I am the Public Engagement and Outreach Manager at the ICG. This means that I am responsible for the outreach and public engagement programme for the Institute, running our schools physics outreach programme in Portsmouth and supporting our PhD students, post-docs, and academics to engage members of the public with their research. I also work as a freelance science presenter, communicator and comedian. You can find out more about me on my personal website.
Within the Tactile Universe team, I am the Public Engagement Advisor. This means that I use my experience and expertise with working with school pupils, running public astronomy events, managing outreach projects, and much more, to ensure that the Tactile Universe is a success! I am also the Principle Investigator (PI) for our STFC Nucleus Award, which means that I was in charge of writing the proposal to win the money, and am responsible for making sure that we do what we said we would!
The moment I realised what a difference Tactile Universe could make
One of my favourite Tactile Universe experiences is from early on, during the SEPnet-funded pilot phase of the project. While the team were focusing on developing activities and holding a public event for the visually impaired community in Portsmouth, I was also busy co-organising a large-scale schools event in Portsmouth with the UK Space Agency to celebrate the education programme of British astronaut Tim Peake’s Principia mission. A few days before the Principia event, we were told that one of the groups of school children who would be participating in our astronomy activity would include a child with total sight loss. I ran up to Nic’s office and asked him if there was any chance he would be able to adapt of our existing galaxy sorting activities to use the prototype 3D galaxies with this group, and he said yes!
After the event, Nic was told by a teacher that the child had said that the activity with our 3D printed galaxies was better than meeting Tim Peake! They were also later quoted as saying “working with Dr Nic made me realise I could do science at university myself, and maybe even get a job as a scientist”. This was a real turning point for us, and made us realise how much of a difference the Tactile Universe could make to young people with visual impairments. The experience was one of the key reasons why we switched the focus of the project to be working with schools, instead of public (adult) audiences, although we’re keen to return to developing activities and events for adults in the future!