g-ASTRONOMY: The cosmos at the tip of your tongue

Posted on Sep 20, 2016 in g-ASTRONOMY, Outreach, Public lecture, Science, universe

Astrophysics provides us with an exciting, engaging way to talk about the science of the cosmos and its importance for society.

Posted on the IOP blog on Sept 20th 2016

g-ASTRONOMY @ Cheltenham 2016

Interest for astronomy and astrophysics is also one of the most-often cited reasons by students taking up physics at undergraduate level. But by its nature the cosmos is also far removed from our everyday experience. This is part of its mystery and fascination, but it can also become a hurdle when trying to engage the public in a genuine, two-way dialogue.

With g-ASTRONOMY, I joined efforts with molecular gastronomy chef Jozef Youssef and his team at Kitchen Theory to present an interactive culinary experience that translates complex astrophysics into an edible and educational experience for everybody.

Our past experience suggests that this is effective in lowering the barrier to engaging with concepts often perceived as daunting or too complex (dark matter, dark energy, the multiverse, and others) while providing a sensorial experience that complements and enhances the learning experience.

Image credit: James Dacey

Image credit: James Dacey

We’re very grateful for the support that the Institute of Physics provided to g-ASTRONOMY. It enabled us to design and deliver two-high profile events at Imperial Festival in May 2016 and Cheltenham Science Festival 2016. You can get a sense for what these events were like with our video and the Physics World podcast on our out of this world cuisine.

Feedback from our public has been very encouraging. For example, 76% of the participants in our Cheltenham event found our gastronomical metaphors “extremely helpful”. They included a layered cosmic cocktail representing the cosmic history from the big bang to today; the large-scale structure parmesan tuiles, reflecting on the concepts of hot and cold dark matter; and our audience favourite, the “parallel universes”, which were filled chocolates each representing a different possible outcome in the multiverse.

Feedback included:

“You have changed forever how I think about the beginning of our universe.” 

“g-ASTRONOMY is a brilliant idea – what a great way of engaging people in the science of both areas.”

“My favorite at this year’s festival!”

We are now greatly looking forward to the final event in the series – a specially conceived g-ASTRONOMY event for visually impaired people.

  • g-ASTRONOMY received funding from the IOP’s Public Engagement Grant scheme, which provides up to £2,000 to individuals and organisations running physics-based events and activities in the UK and Ireland.

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