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This crazy, entrancing world

Scotland's largest and most innovative science centre makes allowances for hands-on sticky little fingers, as Douglas Blane discovered

If quantum mechanics is correct, Albert Einstein commented in the early 20th century, then the world is crazy. A wealth of experimental evidence has since proved Einstein right. The world is indeed crazy.

It is certainly profoundly strange, and very different to what we imagined. But it is also fascinating, thought-provoking, wondrous and entrancing.

All this can be experienced at Glasgow Science Centre, where children and adults get to play with whispering dishes, giant turntables, telescopes, sparks, quarks, echoes and reflections. They measure their blood pressure and examine the insides of their eyes, noses, ears and throats. They learn about designer babies, the influence of our genes, and the battle against disease micro-organisms. They study stars and galaxies, atoms and molecules. Glasgow Science Centre poses a problem to a teacher on a first visit with the class: Where to begin?

The IMAX theatre is tempting, with excellent films showing the Grand Canyon, the human body and dolphins swimming in the Atlantic. All in breathtaking colour and clarity on a screen 80 feet wide and as high as a house.

The aerofoil shape of Glasgow Tower - the tallest free-standing structure in Scotland - sits on a single ball-bearing like a giant castor, and rotates continually to face the wind. Brave souls ascend to the 100-metre high viewing cabin for a spectacular panorama.

Other attractions are the planetarium and the digital video workshop. The virtual reality theatre conveys visitors along DNA's coiled ladder of life.

The Science Mall is a gleaming, glass, steel and titanium structure on the riverside, packed with exhibits. But it is not just a huge collection of hands-on exhibits - over 300 at the last count - that makes Scotland's largest and most innovative science centre different from a conventional museum. Museums are collections of culturally valuable objects preserved for posterity.

In a science centre all the exhibits can be repaired or replaced, and the processes of erosion caused by prying little hands are accepted, planned for, and built into the budget.

The science communicators present the shows, and wander among the exhibits answering questions and explaining the ideas behind the fun. Mark Crane has a fearsome lizard perched on his shoulder, and is assuring one sceptical group of children that bearded dragons actually like to be stroked.

Some scientists and engineers are based at the centre. Others visit to share their research. In an illustrated talk on his work to one group, Dr David McKee says: "A satellite that passes over each day measures the colours of the tiny plants that live in the sea, we get readings from robot submarines, and we also go out in boats with instruments."

Education manager Rebecca Crawford and her team have been working for two years to devise educational visits, and develop resources for teachers.

"Most of all we are talking constantly to the teachers," she says, "learning what they think of us, what they want us to do for them."

Contact Glasgow Science Centre, 50 Pacific Quay, Glasgow G51 1EA Tel: 0141 420 5010 Email: admin@gsc.org.uk Web: www.gsc.org.uk Cost: pound;3.50 to pound;6 per pupil, depending on activities. One teacher free with 10 pupils Similar attractions Sensation in Dundee. Tel 01382 228 800. Web: www.sensation.org.uk Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh Tel. 0131 550 7800 Web: www.dynamicearth.co.uk Satrosphere in Aberdeen Tel. 01224 640 340 Web: www.satrosphere.net The Big Idea , Harbourside, Irvine. Tel. 08708 403 118. Web: www.bigidea.org.uk

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