Edinburgh International Science Festival

This article is from 2007

World of Wonder

Brian Donaldson looks forward excitedly to this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival, which is back, bigger and better than ever

Once upon a time, only the biggest geeks at school were ever even vaguely interested in the ways and doings of test tubes and Bunsen burners. Nowadays, it’s not just the cool kids who are getting into science, as everyone with an interest in making any kind of progress in our technology-dependent world needs to be getting with this programme. That’s why major events such as the Edinburgh International Science Festival, now in its 19th year, are so crucial. The events spread across the city from Edinburgh Zoo to the Assembly Rooms and the Scottish Seabird Centre to Our Dynamic Earth.

The programme includes the Science Festival at the Botanics where kids can learn about plant DNA, make compost or join the live satellite link to the Maya Rainforest of Belize. In Explore Edinburgh, you can discover how the city’s landscape has been moulded by volcanic eruptions or help build a rocket, while the adults can slink off to Big Ideas and hear leading scientists debate climate change, Nanotechnology and the latest medical developments. And there’s the wondrous Wonderama, which is described by the festival director, Dr Simon Gage, as a ‘play revolving around science. It’s not eggheaded, geeky and difficult, it’s easy, absorbing and quite extraordinary. It’s not table tops with posters behind; it’s a chance to come and get dressed up as a surgeon or a palaeontologist and we’ll train you to be one. If you dress up as an arctic explorer, we’ll let you mess about with icebergs and blubber or be an Egyptologist and unwrap a mummy. We’re creating these magical environments and letting the kids do the role play.’

These days, kids need little encouragement to indulge in science-based play as the subject has made serious in-roads, even at primary schools. While the education establishments are doing their bit, government has a major say in getting science onto everyone’s agenda. In this staunch anti-Blair era, Gage is reasonably satisfied with New Labour’s efforts. ‘About 18 months ago, Gordon Brown said that he couldn’t think of a better way to spend money than investing in science as it’s one of the main ways that we are going to make money,’ recalls Gage. ‘And to have the government’s chief scientific advisor stand up two years ago and say that climate change is a much greater threat to us than any terrorist threat just shows that science is right there in the middle.’

For an earlier generation who might have been scared off by science in the classroom, at least we could get our fix from the TV. Nowadays, kids might be more likely to want a return of Robot Wars than Tomorrow’s World. ‘I lament the loss of people like Johnny Ball and Magpie where they’d go slow enough for you to understand the science. There are few people now who are prepared to go that slowly,’ bemoans Gage. ‘In Wonderama, we have kids sitting down and concentrating for 50 minutes whereas everyone else will tell you that a kid can’t concentrate for more than 30 seconds. If you give them something interesting to do, you’d see that this is just rubbish.’

Edinburgh International Science Festival runs from Mon 2 - Sun 15 Apr; www.sciencefestival.co.uk

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