schools engagement enabling (predominantly underrepresented) students across London to experience cutting-edge particle and astrophysics through 6-month-long independent research projects: “I enjoyed the opportunity to do science instead of just learning it”.

The developed projects are related to current physics research being undertaken within the department, including:

  • Cosmic ray  muon experiments using a scintillator – photomultiplier tube muon detector fundamentally similar to those found in current neutrino experiments where these particles serve as a significant background source.
  • Ultralow frequency fluid plasma waves in Earth’s magnetosphere (“the sounds of space”) which have been made audible enabling students to explore this data through the act of listening.
  • Exoplanet detection by applying computer programming techniques to the transit observations by the Kepler Space Telescope.
  • High energy fundamental particle physics using data from the ATLAS experiment at CERN, where students can interactively perform the statistical techniques used to discover the Higgs boson.

Schools work on PRiSE projects from the start of the academic year up until the spring/Easter break. Students and their teachers are supported throughout by active researchers in their project area, providing advice and guidance on how to undertake a variety of independent research projects. These efforts culminate in students presenting their work at a special conference amongst researchers, teachers, family, and friends. Amazingly, some students’ work has led to publishable scientific results, which have received international media attention and had a prodigious effect on these students “It was truly amazing to hear how significant the event we found was and that it will be forming the basis of a proper scientific paper”.

PRiSE has overwhelmingly built students’ confidence in science, developing skills not typically encountered within school, and having lasting impacts on their physics/STEM aspirations: “I am now pursuing a Physics degree from Cambridge. Thanks for helping me find my enthusiasm for Physics!” By supporting teachers, PRiSE has been updating their practice through the deep relationships with QMUL which develop over their years of involvement: “I am now more aware of what our students are capable of – not just listening to visiting speakers but being actively engaged in real-world research!”


Living on the Moon : The Open University at The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition

Some of the Living on the Moon team on the opening day of the exhibition.

Scientists at The Open University School of Physical Sciences led a team of scientists from across four other institutions (Natural History Museum, Oxford University, Manchester University, Birkbeck) were chosen to present at The Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which runs for a week every summer in London, attracting over 12,000 visitors made up of the general public, school children and teachers.

The exhibit, Living on the Moon, was an interactive experience highlighting the progress of lunar science since the Apollo 11 Moon landings 50 years ago. The exhibit illustrated the journey from Moon landing, to Lunar sample science, to the current generation of Moon rovers looking for water on the Moon, providing a look forward to the next 50 years and a vision of a permanent human presence on the Moon.

A young visitor interacting with the Virtual Reality lunar rover driving experience.

Visitors were invited to handle lunar samples, including the UK’s largest lunar meteorite. They could also analyse a lunar meteorite under the microscope and have access to the interactive virtual microscopes.

Visitors discovered how missions are planned to revisit the Moon and answer outstanding science questions, such as the location of water and other resources, and explore the plausibility and challenges of enabling a sustainable human presence on the Moon through utilisation of local resources.

Visitors were able to see a demonstration of how 3D printing might be used to produce structures and components on the Moon using local materials and take part in a virtual reality experience of driving a rover on the Moon.

For more information about the Living on the Moon exhibit and the science behind it see: