Physics and astronomy impact on the work of the Urdd National Eisteddfod
Submitting InstitutionAberystwyth University
Unit of AssessmentPhysics
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Physical Sciences: Astronomical and Space Sciences, Atomic, Molecular, Nuclear, Particle and Plasma Physics
Summary of the impact
Recognising a national shortage of young people adopting careers in
physics, particularly in Wales, we used our experience in engaging the
public with physics research to have an impact on the work of the young
people's organisation Urdd Gobaith Cymru at its National Eisteddfod, one
of the largest cultural youth festivals in Europe. At the heart of the
pavilion, Aberystwyth researchers presented an exhibition of our research
on the Sun and the Solar System, supported by the STFC Science in Society
scheme. This core activity convinced the organisation to reintroduce a
prominent science pavilion (the GwyddonLe), having originally
planned not to host a science event. Since 2010, this has grown to be one
of the largest and most popular events at the Eisteddfod, attracting
external funding and allowing DMAP researchers to have a further impact on
society by demonstrating physics to tens of thousands of school children
and their parents.
The research of the Solar System Physics group of the Department of
Mathematics and Physics focuses on understanding and predicting the
physical processes that lead to the flow of solar material into
interplanetary space, and studying the evolution of this material from the
Sun to the planetary and lunar surfaces. The group has a long and
successful history of analysing data from many space missions and
ground-based facilities and developing novel methods and models to
interpret the observations.
The energy that drives space weather throughout the heliosphere
ultimately comes from the solar interior. It is therefore essential to
investigate the processes for energy and mass transport between the Sun's
interior, photosphere and atmosphere. The group has researched this
environment by analysing observations from missions such as the Solar
Dynamic Observatory and Hinode and by developing new analytical and
numerical models and simulations. Novel image processing and analysis have
led to new discoveries of the corona including the unexpected expansion of
active regions into the solar wind, and the first direct measurements of
coronal rotation rates. A recent highlight was our discovery of a huge
solar tornado [3.1] which captured the imagination of the science media.
Further from the Sun, the research included the development of novel
automated methods to study large solar eruptions in the extended corona,
and analysis of satellite and radio observations of the solar wind and
planetary ionospheres. This breadth of expertise enabled a unique picture
of the influence of space weather on the planetary environments [3.2 -
3.4]. The structure and composition of planetary and lunar surfaces have
also featured prominently in our research [3.5].
With the launch of the STEREO NASA spacecraft in 2006, members of the
research group took the opportunity to produce a 3D movie of the first
solar images sent by the two STEREO cameras viewing from two different
angles. The stereo images were generated at Aberystwyth even before NASA
had processed the data. Animating the data in this way, using advanced
visualisation techniques, aids the scientist's understanding of the
complicated structures which form the dynamic solar atmosphere. For public
outreach the visualisation is extremely useful, particularly with a target
audience of adults and young people. Interactive exhibits and
presentations at schools and festivals have included the National
Eisteddfod of Wales in 2009 with funding obtained from the RAS [3.6] and
the Urdd National Eisteddfod in 2010 with funding from the STFC [3.7].
References to the research
[3.1] Li, X., Morgan, H., Leonard, D., Jeska, L., A solar tornado
observed by AIA/SDO: Rotational flow and evolution of magnetic helicity in
a prominence and cavity, Astrophysical Journal, 752, L22 (2012). DOI:
10.1088/2041-8205/752/2/L22. REF2 submitted.
[3.2] Lugaz, Vourlidas, Roussev, and Morgan, Solar-Terrestrial Simulation
in the STEREO Era: The 24-25 January 2007 Eruptions, Solar Physics, 256,
269-284 (2009), DOI: 10.1007/s11207-009-9339-4. REF2 submitted.
[3.3] Breen et al., The solar eruption of 2005 May 13 and its effects:
Long-baseline interplanetary scintillation observations of the
earth-directed coronal mass ejection, Astrophysical Journal Letters 683,
L79-L82 (2008). DOI: 10.1086/591520.
[3.4] Pryse et al., Multi-instrument probing of the polar ionosphere
under steady northward IMF, Annales Geophysicae-Atmospheres Hydrospheres
And Space Sciences 18, 90-98 (2000). DOI: 10.1007/s00585-000-1118-3.
[3.5] The D-CIXS X-ray spectrometer on the SMART-1 mission to the moon —
First results, Planetary And Space Science, 55, 494-502 (2007). DOI:
[3.6] Pryse and Wheldon Williams, National Eisteddfod of Wales Astronomy
Competition & Activities (Bala), RAS grant (2009).
