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Education

Degree could get you to Mars

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AN OPPORTUNITY to work on the 2020 European Space Agency (ESA) / Roscosmos mission to Mars has taken an Aberystwyth University student a step closer to a career in the space industry.

Ariel Ladegaard from Bergen in Norway has just returned from the Atacama Desert in Chile where he has been taking part in an ESA field trial of a test rover, as scientists prepare to go in search of life on the red planet.

As an undergraduate student on the Space Science and Robotics degree programme at Aberystwyth, Ariel was invited by computer science lecturer Dr Helen Miles to look at how images sent back from Mars could be corrected to reflect the planet’s true colours.

Dr Miles and fellow space scientist Dr Matt Gunn at Aberystwyth University have been working on PanCam, the mission’s panoramic camera system.

Tasked with capturing stereo and 3D images of the Martian terrain, work on PanCam is led by the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London.

At Aberystwyth, Dr Gunn and his team have developed a hardware emulator for PanCam and a unique colour swatch inspired by the stained glass windows of medieval churches to ensure it accurately captures colours on the sun-blanched planet.

Images taken during the mission will be studied by geologists as they look for minerals that might indicate the presence of water and the building blocks of life.

For his final year undergraduate project in 2018, Ariel was set the challenge of developing a prototype software package that could compensate for imperfections in the mission’s camera, and the wear and tear of working in Mars’ hostile environment.

“Driving around on Mars is challenging and time-consuming, so you want to be certain that you’re going in the right direction. Images taken from a distance will be analysed to look for possible sites where the rover can use its ground penetrating radar and drill, so they need to be as accurate as possible.

“Once back on Earth the images will be processed by a radiometric correction pipeline which automatically adjusts them based on our knowledge of how the images were taken and how the camera responds to light in various conditions.”

Ariel’s undergraduate project focused on developing a proof of concept framework for the correction pipeline and drew on work done on the ground software for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

Now a PhD student at Aberystwyth, Ariel is working on the next phase and developing the algorithms that go into correcting the images.

Ariel said: “Aberystwyth has been great. It is everything I could have hoped for from an education in terms of how quickly I have been able to get involved in something meaningful to me, a real project. My goal is to work in robotic space exploration, a niche industry that can be difficult to enter but Aberystwyth has certainly opened the door for me.”

Speaking of his work on ExoMars, Ariel added: “It has been very nice to see just how open people in the ExoMars community have been to new actors coming in with questions and their own ideas and views on things. At first, I was a bit overwhelmed by the mission itself as it has been going on for a long time. There’s quite a barrier to entry for new people in understanding just how everything fits together, not just on a technical level, but also on the social and political levels. The more I have delved into that, however, the more I’m confident I have something to offer to the project.”

As well as developing image processing software, Ariel has been involved with ExoFiT, ESA’s Airbus-led field trials using an ExoMars-like prototype rover in Spain and Chile.

Working near the Paranal Observatory high up in the Atacama Desert in February 2019, he was part of the team testing the mission’s procedures and approaches to gathering science.

It was also an opportunity to put the image processing pipeline to the test, with pictures sent back to the UK for correction.

Ariel added: “Aberystwyth’s involvement with ExoMars revolves around calibration of the mission’s camera system and correction of images – understanding how the cameras work and how we can process and interpret the images. It was good to be able to put some of the work we have been doing in Aber to the test in Chile and gather valuable test data.”

Before taking up his studies at Aberystwyth, Ariel was a student at the Norwegian Centre for Space-related Education near Andenes in northern Norway.

He worked for seven years in the television and film industry before returning to higher education as a mature student on the BSc Space Science and Robotics degree at Aberystwyth University’s Department of Computer Science.

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Education

Well done Gemma, you are an inspiration to us all

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A SINGLE mum of seven who left school with no qualifications is celebrating after gaining a degree from Swansea University.

Gemma Turnbull, aged 34, admits she didn’t attend school regularly as a child but now her determination to carve out a bright future for her and her family has seen her complete a BA in Humanities after studying part-time for six years through the University’s Department of Adult Continuing Education (DACE).

After leaving state education without a single GCSE, Gemma, from Pembrokeshire, fell pregnant at 16 and went on to have four children of her own, including Ruby, 11, who was born with a heart condition and 15-year-old Joe who has autism.

In 2011, wanting to secure a better life, Gemma began to explore further learning opportunities but she had to overcome further setbacks along the way.

Shortly after starting a two-year Foundation Certificate, Gemma found out that her sister’s three children were about to be moved into care.

She became the legal guardian to Leonie, Shaun and Jack, meaning she was responsible for seven children at the age of just 26.

“Life was quite bleak to be honest,” said Gemma, who is the first in her family to engage in higher education.

“At first, I worried about how I would cope being a student but I didn’t want the family to be split up.

