March 29, 2023 Nancy Chabot

Based on a Report submitted to the Endowment Committee by: Ashley King, Helena Bates, and Natasha Almeida - Natural History Museum, London

The fall of the Winchcombe meteorite in the UK in February 2021 generated both national and international interest, which has since been used to promote meteorite and planetary science research in the UK. In July 2022, the UK planetary science community, led by researchers at the Natural History Museum, London, took part in the prestigious Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which aims to inspire and enthuse through hands-on interaction and participation and provide an opportunity for visitors to meet and question scientists about cutting-edge research. The exhibit, “The Story of the Winchcombe Meteorite”, had three key messages; (1) meteorites are rocks from space that can tell us about the history of our Solar System; (2) the Winchcombe meteorite landed in the UK in 2021 and holds important clues about the origins of life on Earth; (3) the rapid recovery and analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite is a shining example of collaboration between scientists, citizen-science projects, and local communities.

The public and school groups were able to see and hold pieces of Winchcombe and other meteorites, including samples of the Moon and Mars, and then further investigate their mineralogy and chemistry using a desktop scanning electron microscope (SEM). We also had 3D prints of impact craters, an interactive Meteorite Hunt computer game, and developed a website and “infographic-style” video. In addition to our main exhibit, we took part in Summer Science Live, a three-hour broadcast from the exhibition on YouTube, and Talk Science Careers, which connected scientists and students (aged 14 – 18) in career sessions.

The exhibit was staffed over five days by ~30 volunteers from 12 different institutions, ~60% of whom were early career (PhD/PDRA). The Meteoritical Society Endowment Fund supported travel and accommodation expenses for volunteers based outside of London. This gave visitors an opportunity to hear directly from the people involved in the recovery and analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite, whilst also enabling researchers to develop key communication skills and build research networks. The 2022 Exhibition was visited by 766 students and 76 teachers (with 45% of schools coming from outside London), and 5,007 members of the public. A further 1,001 invited Royal Society Fellows, government ministers, and other stakeholders attended two evening events. There were 330,000 views of the digital Summer Science content, and the Exhibition was covered by radio, TV, and print media. In particular, our exhibit featured on ITV News as an interview with Professor Brian Cox, BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science, and New Scientist’s Instagram Takeover.

Submitted by: Rhian Jones, Chair of the Endowment Committee

Visit this webpage to learn more about grants supported by the Meteoritical Society Endowment Fund.