[3.7] James, Pryse, Hardy, Morgan, Astronomy at the Urdd National
Eisteddfod 2010, STFC Science in Society Small Award Scheme (H504838/1) http://www.stfc.ac.uk/2062.aspx.
Details of the impact
In 2010, DMAP staff successfully influenced working of the young people's
organisation, Urdd Gobaith Cymru in relation to science activities at
their annual National Eisteddfod festival for young people. This was in
the context of the Solar System Physics research group's successful
assimilation and visualisation of satellite and terrestrial data on the
solar system, including the earth's ionosphere and the solar corona. It
allowed us to address HEFCW's strategic aims and needs in STEM subjects,
in access to HE and in Welsh-medium delivery. Enthusing the young people
of Wales in physics is essential to addressing these strategic aspects,
and the solar system captures the imagination of the general public and
generates interest in physics.
The Urdd National Eisteddfod [5.1, 5.2] is one of Europe's largest
cultural/youth festivals; every year it attracts close to 100,000 Welsh
speakers and Welsh learners, 15,000 competitors and over 200
organisations. Having run for almost a century, it has wide media
coverage, reaching an additional audience on television and radio.
In 2010 the Urdd Eisteddfod was held on the Llanerchaeron estate in West
Wales, close to Aberystwyth. In the preceding years, the movement had
decided not to support science activities at the Eisteddfod site and, in
response, Pryse and Morgan established a group involving universities, the
IoP and local organisations to provide leadership for the local and
national campaign to reinstate science into this large and popular event.
This is confirmed in a letter from the Urdd Co-ordinator of the Eisteddfod
and the Arts, who said "...there were no plans to hold science
activities in the Eisteddfod in Llanerchaeron before discussions were
held with Aberystwyth University" [5.1]). The group grew into a
science committee, chaired by Pryse, that was recognised by the movement
through senior representation; it was also recognised by the Institute of
Physics through membership and significant support of its national
co-ordinator for Wales.
The key enabling factor was the establishment of a central exhibition
drawing from the research excellence of Aberystwyth researchers in the
physics of the Sun and the Solar System. This excellence, combined with a
track record of outreach from the department and our partners, attracted
funding from STFC to ensure a professional centre-point to the exhibit.
Building on this, further participation was attracted from bodies such as
Techniquest, the British Science Association, BBC Breathing Places,
Institute of Physics in Wales, and the Royal Society of Chemistry. The
scale and variety of the exhibit persuaded the central organising
committee of the Urdd to re-introduce science to the festival in the form
of the Science Pavilion proposed by the committee. As a result of an
on-line poll, the pavilion was named GwyddonLe (the "Place of
Science") [5.3]; a name that has been adopted for the event ever since,
growing at each Eisteddfod since 2010 ("...GwyddonLe has gone from
strength to strength, and has been established as a permanent feature..."
Attendance at the first GwyddonLe was recorded, totalling almost
10,000 (on average, 10% of the daily attendance at the Urdd Eisteddfod as
a whole), which included members of the Welsh Assembly Government and
other national organisations, and attracting wide media attention [5.1].
The chief executive of Urdd Gobaith Cymru commented on the pioneering
nature of the GwyddonLe, saying "GwyddonLe is an innovative
project and one of the festival's flagship exhibitions" [5.4].
Following the introduction of the GwyddonLe in 2010, the Urdd has
"succeeded in attracting funding from public and corporate sources in
subsequent years to fund the venture" [5.1]. The event initiated by
Aberystwyth physicists has thus been welcomed by the science research
community in Wales, and by the Urdd administration; and the result is that
tens of thousands of Welsh-speaking young people have been exposed to
The department's promotion of science through its research continued at
subsequent events, for example using the discovery of a solar tornado as a
vehicle for outreach at the 2012 Urdd Eisteddfod. This discovery also
attracted a large online discussion and interaction including more than 60
comments at space.com [5.5], more than 80,000 views of the video posted on
youtube by Russia Today [5.6], more than 10,000 likes on facebook, 186
tweets, and 50 public recommendations on google+ for a news article from
National Geographic [5.7], and 1,206 tweets and 138 public recommendations
on google+, for the article at wired.com [5.8].
Sources to corroborate the impact
[5.1] letter from the Eisteddfod and Arts co-ordinator, Urdd Gobaith
[5.4] Y Cymro (Welsh National weekly newspaper), 11 Chwefror 2011, page