2019 was the year Durham University taught science in Low Newton prison, suggested our solar system has its own black hole and announced plans for a new specialist school. We take a look at six stories to remember

PRISONERS can ‘think like a scientist’

Last year began with Durham University’s Dr Phil Heron teaching the first face-to-face science course in an English prison – Low Newton, near Durham. The Gateshead-born academic worked without any scientific equipment and is now looking to roll out the course at other prisons.

The Northern Echo:

A boost for the region’s young mathematicians

Another teaching venture the university announced beyond its own students was Durham Mathematics School. A partnership with Durham Sixth Form Centre, the post-16 school is due to open in 2022, welcoming talented students from the North-East, North Yorkshire and Cumbria.

The Northern Echo:

Radical Jack’s letters secured for the North-East

As well as looking to the next generation, the university was shedding light on our shared past this year. In August, it announced the purchase of the archives of John George Lambton, first Earl of Durham.

Known as “Radical Jack”, the Earl was a major force for reform in the 19th Century. It will be made available to view, free of charge, at Palace Green Library, Durham.

Ushaw College Library revealed a Royal secret…

In March, visiting researcher Dr Benjamin Pohl discovered a forgotten Royal charter from March 26, 1200 – the first year of the reign of King John.

Sadly, it made none of us millionaires: rather confirming the granting of possessions in County Durham, including the hamlets of Cornsay and Hedley Hill, to Walter of Caen and Robert FitzRoger, Lord of Warkworth and Sherriff of Norfolk and Suffolk.

The Northern Echo:

Did we miss a black hole?

Durham is one of the world’s leading universities for astronomy and cosmology research and in October, researchers suggested that there might be a black hole in our solar system.

Physicists have speculated that the orbits of huge chunks of rock and ice in the outer solar system might have been influenced by a new planet called Planet 9. The new theory suggests Planet 9 might be a small black hole left over from the Big Bang.

Cheaper, more efficient solar power

To end on a hopeful note: a team that includes Durham solved the puzzle of why a certain type of solar panel is much more efficient than others.

If you’re wondering, the key is adding selenium, which stops electrons becoming trapped and lost. Probably don’t try it at home...