National Science Week goes with a bang!

Tuesday 28 March 2006

From pickled gherkins to the Teletubbies to the creation of the universe, National Science Week went with a ‘big bang’ at the University of St Andrews.

The University celebrated the week- long festival earlier this month (10-19 March) with a series of exciting events for the community.

Broadcaster Simon Singh spoke to a packed lecture theatre on the subject of the Big Bang creation of the Universe. Senior pupils from local secondary schools formed the bulk of the audience, with the public, students, and staff taking all other available spaces. Simon explained the history of the development of the Big Bang theory with the aid of demonstrations including the electrocution of a pickled gherkin, Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven played forwards and backwards, and a curious bit of logic associated with the Teletubbies. The large audience was said to be enthralled with the presentation.

The Ig Nobel tour came to St Andrews on the Monday night. The Ig Nobel prizes, given annually just before the real Nobel prizes to research that ‘first makes you laugh and then makes you think’ are awarded by the science humour magazine ‘Annals of Improbable Research’. The editor of the Annals, Marc Abrahams explained what the prizes were, who had got them and why they undoubtedly deserved them. Three Ig Nobel prize winners were also on hand to explain their strange research on the courtship behaviour of birds and humans and the audience also enjoyed a mini-opera about counting to infinity, a film about a man developing his own anti- grizzly bear suit and how build a table in the shape of chemistry’s periodic table – in other words, a periodic table table!

The Hands-On Science day on Saturday allowed visitors to explore a wide range of science through a variety of activities in a big session on the North Haugh. These included a display on the secret life of sea-mammals, experiments to test their own perception, the building of molecules, morphing their face into what it might look like if they were a different age, getting inside a giant soap bubble, exploring the science of music, and seeing what happens when it gets so cold that air turns into a liquid. Visitors were able to attend shows in our planetarium, take part in a computer game involving surveying whale numbers, and get themselves inside a giant kaleidsocope. Fun was had building towers in our egg-race challenge, and in mineral prospecting. There were huge crowds throughout the five hours that the event was open. The activities were all run by staff and students of the University, with inputs from the Schools of Chemistry, Geoscience, Physics and Astronomy, Psychology, the Sea Mammal Research Unit and the Centre for Research into Environmental and Ecological Modelling. The Bell-Pettigrew museum of natural history was also open for the afternoon.

Professor Steve Lee, Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy said, “”It was fantastic to realise that, as we had hoped, we had really managed to attract people from all parts of our community and from all walks of life. It was especially satisfying to see that the event was dominated by children and young people, from toddlers to teenagers, who all seemed to find the occasion both entertaining and stimulating. It also reinforced for me just how easy it is to engage children in the excitement of science, and raises serious questions about why as a society we don’t convert more of this obvious natural curiosity into interest in science later in their school careers. We were grateful for the participation of students from across the campus who manned the event and worked enthusiastically to make the occasion educational and, at the same time, fun and child-focussed. I think we all thoroughly enjoyed participating in National Science Week and I am sure that the University will continue to support and promote this at St Andrews in future years.”

Meanwhile Steve’s seven year old daughter Chloe said, “The whole thing was brilliant. I particularly liked making the slime and also being inside the giant bubbles!”

Vicky Torrance from the University’s Office for Scottish Recruitment and Access marketed National Science Week at primary schools throughout Fife. Her six year old daughter Briony could not be persuaded to leave the event until she had seen and experimented with absolutely everything on display.

“The best bits were panning for gold, seeing a photo of myself as a grown-up and making the tallest tower out of newspaper”, she said.

Mum Vicky added, “It was a fantastic day and we will definitely be going again next year”.


Issued by Beattie Media – On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook, Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email gec3@st- Ref: nationalsciencesuccess View the latest University press releases at

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