Albert Einstein once said: "I have no special talent. I am just passionately curious." The quotation features prominently at the Move Over Einstein (MOE) exhibition, which was on at the Science Museum and is travelling to venues in England, Edinburgh and Belfast over the next eight months. Its presence is apt, given the power of the show to plug into young people's curiosity, enabling them to explore the outer reaches of current scientific enquiry in a variety of absorbingly interactive and entertaining ways.
"The show comprises six main 'activity islands', each designed to help visitors investigate contemporary cutting-edge scientific research," explains Jo Newberry of Science Museum Solutions, the show's designers.
"They look at work with its roots in Einstein's discoveries, particularly those of his annus mirabilis, in 1905, when he published his most world-changing work."
At one "island", the task is to design and manoeuvre a medicine-delivering nanobot through the veins of a virtual patient. Such technologies may be some years off, but the possibility of their existence owes much to Einstein's predictions about the causes of the Brownian motion of molecules in liquids.
Elsewhere, visitors have the chance to simulate the kind of particle research soon to be underway at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), once construction finishes on a vast particle accelerator and collider.
There is always the chance pupils will thoughtlessly whiz through interactive exhibits, but the MOE activities call on a variety of skills and play to their enthusiasm for computer games and competition, anchoring them long enough to absorb some of the science on offer. This was certainly endorsed by Year 7 pupils from Fulham Preparatory School, who dropped in on the exhibition while visiting the Science Museum.
The centrepiece of MOE is a bicycle journey into Einstein's mind. It entails pedalling inside a giant fibreglass model of his head and steering through a screen journey that takes in many of his theories and thoughts, and even simulates a race against light - a daydream Einstein claimed to have had at age 16. "I thought his theories were made more interesting using the bicycle," says Valentin, aged 11. "It gave us visual proof of his theories."
The Super Nose "island" was popular, too. Here, pupils raced against time to identify a number of smells. At the same time they were able to delve into work at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, where the light-absorbing and emitting properties of gases are being harnessed in an effort to spot ethane (a gas associated with the damage and death of cells) as a means of early diagnosis of cancer.
The Wobbly Planet exhibit was also a hit. Ollie, aged 12, enjoyed exploring distant galaxies in search of planets capable of supporting life. "The way they mixed education and computers was clever. I learned things and had fun."
"I thought it would be good to include Move Over Einstein in our visit to the Science Museum," says teacher Tracy Curran. "Although it was not immediately related to the pupils' current work, it's good to go off on an exploratory tangent at times, and also to have a chance to learn in a different context. I brought a small group and an hour was plenty of time to explore the exhibition."
* The MOE exhibition is part of Einstein Year (www.einsteinyear.org). It is visiting the Royal Museum, Edinburgh, until August 21, then Lakeside Shopping Centre, Thurrock (August 27 to September 11); Harvey Shopping Centre, Harlow (September 17 to October 2) and the W5 Centre, Belfast (November 25 to January 15). Online resources are available, and group and family activity materials are on offer at the exhibition.
On the map
For details of all locations for the Move Over Einstein exhibition, visit www.einsteinyear.orgeventsmoveovereinstein