Research which made it possible to orchestrate the first ever landing on a comet in order to investigate its environment, has won The Outstanding Research Project category in the OU Research Excellence Awards 2018.
The award was presented to The Open University (OU) Rosetta Team, many of whom had worked on the project for 20 years.
The runner-up in this category is the MK:Smart project, a £17.2M collaborative initiative which tackled issues in the transport, energy and water sectors through the development of innovative smart city solutions. MK:Smart produced a state of the art smart city infrastructure, which underpinned community engagement and education work.
In the mid-1980s, after the success of the European Space Agency’s Giotto flyby of Comet Halley, scientists decided that a more ambitious follow-up, which became Rosetta, should be a priority. From the very beginning OU staff were involved in shaping the scope of the mission, and developing and constructing scientific instrumentation for this first mission to rendezvous with a comet, follow its evolution during its journey around the Sun and place a lander on its surface.
One of instruments on the Philae lander was designed and built by the OU team; many of whom are now working on future space missions (to Mars and the Moon) as well as a number of commercial spin-off activities. Scientists at the OU were also involved with other experiments, measuring physical properties at the surface of the comet and its dusty envelope from the orbiting spacecraft, as well as leading the international ground-based observation campaign. Rosetta and Philae have revolutionized our understanding of cometary science, with OU staff involved in numerous academic papers, attracting significant external funding, contributing to major outreach activities and contributing teaching materials at all levels of the curriculum.
The judging panel praised the contribution of the team to the OU’s research profile – the attempt to land Philae on the comet is estimated to have generated 1-2 billion ‘hits’ on social media.
MK:Smart produced a variety of technical innovations in a number of areas, including large-scale data infrastructures, data curation, privacy and access right management, energy management systems and the Internet of Things.
MK:Smart also ran an intensive community engagement and education programme with outstanding impact outside academia. Over 37,000 people learnt about Smart Cities through a MOOC created by the MK:Smart team; the Urban Data School developed data literacy activities and delivered them to 150 pupils from 10 local schools; and 18,000 people were engaged through the community engagement scheme, resulting in 16 citizen-led projects being funded to develop smart-city solutions to community problems across MK.
The project gained a very high profile at national and international levels and its results have informed both OU curriculum development.
Watch the video to hear what Dr Daniel Gooch has to say about the project:
The awards were presented at The Open University’s Research Excellence Awards 2018 ceremony, which were held at Walton Hall, Milton Keynes on 11 July 2018.