ORBYTS 2020-08-21T15:00:09+00:00

What is Original Research By Young Twinkle Students (ORBYTS)

Original Research By Young Twinkle Students (ORBYTS) is an educational programme in which secondary school pupils work on original research linked to the Twinkle space mission under the tuition of PhD students and other young scientists.

Twinkle has a list of target exoplanets that it will observe once in orbit. ORBYTS offers school pupils the chance to enrich our understanding of these new worlds by improving our knowledge of the molecules they’re made of, their orbit and physical properties. This provides a unique opportunity for pupils to undertake cutting-edge science that has a meaningful impact on a future space mission.

Tutors typically visit school groups fortnightly to teach the undergraduate-level physics pupils will need for their ORBYTS project. Pupils get hands on experience of what’s involved in scientific research and work closely with young scientists, challenging any preconceptions or stereotypes about who can become a scientist. In some cases, where the ORBYTS work is good enough and there are significant results, the pupils are named as co-authors on a paper in a peer-reviewed journal. ORBYTS also gives young scientists experience in supervising individuals and leading a research project.

The first ORBYTS group – in front of UCL’s Portico

The first ORBYTS group – in front of UCL’s Portico


ORBYTS Projects

Three ORBYTS projects are currently available:

MARVEL (Measured Active Rotational-Vibrational Energy Levels): pupils are assigned a molecule relevant to exoplanet atmospheres (acetylene, titanium oxide, methane). After locating, collating and formating a lot of experimental spectroscopic data, they use software to obtain accurate experimental energy levels. This is essential research that will help the Twinkle mission to detect these molecules in the atmospheres of exoplanets. Find out more…

Diatomic Constants:  pupils work on updating the highly cited 1979 Huber & Herzberg database on the spectroscopic constants (rotational constants, equilibrium bond lengths, vibrational frequencies etc) of diatomic molecules by undertaking a literature search to find any experimental results containing updated constants. As well as being relevant for exoplanets and astrophysics, this data has wide applications in diverse fields (e.g. environmental studies, industrial processes, cold molecules and quantum computers). Find out more…

Exoplanet Transits: pupils carry out background research about observing exoplanets and undertake a literature review on exoplanets from the list of Twinkle’s potential targets. They work with training datasets from archives to practice analysing lightcurves and, finally, schedule observations of upcoming transits with robotic telescopes/partner observatories and analyse the data. Find out more…



ORBYTS 2017-2018

The ORBYTS 2017-18 programme involves 10 tutors from UCL, Imperial College, Kings College and Queen Mary University of London, working with 11 schools around London and over 70 students aged 15-18.

The schools participating this year are:

  • Highams Park School
  • Highgate School
  • London Academy of Excellence Tottenham
  • Alexandra Park School
  • Beal High School
  • Forest School
  • London Academy of Excellence Stratford
  • Hammersmith Academy
  • Wimbledon High School
  • Tiffin Girls School
  • Preston Manor

Summer School 2017

UCL’s Widening Participation Agenda supported a residential ORBYTS Summer School for 30 students in Year 12 from 7-11 August 2017.

ORBYTS 2016-2017

The 2016-17 cohort of ORBYTS involved 5 teams with 45 students from 8 different schools in London and Bristol, working with tutors from UCL and the University of Aberystwyth. ORBYTS projects to date have focused on molecular astrophysics.

Two Norman White Awards from the Spacelink Learning Foundation supported the participation of groups at Highams Park School and Westminster School in the ORBYTS programme. Participation by students at the Grey Coat Hospital, Marylebone Sixth Form, Regent High School and Camden School for Girls were supported by Highgate School and its Chrysalis Partnership Teaching programme. St Brendan’s Sixth Form College trialled a distance learning model for ORBYTS with the majority of tutorials taking place by Skype.

Three alumni of the ORBYTS pilot programme in 2016 acted as student group leaders at Highams Park School.

Pilot ORBYTS Programme

The pilot programme, which ran from January to July 2016, linked fifteen students aged 16-18 from Highams Park School with mentors from UCL to work on developing the molecular data for acetylene (C2H2), titanium oxide (TiO) and methane (CH4). The first paper on this work was accepted for publication in December 2016 by a peer-reviewed journal (Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series) with three students from Highams Park School listed as co-authors. The second was published in the Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer (JQSRT) in August 2017 with six student co-authors from Highams Park School.


