Portrait of a radio icon
Jul 3, 2014
This first short film paints a picture of Jodrell Bank, the famous observatory near Manchester in the UK. It is a story of contrasts. There is the juxtaposition of gentle surrounding countryside and the stark angular geometry of the iconic Lovell Telescope. There is the contrast between the relatively small size of the facility's radio dishes compared with the vast swathes of the universe they are capable of exploring. And there is the contrast between today's earnest pursuit of scientific discovery and the origins of the observatory following the Second World War.
"Portrait of a radio icon" tells the history of the observatory, which was founded by the British astronomer Bernard Lovell in 1945 using radar equipment left over from the war. Jodrell Bank's associate director Tim O'Brien talks about these early years and the drama surrounding the construction of the facility's most iconic instrument: the Lovell Telescope, which was formerly the world's largest radio telescope. "Nobody had ever built anything like [it] before, so really they didn't understand how much it would cost," says O'Brien. "They'd overrun their budget massively. And so actually Lovell was in danger of being thrown into prison as a result."
O'Brien also brings us up to the present day. The film features the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, which opened in 2011 and now attracts thousands of visitors every year. You also see footage of the observatory's music/science festivals, which have been graced by high-profile bands such as Elbow, Sigur Rós and the Flaming Lips. For his role in the public-engagement and education programme at Jodrell Bank, O'Brien has this week been awarded the Kelvin medal by the Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World.
To make the outreach centre as interactive as possible, Jodrell Bank employs a number of "science explainers", who are on stand-by to answer visitors' questions about the exhibits and astronomy in general. In this second short film, we had a bit of fun by putting some of these explainers to the test by asking them some tricky questions on astronomy, cosmology and science communication. We also asked them a selection of questions sent to us by readers via Physics World's Facebook page. Find out how they fared by watching the film below.