“I wanted better for them and for them to be proud of me. I didn’t want the children to be like me, growing up with no education or no job.

“I was 26, with seven children to look after, and it was hard. I remember being asleep in the bathroom at one point at 4am after trying to do an essay all night and I was knackered – but now I’ve done it.”

Her nephew, nine-year-old Shaun, has Foetal Alcohol Syndrome which affects his behaviour, while Gemma herself was also diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia during her studies. It was during this period that her marriage broke down.

“All I ever wanted was to have the mum and dad all sat down as a family, with the children, like you see on TV,” she said.

“I know that isn’t reality sometimes but that’s what I wanted, so it was hard admitting that I’d end up being divorced like my parents. Nobody wants that.

“They haven’t got that male role model in their lives, but hopefully I can give them that and help them to have positive lives.

“I wouldn’t change anything. Life is what you make of it – you can either sink or swim. The best thing I ever did was have the children all with me under one roof. In fact, I actually cope better with seven than I did with four!”

With her graduation secured, Gemma has already set her sights on what she wants to achieve next.

“I plan to gain my Maths and English GCSE, but I’m going to get a private tutor for those. Then I hope to go on and do a PGCE before hopefully becoming a primary school teacher,” said Gemma, who is also a parent governor at Ysgol Harri Tudur in Pembroke.

“You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it and you want it badly enough. The whole experience has been really positive, especially the staff at Swansea University and their attitude towards helping me.

“If I had had teachers like that when I was at school I know I would have done a lot better – they have been amazing.

“The whole journey has made me a better mum – everything I do is for the children – and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

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Education

Fishguard school last in Wales without broadband

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CHILDREN in a school in Fishguard are excited about next term before the summer holidays have even begun.

Ysgol Llanychllwydog is the last school in Wales without broadband.

The pupils sometimes have to wait half an hour for pages to load. Sometimes videos won’t play. Now the school is looking forward to an ultra-fast future, and for the head teacher the changes cannot come quickly enough.

Currently when the internet goes down Amanda Lawrence has to drive 10 minutes to her other school to send an email to report it.

“It’s frustrating. There are lots of schools that are able to use schemes where you can plan electronically, but it’s difficult for staff here to do that,” she said.

As part of a scheme to target hard-to-reach places, fibre optic cable is being laid along a 15-mile route from Haverfordwest.

Matt Lovegrove, who works for Openreach, admitted it had been ‘a massive challenge’.

He said: “We’ve had to plough 1.5 miles of new trench to put new duct in, we’ve had to put new poles and had to span the cable between 50 poles as well, so a real variety of challenges.

“The product is limitless in terms of speed. It’s gigabit capable, that means they can download music, interactive learning et cetera, and it will be instant for them.”

The wider community will also benefit from the upgrade, he said. “We are looking to work with local government and residents to expand that fibre footprint to as much of the village as possible.”

“They’ll be able to access the high speed broadband and again get all the benefits from that.”

The last school in Wales without broadband

Broadband is a Welsh Government priority. It’s invested £13.8m in school broadband.

But Llanarchllwydog has been a tough nut. It’s taken the efforts of Welsh and UK governments to bring broadband.

“Because of the challenging topography, that we are familiar with, it has taken rather a long time to make sure that every school is equipped with the broadband speeds that they need,” said Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams.

“This means that schools will have the external infrastructure that they need to deliver our exciting new curriculum and I hope to be making an announcement shortly on further investment on kit and equipment inside schools.”

The work is being done through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme.

DCMS minister Margot James MP agrees cooperation between the two governments has helped deliver the project.

“That’s not the end of it for Wales,” Ms James said.

“The other aspects of the rural gigabit connectivity programme is that we are using that £200 million to bring full fibre to local public buildings like hospitals and schools so that they get the gigabit connectivity first.”

The cable has now reached the telegraph post outside the school. The final work will happen over summer.

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Education

A practical lesson for primary school pupils on the problem of plastic pollution

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A PEMBROKESHIRE primary school came up with a novel way to educate its young pupils about the problems of plastic pollution.

Goodwick CP School took its year 2 and 3 pupils to Fishguard Leisure Centre where the swimming pool was filled with plastic waste. The lesson was the idea of class teacher Miss Davies,
whose is teaching the effect of plastic on the environment and particularly the sea.

The children worked together to clean the pool of single use plastic, collecting more than ten bags of rubbish.

The school posted on Facebook: “Miss Davies’ class had a bit of a shock when they arrived at the swimming pool for a swimming lesson today!

“The pool was unfortunately full of plastic.

“It gave the children an insight into what it must be like for marine life living amongst plastic pollution.

“They then worked together to clean the pool.

“Thank you to Richards Bros for getting the children there and back, and to the staff of the leisure centre for allowing us to do this.”

Photos of the lesson were shared nearly 3,000 times from the school’s Facebook page.

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