Press Release

School kids get their own research-class telescopes

By SpaceRef Editor
March 16, 2004
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School children throughout the UK will be able to see the most amazing
astronomical images in the sky from the comfort of their classrooms by
controlling two, remotely operated research-class telescopes.

British Entrepreneur Dill Faulkes and the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin
Rees have today (March 16th) launched the Faulkes Telescope Project – a
unique educational resource to ignite children’s enthusiasm for
science. Concerned by the declining interest in science and maths, Dill
Faulkes, who attributes his own business success to the state education
he received in these subjects, has funded the construction of two
state-of-the-art robotic telescopes for use by schools.

The twin telescopes are located in prime astronomical observing areas –
Faulkes North in Hawaii and Faulkes South in Australia – close to some
of the world’s most powerful professional telescopes. Because the
telescopes are located in different time zones school children in the UK
will be able to use them in daytime classroom hours. The telescopes are
robotic and will be controlled over the internet. A web cam will show
how the telescope is being controlled to focus on a selected object and
the resulting images will be returned to schools in a matter of minutes.
Schools simply book their timeslot; plan the work they want to carry out
and take control of the telescope.

“The idea of giving British youngsters access to a world-class
telescope immediately appealed to me,” says Dill Faulkes. “I could
see that spending a few million pounds making science and maths in
schools more interesting would have much more effect on children than
spending half a billion on truancy measures”.

Prof. Ian Halliday, Chief Executive of the UK’s Particle Physics and
Astronomy Research Council [PPARC] said, “Making research-class
telescopes available to students in schools will bring the wonder of
astronomy right into the classroom. Through real-time observing schools
will have a unique resource through which to teach maths and science in
an inspirational and exciting way”.

Educational materials to help teachers plan the use of the telescope,
both as part of the National Curriculum and beyond to stretch able
students, are available as well as support from astronomers. Schools
will be able to select their own projects or team up with local
Universities across the country to take part in genuine research

Some of the available projects include tracking near-earth asteroids,
imaging galaxies and studying gamma-ray bursts – the most violent
explosions in the Universe. Materials have been prepared for Key Stages
3 and 4 (ages 11-16 years) as well as for older groups at A-level,
University and amateur groups, who will be able to use the telescope out
of school hours.

These resource materials have been tested by John Cleveland College in
Hinckley, Dill Faulkes’ old school. Teacher Sue Thistlethwaite said
“We are delighted to be involved in the telescopes project because
they are instruments that can bring both Science and Mathematics alive
for young people. They will support our mission to improve performance
in these subjects and to involve young people outside of their studies
as well. Finally, Dill Faulkes is an ex-student of the College and he is
a tremendous role model for our students!”

Notes to Editors


Images of and taken by the telescope are available online at You need to enter the username:
ppmedia and the password ?v2030! to access the images.

Project Funding

The project has been realised through a GBP10 million donation from the
Dill Faulkes Educational Trust. This trust was set up in 1998 with the
aim of providing projects which would inspire young people.
The Faulkes Telescope Project has also received additional funding of
approximately GBP750,000 from the Particle Physics and Astronomy
Research Council for basic sponsorship, spectrographs and staff effort;
and funds from the Department for Education and Skills to enable an
online educational programme to be developed. The Faulkes Telescope
Project is part of the National Schools Observatory, making professional
telescopes available to schools. See for details.
The launch event has been organised with, and funded by PPARC.

The Telescopes

The telescopes were built in Birkenhead by Telescope Technologies Ltd,
a spin off company from Liverpool John Moores University.
Each telescope has a 2 metre diameter primary mirror, a 2048×2048 pixel
CCD camera and a field of view of 4.5 arcminutes in diameter. They are
mounted so they can move in elevation and azimuth independently, with
the two axes controlled by a computer to track the movement of stars
across the sky. The telescopes are housed in state-of-the-art enclosures
that open like a clam shell.
The whole telescope system is designed to operate automatically. When
users take control of one of the telescopes, the commands entered onto
the webpage are sent to the telescope via a control centre in the UK.
The telescope control system will then decide if the weather is good
enough to open the enclosure, point the telescope and take the images
requested. At the end of night, or if the weather deteriorates, the
enclosure will close automatically.

Operations Centre

Cardiff University is host to the Operations Centre for the Faulkes
Telescope Project.
The operations centre will provide users with help and advice on using
the telescopes and carrying out the educational projects. It will also
monitor the use of the telescope and ensure smooth operations.

