Free student research opportunities

How can you encourage students to engage in science? The Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) offers free opportunities to join real-life science projects

IRIS aims to change the culture in school education so that authentic research and innovation become part of every young person’s experience. Since 2016, the charity has created opportunities for UK students, aged 12 to 18, to participate in real research and make valuable, recognised contributions to the scientific community while at school. Its projects and support are free of charge. 

Working with leading scientific organisations, universities and industry, IRIS is continually developing exciting projects that engage students in current research. According to the director of IRIS, Dr Jo Foster, the opportunity to experience science through current research is key to unlocking many students’ passions for STEM. ‘It is a chance to realise that STEM subjects are very much alive and our knowledge of them is constantly evolving,’ she says. ‘For many students, taking part in real research increases their curiosity. It’s a desire to try to figure out why that tips the scale and unleashes their love for a subject. That’s when the fun begins.’ 

The response from teachers and students working on IRIS projects has reiterated the relevance of the charity’s work. A recent survey showed that three out of four UK students who took part in IRIS projects said they had deepened their knowledge of their subjects. 

Physics teacher Jackie Flaherty, who is director of training and development at Chipping Campden School in Gloucestershire, said: ‘As well as inspiring our students, my colleagues and I feel enthused by being part of IRIS. It is a real joy to see the spark of creativity, curiosity and confidence that live science can ignite.’ 

Young IRIS researchers across the UK are currently working with astronomers from the UKRI Science and Technology Facilities Council to examine and classify stellar objects, based on the light they emit, as part of the IRIS Cosmic Mining project. Their work contributes to the first fully classified catalogue of these sources, which will be a valuable resource for astronomers and could help scientists find targets for the James Webb Space Telescope (the most powerful and complex space telescope ever built). 

One student who worked on the project, Helena Jarvis, 17, from Bohunt Sixth Form in Liphook, said: ‘We were looking at the spectra and knew from the beginning that no one had looked at before and that was really exciting.’