ORBYTS Outcomes

Outcomes for school pupils participating in ORBYTS

  • An introduction to undergraduate-level science
  • Applied scientific skills such as literature searching and using advanced Excel
  • Soft skills such as time management, presentation of complex research findings to general audiences and email communication skills.
  • Practical experience of what’s involved in scientific research and what it’s like to be a researcher
  • An opportunity to meet scientists at all levels

Outcomes for schools participating in ORBYTS

  • Participation in an programme that covers concepts in the physics and chemistry A-level curricula in an inspiring way
  • Projects suitable for EPQ or CREST Awards

Outcomes for tutors participating in ORBYTS

  • Leadership, supervision and mentoring experience
  • Teaching and outreach experience
  • Opportunity to be a role model
  • Remuneration


MARVEL analysis of the measured high-resolution rovibrational spectra of C2H2

Katy L. Chubb [1], Megan Joseph [2],  Jack Franklin [2], Naail Choudhury [2], Tibor Furtenbacher [3], Attila G. Császárc [3], Glenda Gaspard [2], Patari Oguoko [2], Adam Kelly [2], Sergei N. Yurchenko [1], Jonathan Tennyson [1], Clara Sousa-Silva [4, 1, 2].

  1. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  2. Highams Park School, Handsworth Avenue, Highams Park, London E4 9PJ, UK
  3. Institute of Chemistry, Eötvös Loránd University and MTA-ELTE Complex Chemical Systems Research Group, H-1518 Budapest 112, Hungary
  4. Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

Accepted 23 August 2017, Available online 24 August 2017. Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer, Volume 204, January 2018, Pages 42-55.

MARVEL Analysis of the Measured High-resolution Rovibronic Spectra of 48Ti16O

Laura K. McKemmish [1], Thomas Masseron [2], Samuel Sheppard [3], Elizabeth Sandeman [3], , Zak Schofield [3], Tibor Furtenbacher [4], Attila G. Császár [4], Jonathan Tennyson [1], and Clara Sousa-Silva [1].

  1. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London, London, WC1E 6BT, UK
  2. Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0HA, UK
  3. Highams Park School, Handsworth Avenue, Highams Park, London, E4 9PJ, UK
  4. Institute of Chemistry, Eötvös Loránd University and MTA-ELTE Complex Chemical Systems Research Group, H-1518 Budapest 112, Hungary

Published 8 February 2017, The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series, Volume 228, Number 2.

Bringing pupils into the ORBYTS of research

Laura K. McKemmish, Katy L. Chubb, Tom Rivlin, Jack S. Baker, Maire N. Gorman, Anita Heward, William Dunn, Marcell Tessenyi, Twinkle team.

Published 1 October 2017. Astronomy & Geophysics, Volume 58, Issue 5, 1 October 2017, Pages 5.11.


Get Involved

We’re looking for more passionate researchers to join us!

Want to help create scientific knowledge and work with a space mission while gaining teaching experience and being paid? We are looking for enthusiastic undergraduate and post-graduate physicists to be assistant tutors or tutors for our ORBYTS programme to characterise exoplanetary atmospheres through spectroscopy. Good knowledge of atomic and molecular physics/ spectroscopy is essential. Undergraduates will work with more experienced researchers, while PhD students will take charge of their own team with support provided. Previous teaching experience a bonus but not essential.

Positions are expected to arise periodically as the ORBYTS program expands, in a variety of geographical locations around the UK with different time commitments. For PhD students, we can assist in starting and funding ORBYTS program in schools in their local area.

Please email orbyts@twinkle-spacemission.co.uk for more information and to send applications. For applications, please include a brief cover letter highlighting why you want to be involved in the program and a CV including your recent exam results and any previous teaching experience.

We’re looking for schools and teachers to get involved!

Want to get involved in real scientific research? Want to expand your school’s outreach activities?

We need enthusiastic teachers and educators to help us to deliver this project to as many students as possible across the UK. Ask us about how you can get involved!

Contact orbyts@twinkle-spacemission.co.uk for more details



The ORBYTS tutorial team is Dr Laura McKemmish, Katy Chubb, Tom Rivlin, Jack Baker and Dr Maire Gorman, supported by Anita Heward, William Dunn, Marcell Tessenyi and the rest of the Twinkle team. Participating schools are Highams Park, St Brendan’s College, Westminster City, Highgate and, through Highgate Chrysalis Partnership Teaching, the Grey Coat Hospital, Marylebone Sixth Form, Regent High School and Camden School for Girls.

ORBYTS was founded in 2016 by Dr Clara Sousa-Silva, who was splitting her time teaching at Highams Park School and working as a postdoc at University College London, via the Researchers in Schools programme.