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Links to a Life

The story of Henrietta Leavitt is brought to Devon schools.

Published: 22 October 2021

This term, aspiring scientists across five Devon schools have been marvelling at the sheer enormity of our universe as they learnt about the life and work of Henrietta Leavitt who led the way in our understanding of the universe’s scale and size whilst working at Harvard Observatory.

Each day-long school visit, delivered by the Devon-based Links to a Life learning collective, aimed to inspire Year 9-11 students, especially girls, who have a passion for science and are considering their careers.

Students learnt about the history of our understanding of the cosmic distance scale beginning with an overview of the theories of Ptolemy and Copernicus, the work of Kepler and Newton, Leavitt, Hertzsprung and Hubble. They learnt about observatories and their purposes; and in particular, Harvard Observatory where Leavitt worked alongside a team of women known as ‘the computers’.

The day included links to maths and the arts: students practised GCSE maths skills as they carried out calculations involving distances and plotted some of Leavitt’s original data. They watched a biographical play of the life of Leavitt – who died aged just 53, one hundred years ago this year. Students also heard from STEM professionals and students from the University of Exeter who shared talks on their own career paths.

The actress playing Henrietta Leavitt looks into an eyepiece

The Henrietta Leavitt programme is led by a cross-discipline creative team – three actors (Sarah White, Daniel Ball and Marie Kelsall), playwright Vine Miles and science lead, Dr Alice Mills (co-director of Exeter Science Centre).

In 2019, Links to a Life brought Meitner Day to local schools – tour producers and Links to a Life directors Rae Hoole and John Teasdale hope that like Meitner Day, the Henrietta Leavitt tour will inspire more students to look at physics for A-levels through a thoughtful and fun day.

Support and funding for the tour has come from a range of local and national bodies including The Ogden Trust, the University of Exeter, The Institute of Engineering and Technology, Institute of Mechanical Engineers and Arts Council England.

You can find out more about Links to a Life on their website.

A scene from the Henrietta Leavitt life story featuring two actresses

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