Registration Procedure

Schools pay a subsidised subscription of GBP160 per annum to book up to
three, half-hour observing sessions, with an additional 10 minutes of
off-line time. Further details and the registration form can be found
online at Other groups, such as Astronomy
Societies, Youth Clubs and Adult Learning Groups will be able to use the
telescopes outside of school hours.

Users can operate the Faulkes Telescopes in two ways, the real-time
mode and the off-line mode.
Real-Time Mode – Users will be able to experience controlling a large
telescope and pointing it at any object currently visible in the night
sky directly from their classroom. The project has developed a simple
web interface that will allow a class to use the telescope with little
training. The images taken with the telescope will be returned
immediately, enabling the users to see their data within minutes of
telling the telescope to start the observation. Webcam images of the
telescope will show users what is happening at each step.
Off-Line Mode – This mode will be used to carry out observations that
do not need to be made in real time, e.g. monitoring a variable star.
Users will request observations of a particular object. The telescope
will carry out this observation at the next available opportunity,
usually within days, after which the users can download their images via
the web site.

Biography of Dr. M.C.Faulkes

Dr Martin C Faulkes, Founder and CEO, The Dill Faulkes Educational
Trust Ltd

Dr Faulkes attributes his financial success in business to his
mathematical and scientific training and is keen that young people in
the UK benefit from the same studies that were freely available to him.
Being concerned that many UK children perceive mathematics and science
as difficult and boring Dr Faulkes established a charity in 1998; the
Dill Faulkes Educational Trust. The aim of this trust is to support
educational programmes aimed at inspiring young people in science and

Recent projects from the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust include the
Faulkes Telescope Project, The Faulkes Institute for Geometry at
Cambridge University, The Faulkes Flying Foundation, and a computer
system for the dyslexic children at Knowl Hill School in Surrey.

Dr Faulkes had a traditional grammar school education in Hinckley
(where he was nicknamed Dill), followed by a Special Maths degree at
Hull University and a PhD in Mathematics from London University, Queen
Elizabeth College. Dr Faulkes continued in research as a post-doctoral
researcher, specialising in general relativity because he wanted to work
at the cutting-edge of science. After several years of post-doctoral
research in the UK and Canada, Dr Faulkes left academia and began a
career in computer software with Logica, after a brief spell as a
trainee patent agent.

His mathematical training was ideally suited to his initial assignments
at Logica as a scientific programmer where he worked on defence projects
and on the design and implementation of computer networks. In 1979 he
set up Logica’s business in the US and as President, developed the
business by focusing on international network projects for major
multi-national companies; especially airlines, banks and
telecommunications companies.

After five years in Manhattan, Dr Faulkes returned to London as
Managing Director of software company SPL, where he worked for just over
one year before selling the company to Systems Designers plc. After a
year with SD plc he started his own mergers and acquisitions business
with international software companies.

He invested in a number of private software companies that were
subsequently floated on the UK stock market or sold privately; it was
the proceeds from the flotation of software company Triad plc that
enabled Dr Faulkes to establish his educational trust. Whilst he remains
an active investor in small high-tech companies, he can often be found
pursuing his favourite pastimes which include: cycling, skiing, climbing
Munros, gliding and church bell-ringing.

John Cleveland College

John Cleveland College (formerly Hinckley Grammar School) is a
comprehensive College which serves the town of Hinckley in
Leicestershire. It educates 1600 students, boys and girls, between the
ages of 14-19. It also has a thriving community education programme.

John Cleveland has a National reputation for its music, the orchestras,
jazz band and ensembles regularly play to packed houses at home in
Hinckley, and further afield, for example at Disney world in Paris. It
excels at sport, with students representing their countries at different
age levels in rugby hockey and athletics. Former John Cleveland students
regularly feature in the England rugby squad. There is a large,
thriving sixth from which offers a full range of advanced subjects and
reaches excellent results. In 2003 College gained its best ever GCSE
results and is aiming to improve again this year.

Academically they now plan to continue to move forward quickly. The
College particularly wants to make Science and Mathematics exciting
subjects that appeal to young people and in which they excel. Science
results have dramatically improved and we are applying to be a
Specialist College in Science from September. This will include a strong
mathematics component.

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the
UK’s strategic science investment agency. It funds research,
education and public understanding in four areas of science – particle
physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.

PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and
studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers
access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of
international bodies such as the European Laboratory for Particle
Physics (CERN), and the European Space Agency. It also contributes money
for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in
Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory,
Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility, which includes the
Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank observatory.

PPARC’s Public Understanding of Science and Technology Awards Scheme
funds both small local projects and national initiatives aimed at
improving public understanding of its areas of science.

SpaceRef staff editor.