The Faulkes Telescope Project lets teachers and their students use research-class robotic telescopes to study the Universe and conduct research with professional astronomers.
Thanks to over £9 million (over $14 million) from the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust, classrooms across the United Kingdom and Ireland have up to 1,500 hours of free access to the research-grade 2-meter Faulkes Telescopes in Hawaii and Australia. An arrangement with European Union Hands-On Universe and the Galileo Teacher Training Program lets teachers in Europe include Faulkes programs in their classrooms. The British Council has helped schools in Poland and Russia conduct research through the project.
Free workshops and online training materials bring research-based education into the classroom. Rather than learning science from a textbook or from a teacher lecturing at the front of the class, students make their own observations and produce their own research. The teacher works as an advisor rather than the source of information. The quality of their observations even leads professional astronomers to turn to Faulkes classrooms for help. Astronomers at the Lowell Observatory asked Faulkes members to collect observations of the icy objects orbiting the outer solar system. Within the first two hours, students discovered six new asteroids. In early 2014, Faulkes researchers asked their students to observe the supernova SN2014J to help study the fading embers of the stellar explosion.
Supernova research will become an even more important aspect of the Faulkes education. The project handles education programs in the UK for the Gaia space telescope mission. Faulkes members will receive Gaia Alerts of new supernovae at the same time as professional researchers. Students will study the explosions and contribute data to the Gaia science team’s professional research. In a few years the students’ ability to conduct real science will expand. The Faulkes Telescopes are now part of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network which will give teachers and students access to up to forty 1-meter and 400-millimeter telescopes in Chile, South Africa, Australia, and the United States.