Exploring the link between Green Templeton and astronomy

The moon is seen against the globe at the top of the Radcliffe Observatory at sunset

Given that the grounds of Green Templeton College are home to the 18th century Radcliffe Observatory, a question often asked is, ‘What is the astronomy link to a 21st century Oxford college with a focus on human welfare?’

The answer can be provided by Charles Barclay, Associate Fellow of Green Templeton, Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society, and Director of the Blackett Observatory at Marlborough College.

In 2003, Charles joined the Common Room of Green College (which merged with Templeton College five years later) as the first Astronomer since the Observatory moved in 1935. This arose from the discovery by Anne Charles (who worked at the Radcliffe Infirmary, then-next door) that the Victorian telescope which had been restored at Marlborough College in Wiltshire and opened by Professor Joe Silk, the Savilian Professor, had come from the Radcliffe Observatory in 1935.

It also transpired that, by chance, the original owner of the telescope, Joseph Gurney Barclay, was Charles’ great-grandfather’s first cousin. The telescope had been given to the Radcliffe Observatory and the Observer, Edward Stone, in 1885 and named the Barclay equatorial telescope.

Charles joined the astrophysics sub-department at the University of Oxford, first as a joint lead for an outreach project with Professor Roger Davies, the Philip Wetton Professor of Astrophysics, and then formally in 2004 as an Academic Visitor and member of the Department.

The original PPARC grant was to link astrophysics in Oxford and the Marlborough Observatory via outreach evenings. The newly-sited Philip Wetton Telescope (PWT) on the roof of the Denys Wilkinson Building on Banbury Road became the focus for the new departmental outreach activities for schools, scouts, teachers and home schooled under Charles’ direct supervision with Ian Lewis, the then-Director of the PWT, who became a member of the Green Templeton Common Room.

Realising the importance of the Radcliffe and lack of astronomical connection, Charles set about establishing a link with Green College, supported first by Sir John Hanson, then-warden of Green College. The supported continued under Colin Bundy, who succeeded Sir John as warden and then became the first-ever principal of the newly-formed Green Templeton College, and his successor, Sir David Watson.

Staff in astrophysics with no college affiliation were offered (when space allowed) Common Room membership. Charles started to raise the profile of the Radcliffe Observatory’s past within the college through talks at outreach events.

In 2006, Charles launched the Astronomy for All Lecture Series, aimed at giving the college an astronomical focus. This series of three lectures now takes place at Green Templeton every year. Charles maintains consistency by delivering one talk himself, while the others are given by notable astronomers and young post-docs from the Department.

A poster for Charles Barclay's astronomy lecture on the British Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad, featuring a photo of the young team

The 2019 Astronomy for All Lecture Series started on Wednesday, 23 January, with a talk from Charles about the importance of raising aspiration in science education among secondary school students, including the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA).

Started in 2006, the IOAA is an annual competition at the highest level for secondary school students, who have to be under 20 years at the start of the competition.

The initial series featured Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell (discoverer of Pulsars) and Professor Roger Davies. Others notable speakers have included Chris Lintott and the current Savilian Professor Steven Balbus.

For the Venus Transit in 2012 (the second and last this century) Charles organised a dinner and screened viewing from Hawaii, and an event within college that welcomed schools and members of the public. Negotiations with the South African authorities enabled the Tulley telescope (one of the original small instruments from the Tower) to arrive just in time for the Transit; it has been in the Tower ever since with full information boards.

Outreach with the PWT grew from the weekly events, supervised by Charles personally, to the launch a few years ago of the Stargazing events, which attract many visitors and are staffed by dozens of students and staff from the sub-department.

Created: 17 January 2019

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