By Prof Andy Lawrence, Dr Beth Biller, and Prof Cait McPhee at the Delhi Science Centre.
Beth Biller, Cait MacPhee, and myself are this years Physics and Astronomy reps in the annual Edinburgh-in-India adventure. Our original plan was essentially one of outreach – giving inspiring science talks to schools and public talks at science centres, touring from Mumbai to Pune to Delhi. We like doing concrete demos, like Cait re-crystallising chocolate, Andy dropping books into imaginary black holes, and Beth handing out do-it-yourself Origami Brown Dwarf models. (That’s models of cool sub-stellar dwarf stars, not small brown people!). We have indeed done all these things, and they have been enjoyable and and emotional experiences; but unexpectedly, India also came to us, and collaboration began to emerge. Add to this the fact that any trip to India is a kind of sensory maelstrom, and it has been a rewarding but exhausting week.
By accident, we picked the week of the annual Astronomy Society of India meeting in Pune. For decades, India has had a strong reputation in radio astronomy and astronomical theory; but now they are on the verge of a significant expansion – joining the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), and the LIGO project, and preparing to launch their first astronomical space mission (Astrosat), within the year. I was particularly keen to attend a workshop on Transients, as this is the big push in the UK just now. Meanwhile, Beth, who is an exoplanet expert, hooked up with Sujan Sengupta, who is the very first person in India to move into the exciting new exoplanet field. Beth and Sujan cooked up a plan to make radio observations of brown dwarfs.
Even my outreach work turned into a collaboration, rather than just me wheeling out my latest Powerpoint presentation. I was keen to develop the idea of an innovative show which combined live planetarium display with research images, finding the objects on the sky, to tell a story that would be an immersive experience in surround-vision as it were – something I first tried at the Imiloa planetarium in Hawaii.
As it turned out, this was also exactly what Rathnasree Nandivada at the Delhi Planetarium was also thinking; in the fortnight before I came out we began exchanging ideas and images by email. The final performance will be carried out jointly between us, and will be recorded so that the Delhi Planetarium can show it when I am not there! Furthermore, it should be exportable in a format I can take to other dome projection systems – for example Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, or the Centre for Life Science in Newcastle.
Well, as I write, we haven’t actually delivered this promise yet…so cross your fingers!