New Photo Exhibition Turns Lens on UK Astronomers

7 October 2009

Some of the UK's finest astronomers have taken a break from their star gazing to become stars themselves of an exciting new photography exhibition by acclaimed photographer Max Alexander.

The new exhibition, funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and showing at the Royal Albert Hall, celebrates the careers of the talented UK scientists at the forefront of our understanding of the cosmos, and celebrates the UK's proud heritage in astronomy and space science.

Funded as part of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009), the exhibition consists of both interpretive portraits and documentary photography of professional and amateur astronomy, ranging from academic research and observation through to the stargazing public, capturing the truly amazing journey of discovery on which both scientists and the public are travelling.

Max Alexander said, "I've long thought of doing a series of portraits of UK-based astronomers, and the designation of 2009 as International year of astronomy provided the impetus to make it happen. The sponsorship of the STFC and the support of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics, enabled me to see it through. I hope that viewers will be enlightened and uplifted by this extraordinary, committed group of people, and what they discover about the Universe. Scientists need to have a higher profile in society if we want to advance our knowledge of the Universe and attract future generations to careers in science."

The reportage section of the exhibition includes some of the UK's most iconic images in the field; from the sunrise at Stonehenge during the Summer Solstice, to the laser line at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, to the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton.

The portrait pictures show over forty astronomers in a dynamic new light, many away from their usual environments of offices, computers and observatories. They also reveal the diversity among UK astronomers and include not just the leading figures in astronomy, but a cross-section of people working in the field, including amateur observers, young people and people from varied cultures.

Professor Keith Mason, Chief Executive of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), said. "This wonderful collection of images really shows the diversity of UK astronomers and gives people a flavour of some of the amazing work our scientists are engaged in. We hope they will inspire the people who see them and will help bring the wonder of astronomy to the young people of the UK, inspiring them take up careers in science and continue the UK's excellence in science and technology."

Many of the pictures incorporate concepts derived from the astronomers' work. Examples include Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell pictured with a lighthouse and beam, representing her work on pulsars; Professor Mike Cruise with the ripples in a pond, representing the ripples in space time of gravitational waves; space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin in a specialised satellite testing chamber and amateur astronomer Peter Birtwhistle, who discovers asteroids, against a background of ocean and clouds, because most of the water on Earth probably came from water-rich asteroids and comets raining down on the planet in its youth.

Dr Haley Gomez, one of the young scientists featured in the exhibition, said, "Max has really captured the personalities behind the big science questions with these photographs. It's great to show the public that astronomers are ordinary people from all walks of life, and above all passionate about what they do."

Max Alexander said, "When I think about the people I've met and photographed for this project, I see inspiring people at the cutting edge of what they do, which is unravelling the secrets of the universe. I was surprised by their creativity and got a real sense of the community of astronomers. Although there's nothing here of the celebrity culture of pop stars and reality shows, I wanted to show something of the glamour of science through these inspirational people."

More information:

Explorers of the Universe

Explores of the Universe at the Royal Albert Hall
Thursday 24 September - Monday 2 November 2009


Organisational Associates:

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 is endorsed by the United Nations and the International Council of Science.