Working with Oxford Physics

Space is the Place for Cowley Road Carnival 2019

Community engagement project funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council to celebrate the theme Space is the Place for Carnival 2019.


We have been partnering 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 connects 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 Cowley Road Carnival regularly attracts 50,000 people to the festival which was held on 7 July this year. The theme, Space is the Place, was chosen as excellent opportunity to showcase the exciting work being conducted by scientists in and around Oxford as well as to celebrate the 50th year anniversary of the Moon landing in July 1969 and wider space exploration.

The project has 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 has been running 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 are:

  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 has 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 will focus on Oxford’s contributions to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars InSight lander and the OSIRIS-REx sample return mission all of which have key milestones during 2019
  • Galaxy evolution: Studying the formation and evolution of galaxies is one of the largest research areas in Oxford. The project will involve 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 is currently 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 explores how multi-wavelength observations in cosmology allow 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 have been involved in a series of activities focused around these projects to include 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, is 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 will enable 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.”

Adam Clayton of Oxfordshire MIND said: “We’ve really enjoyed collaborating with Jessica(the artist) and the University Physics department  on our preparations for this year’s Carnival and are so pleased to be taking our place in the procession once again.”

Micaela Tuckwell, Executive Director of Cowley Road Works said: “We are thrilled to be working with the STFC and Oxford Physics in this fantastic project which brings researchers, artists and local communities together to create art pieces inspired by STFC-enabled space research.

“You can see the results in the procession which will be the star attraction for Carnival Day on 7 July. Expect a dazzling array of costumes and processional art inspired by the astronomy and space-research carried out here in Oxford.

“Oxford Physics researchers and the outreach team will also be leading a draw the Universe activity in the Science Zone on Carnival Day.”