Encounters of the educational kind: Professor Smartt introduces pupils to astrophysics

Christ Church astrophysicist Professor Stephen Smartt recently made his way to Warwick, where he delivered a talk introducing pupils from a number of local schools to cutting-edge research in his field. The outreach event was part of the Encounters Programme founded by Christ Church alumnus John Jefferies (History, 1986).

The Encounters Programme is run at the independent Warwick School but extends a warm invitation to all local schools, offering an opportunity to pupils of all backgrounds to hear from a host of influential speakers. John Jefferies endeavours to strike a balance, inviting experts from the sciences and humanities, politicians from across the spectrum, and an array of writers and journalists. Recent speakers include politician and peer Michael Heseltine, mathematician Dr Tom Crawford, philosopher Professor A. C. Grayling, veteran and charity campaigner Simon Weston, political scientist and educationalist Sir Anthony Seldon, and historian Professor Dominic Sandbrook. 

It was a really special evening and Stephen’s clarity and enthusiasm hit exactly the right note.

Professor Stephen Smartt
Professor Stephen Smartt CBE FRS MRIA

Professor Smartt’s presentation explored his latest research at the Oxford Department of Physics, including his work on the origins of the heavy elements and the sources of gravitational waves. He also reflected on collaborations across the humanities and arts with science to improve scientific communication and mutual understanding. 

Speaking after the event John Jefferies said: ‘Stephen generated a massive audience from many local schools in Warwick. He spoke so elegantly and clearly that even I understood (some of!) it! It was great to see so much enthusiasm and so many questions on interesting phenomena in the universe. 

‘It was a really special evening and Stephen’s clarity and enthusiasm hit exactly the right note. As a history graduate of Christ Church, it was interesting to hear a scientist talk about the importance of a constructive relationship between science and the humanities, as well as the madness of disharmony on earth when we are one tiny speck of light in a dark universe.’

Professor Smartt thoroughly enjoyed the event: ‘The pupil engagement and questions during and after the talk were marvellous. John’s work with the Encounters programme is to be admired – he attracts interesting speakers and welcomes pupils from schools all around the Warwick area. The lecture theatre was packed out and I enjoyed the interaction and feeling the youthful enthusiasm in the room.’