Working with Oxford Physics


In 2019 our Community engagement project funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council celebrated the theme Space is the Place

Cowley Road Works were thrilled to partner with Oxford Physics (Oxford University’s Department of Physics) in a joint community project, funded by an award from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). The project connected Oxford Physics researchers with community groups using the theme of Carnival 2019 – Space is the Place – as the launchpad for an exploration of space science, technology and creativity. The results of which were seen on Carnival Day.

The project connected four separate groups of Oxford Physics researchers with four community groups each working with artists to co-create four space-themed carnival art structures for the Carnival procession. The design and making of these structures ran over a six-month period of sustained engagement with the community groups representing a cross-section of people facing barriers to participation in science and who are under-represented within STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers..

The community groups involved were:

  1. Oxfordshire Mind: support for adults with complex mental health issues.
  2. Ark T Centre’s ‘Children in Need’ Creativity Holiday Camps: therapeutic arts holiday camps for children and young people (aged 6-18) at risk in the holidays such as those experiencing neglect/abuse, living in care, having a parent in prison, living with mental health conditions or a disability, and/or have experienced bullying at school.
  3. Oxford Against Cutting: Oxford Against Cutting provides education and supports adult survivors of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)/. Participants in this project will be young champions from the Youth Wing.
  4. Oxford Spires Academy: selected children in lower secondary school with low science attainment.

The project focused on four strands of space-related research in Oxford, each led by researchers with a passion for community engagement:

  • Space instrumentation: The Planetary Group at Oxford Physics are involved with developing scientific instrumentation for planetary science missions and performing testing in laboratory simulations of planetary and space environments. The project focused on Oxford’s contributions to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars InSight lander and the OSIRIS-REx sample return mission all of which had key milestones during 2019
  • Galaxy evolution: Studying the formation and evolution of galaxies is one of the largest research areas in Oxford. The project involved participation by the team behind the Oxford-led citizen science project Galaxy Zoo.
  • The ELT (Extremely Large Telescope): The world’s largest visible and infrared telescope was under construction in Chile. Through STFC funding, UK scientists have leading roles in the instruments for this telescope, including the first-light spectrograph HARMONI led by Oxford. The ELT will provide unprecedented insight into a huge range of science topics including extra-solar planets and the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang.
  • Multi-wavelength astronomy: This project explored how multi-wavelength observations in cosmology allowed us to answer questions about dark matter, dark energy and gravity across the whole of cosmic history from the Big Bang to the present day.

The community groups were involved in a series of activities which included stargazing and space inspirations days together with designing and building workshops.

STFC public engagement grant-holder Dr Sian Tedaldi, who heads Outreach at Oxford Physics, was the project lead. She said: “Working with Cowley Road Works offers a great opportunity to bring some of the inspiring and exciting STFC science and technology to an audience who might not otherwise get to enjoy it.

“This project enabled us to reach out to and engage with groups currently unrepresented in these areas of study and work, and hopefully spark their interest in science – and encourage them to continue to learn about STEM.”



Oxford Against Cutting Mother Universe photograph by Morgan Stockton