Out of this world poetry competition blasts into space
Internationally renowned poet and writer Simon Armitage has joined forces with two intrepid University of Sheffield PhD students to launch two poems to the edge of the earth's atmosphere.
The out of this world poems were chosen as winners of the University of Sheffield poetry prize, part of the University's 11 day Festival of the Mind which has brought together leading academics with artists, poets and musicians from across the city.
More than 170 people of all ages submitted space-themed poems and the winning literature was blasted into space by a helium balloon created by mechanical engineer students Alex Baker and Chris Rose from the roof of Western Park Museum on Thursday 20 September 2012.
The balloon was first built by Alex and Chris last year using just duct tape, a polystyrene box and a heat pad to stop the equipment from freezing in temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius.
The device cost a grand total of £350 to make and reached heights of 37km on its maiden voyage where it delivered awe-inspiring photographs showing the curvature of the earth before bursting and travelling back down to earth by parachute. The images captured from their self-made space voyager became an internet and media sensation around the world.
Chris, 26, said: "It's exciting sending something up into space, capturing these majestic images – the blackness of space and the curvature of the Earth.
"It was fascinating launching the balloon from the roof of the museum and it was quite nerve-wrecking knowing that the device was carrying the poem – we have never carried unusual cargo before."
Alex, 27, said: "We used a bigger balloon this time with all sorts of cameras and tracking systems on board. The balloon travelled at around five metres per second, which isn't rocket acceleration, but enough so that the entire flight took around two and a half hours."
Simon Armitage, University of Sheffield's Professor of Poetry, selected the winning poems and helped launch them into space.
"The idea of sending a poem into space is to try to encourage the imagination to go beyond the everyday and the earthly," said Professor Armitage.
"A good poem can transcend space and time, and in just a few lines can fly from one end of the universe to the other. In this project we thought that the reward should match the ambition of whichever poem dared to fly the highest.
"We asked people to write their poems on postcards. In the age of the email and the text message and the tweet, we wanted people to reconnect with letters and the shapes of words through their handwriting, to take their time, and to think of the poem as an act of communication, a message posted to the reader, even if that reader is a million miles away!"
The jubilant poets were Lewis Haubus and Lykara Ryer. PhD English Language, Literature and Linguistics student Lykara said: "When I heard about Festival of the Mind and the poetry competition I thought it was an absolutely fantastic idea. I am very fond of poetry but since starting my PhD I don't always have the time to write. I was so shocked to win the competition and the idea of my poet going into space is tremendous."
The space poem took to the skies at the Festival of the Mind launch party. The Festival is the brainchild of Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Head of Cultural Engagement at the University of Sheffield and ‘showman sculptor’ Anthony Bennett, whose ‘encased ballerina’ is currently hanging outside the Royal Opera House as part of the Olympics cultural programme.
The 11 day experience, featuring 56 city-wide events, includes: The re-enactment by Professor Charles Stirling of the Von Guericke demonstration of atmospheric pressure; a tour of the secret Alfred Denny museum – closed to the outside world for four decades; a real-time production of a piece of giant installation art, painted by robots that have been programmed by Dr. Tom Stafford and artist Mattias Jones to respond to an algorithm based on the flight pattern of bees; and a chance to take part in ‘science busking’ which will include demonstrations such as ‘how to turn Marmite white’ as part of “Researchers’ Night”.
Window seat on a night flight
The thought of you in another country
Festival of the Mind
The University of Sheffield poetry prize is part of the University’s Festival of the Mind, a collaboration between the city and the University of Sheffield which will showcase the University’s cultural strengths by bringing together research staff from the University and the cultural and creative industries in the city, through a series of high impact knowledge exchange partnerships. The Festival of the Mind is for everyone - the general public, academic colleagues and the professional and cultural quarter.
Five themes have been identified for the Festival of the Mind to enable individuals to highlight cross-cutting research which can be linked to outreach and wider collaboration in the city: Magic, Space, Identity, City and Craft.
The Festival will also mark the official launch of Civic University, a celebration of the University’s strong connections in the city and its founding principles to put knowledge to work for the good of others. This practical approach inspires collaboration across subject areas and with individuals, businesses and organisations beyond the University to solve the more pressing problems we face, both close to home and around the world. Events take place between 20–30 September 2012.
For further information visit: http://www.shef.ac.uk/festivalofthemind
Follow Festival of the Mind on Twitter @FestivalMind or visit our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Festival-of-the-Mind/
The University of Sheffield
With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.
The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance.
In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, 2007). These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world.
The University’s research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.
The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.
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