19 Oct 2018

Astronomy at Gumdale


It's a great field to be in, so let's get that message out there.

Astronomy is great fun. So is coding. At least to me. But, I was invited to talk at Gumdale State School, I decided that it would be good to spread the good message out there and drum up some enthusiasm for space, science and STEM in general.

I think the trick with younger students is to constantly ask questions and get input, because talking for an hour at them will either put them to sleep or make them so restless you might as well not be talking, so that’s what I did.

We talked about what they think astronomers do, using telescopes, travelling overseas and more.

Then what they thought I studies. Lots of stars and planets, lots of black holes. So, they were pretty much on the mark! To see if their knowledge was even better, we had a space quiz, where students either put their hands on their heads or their hips to indicate which answer they thought was right. I was worried that I was going to get to the end of the questions and still have students standing, but luckily 90% of them had to sit down on “All the planets can fit between Earth and the Moon”, which is - surprisingly - true.

After that we went into all the different things you can do in astro, from a PhD like me, to working on lasers, telescopes, particle detectors, you name it. And because what I do is coding, I decided to hava a coding challenge.

Or moreso, a sandwich challenge. What you do is pick a few champions from the cohort, and have them write instructions on how to make a peanut butter and honey sandwich. But you tell them you’ll read the instructions as a computer, with none of the human ability to fill in the gaps, so they have to be specific. The idea here is to show that the challenge with coding is simply being able to look at a task and break it down into the smallest pieces and put them all together into a set of instructions.

It went as well as expected, with lots of laughs. “Scoop some peanut butter onto a piece of bread” failed to specify “with a knife”, so I stuck my whole hand in the jar, which seemed to upset a lot of the kids!

It was great fun, and if you’re curious about the other questions in the space quiz, here’s a PDF of what I showed them!