Break Out The Bunsen Burner: It's National Science Week

By Richard Stacey | 07 March 2003
Shows a girl using a microscope.

Left: now is your chance to stick science itself unnder the microscope. Image courtesy of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Is time travel possible? What's life like on a space station? How do astronauts eat in space? How has the way beer is brewed changed over the centuries?

Yes, it's that time again. National Science Week is up and running from now until March 16, and it's all about questions.

You may not think you have much of an interest in science. You may be one of the millions of people who left school with a phobia of Bunsen burners, test tubes, and lab coats. But if any of those questions caught your attention you're thinking scientifically.

Which is what National Science Week is all about. All over the country, in the unlikeliest of venues, science professionals will be taking their work to the people and amateur enthusiasts will offer their take on the science stuff which excites them.

the biggest mammal to walk the earth and never forget a face - the elephant.

Right: from the biggest to the smallest, you can see the Life of Mammals. Photo: Neil Lucas. © Neil Lucas.

The variety of events is astounding. Serious, whimsical, astronomical, biological, mathematical, artistic, the programme proves that there are as many ways of presenting science as there are scientific questions to be asked.

Take animals, for example. If you've been glued to your TV set for the last few months watching David Attenborough's 'Life Of Mammals' get down to the Museum Of Science And Industry in Manchester to see an interactive version of the landmark series. It's open from now until Sunday March 16.

If, on the other hand, your children would rather get to see animals up close, Saturday March 8 offers the opportunity to be a zookeeper for the day at the Children's Zoo in Walton Hall Gardens, Warrington. Book in advance on 01925 601617, and bring old clothes. Mucking out is dirty business, and you'll be expected to lend a hand.

Shows a class of children walking through a field of wheat.

Left: there's all sorts of science involved in farming, down in Cornwall they'll show you how to do it the organic way.

Just as practical, but a little less dirty, at Coswinsawsin Organic Demonstration Farm on March 13 there's a chance to try your hand at traditional crafts and farming skills. Give 'em a call on 01209 722148 to get involved.

In Belfast there's a treat for those with an interest in creatures of the creepy-crawly kind. Bug Brother at the W5 centre is based on the reality TV programme Big Brother, with one crucial difference.

Here, the contestants are all insects. The bugs are given tasks to perform, and the audience has to vote on which they want to evict. Don't expect the spiders to last long. The show is open now and continues through to Sunday March 16, but why not cast your vote online by clicking on this link.

Shows two children and one adult holding soft toy insects.

Right: day 39 in the Bug Brother house and the spider has come to the diary room. Who stays? Who goes? You decide!

If bugs just don't fly your plane, those magnificent men and women in flying machines at the RAF Museum, Cosford certainly will.

They'll be celebrating 100 years of manned flight by teaching you how it's done and giving you the chance to build your own helicopter, hovercraft or even rocket. Families and schools are welcome between March 8 and 14.

Shows a group of children wearing 3D glasses.

Left: with science, seeing is believing. Image courtesy of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Fancy boldly going a bit further? Find out all about space at the South Downs Planetarium in Cosmic Catastrophes, on March 8, 9, 12, 14 and 16 from 3.15pm - 4.30pm and 7.15pm - 8.30pm. The organisers promise to show what would happen if a nearby star exploded, what the fate of earth will be when the earth swells up into a red giant, and whether life on earth would survive asteroid impact. Call 01243 774400 for more information.

Less dramatic, perhaps, but equally enthralling are the more traditional sky-gazing opportunities.

This year Mars will be closer to Earth than at any point in the last 60,000 years and to celebrate celebrity lecturer Heather Couper will be sharing the secrets of the red planet at the National Museum And Gallery in Cardiff on March 13 from 7.00pm-8.00pm, pre-booking is advised.

Shows Commander Alexander Volkov.

Right: he's been where not many have been before, Commander Volkov.

At the same venue on March 8 between 12.30pm - 1.30pm will be Russian cosmonaut Alexander Volkov and former head of ballistics at Russian mission control Alexander Martynov.

They'll be discussing the chances of humans actually landing on Mars, as well as their careers closer to home on space station Mir. Again, pre-booking is advised.

Shows the Mir space station.

Left: there they are floating in their tin can, but without science none of it would be possible. Image courtesy of NASA.

If you're lucky, they'll even reveal what was on the menu. If they don't there's an opportunity to discover the cunning culinary capers of all astronauts at Goodness Gracious Gravity at The Museum Of Science And Industry, Manchester from now until May 31. Just how do they manage to eat without getting it all over the ship?

A little further north at the Thackray Museum, West Yorkshire a new exhibition will be getting to grips with Anthrax and Spreading the Facts, from March 8-16.

The show will explore the two sides of a naturally occuring disease and an agent of biological weapons, but it is aimed at older children and adults.

Shows a robot, ready for the Robot Crusade.

Right: their big, their bold and they'll tear each other to bits. For those about to fight, we salute you!

For those with more destructive tendencies the Enginuity Robot Crusade at Ironbridge in Telford offers all the mayhem you can manage.

Based on the TV series Robot Wars, as well as getting the chance to see a live tournament fans will be able to chat to roboteers and learn about the engineering work that goes into building monster machines.

The show will be touring local schools during the week, but is open to the public on March 15 and 16, though you are advised to book in advance.

Shows a working model at Enginuity..

Left: while you're there, check out Enginuity, for the science behind bridges, buildings and machines.

If that destruction leaves you feeling decidedly vulnerable, give yourself a welcome boost of something that's good for you.

A certain Alexander Fleming realised the recuperative powers of mould 75 years ago and revolutionised medicine with the introduction of Penicillin. Check out where and how he did it with a special tour at the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum, Paddington.

Shows two children holding up science pictures in a shop window.

Right: the truth's out, shopping can be a helpful experience after all.

All of this may leave you feeling a little puzzled about what science actually is. To help you find out the children of Dundee have created an A-Z of science, which will be on display throughout the Overgate Shopping Centre from now until March 16.

Talking of A to Z, down in South Kensington, London there will be two days of frenetic science activity at the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and Imperial College. BAYSDAY, for children aged 6-13, will take place over March 14 and 15 and will involve talks, workshops and hands-on activities galore.

As if that wasn't good enough, Roger Highfield, Science Editor at the Daily Telegraph will be talking about his book The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works. It promises to reveal the truth behind the weird and the wonderful.

Much like National Science Week itself, really.

Of course, you may have read this far just to find out about beer. Perhaps the most interesting event of the whole week, The History Of Your Beer is at the University Of Sunderland on March 12. Adults only.

This event is so huge we can't tell you about everything so click on this link to find out the full lowdown on the National Science Week website.

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