YOUNGSTERS can explore the wonders of the universe as part of a new university programme.

Durham and Sheffield universities, along with selected schools in the region, are developing a public outreach programme on particle phy-sics and astronomy - From Fundamental Particles to Galaxies and the Universe.

The programme targets schoolchildren aged 11 to 16 and their teachers and focuses on exploring the origin of the universe, the properties of fundamental particles and the nature of dark matter.

It is based on the work of two research centres within Durham University's Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics, and also involves Boulby Mine, Cleveland, which hosts the UK Dark Matter project.

Among the programme's key activities will be to establish the first regional Faulkes Telescope Centre, offering schools access to two robotic telescopes via the Internet so they can carry out "real-time" astronomy during classroom hours.

The first instrument, Faulkes Telescope North, will begin operating at Haleakala Observatory, in Hawaii, shortly, and will be followed later this year by a second one at the Siding Springs Observatory, in New South Wales, Australia.

Among the schools which have signed up for the project are Greenfield School in Newton Aycliffe, Durham Johnston School and primary schools in east Cleveland.