The planets aligned for and students and staff at Redeemer Baptist School when astrophysicist Angel Lopez-Sanchez first visited as part of the CSIRO’s Scientists in Schools program, which aims to bring real world science to classrooms.
The partnership has fostered an interest in astronomy that has burned for students and teachers alike since the scientist’s first visit to the North Parramatta school in 2009.
Angel Lopez-Sanchez is a former teacher from Spain with a PhD in astronomy.
He works at the Australian Astronomy Conservatory.
‘‘I was working at that the time at the CSIRO telescope national facility and they were looking for people to help with seminars in schools, mostly because it was the International Year of Astronomy,'' he said.
''I didn’t hesitate. I think that as a scientist it’s very important to communicate to the general public and to students what we are trying to do — about astronomy, what galaxies are named, what the kind of research we are doing is, and why we are so excited to do that.
‘‘I am continuously looking ...between galaxies and trying to understand how these little blocks are forming stars from gas that is surrounding the galaxies, and how the gas is being recycled. At the end it will be able to form a star such as the sun, with planets and life.’’
A primary science teacher, Diane Garth says the students benefit from Angel’s knowledge and enthusiasm.
‘‘We were very fortunate to find Angel, because he did a lot of education work in Spain before he came to Australia so he’s used to children.
''When we first met... he said in Spain kids might see six stars because of all the light pollution. ‘‘That year Angel brought the telescopes from the CSIRO and he ran an astronomy night.
''I think about 70 per cent of the school came. It was the coldest night you can imagine, the sky was clear and it was just fantastic.
‘‘Angel comes in once a year and will give a series of talks. He’ll take the kids from kindergarten or year one and do the simple planets or the moon. A physics teacher was just thrilled because he did a fantastic talk on the electromagnetic spectrum, because that’s what he’s working with all the time with photography and space.’’
Teacher Stuart Garth said a year 7 science project inspired by Angel won an inaugural NATA Young Scientists Award.
‘‘When Angel talked to the teachers in the lab it was like he was really saying we are so fortunate in Australia, we must preserve ...our beautiful skies,'' he said.
‘‘We conducted a very large investigation measuring all the suburbs of Sydney, how bright it is at night-time and the light polution levels and comparing it to overseas.
’’We set up a database. We had a lot of nationalities in our class [ about 20 in just one year 7 class] and they emailed their uncles and aunties. We would have collected 3555 light polution measurements in two months. Of the 630 suburbs of Syndey, we did measurements in 506 of them. It was mainly a public awareness...but it realy enthused the kids.
‘‘We structure our curriculum to meet the astronomical events. In March we have a comet coming close to the earth and we have great space station occasions, so that’s when we’re going to teach that topic.’’