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Scientifically tickled

Insects, rockets and robots all form part of the entertainment at the Glasgow Science Centre. Douglas Blane joins pupils to look at the science behind the fun and games

Having volunteered to go on stage, young Ryan is determined to show no fear as a huge black beetle, its antennae waving vigorously, is placed on his outstretched palm.

Even when it emits the loud noise that gives hissing cockroaches their name, the 13-year-old stays still, though he does look a little startled.

In another location, Who Wants to be a Scientist? might have been a factual presentation on careers open to young people studying science. But that has never been how the Glasgow Science Centre does things.

From its earliest days, when the titanium-coated structure was just a skeleton of concrete and steel and the staff occupied wooden huts in a muddy field, the centre has been a child-friendly blend of facts and entertainment.

Today's education team is strong in science know-how and the ready wit needed by any adult brave enough to talk to a roomful of adolescents.

"I will be asking you questions," Stuart Copland tells the students. "You can shout questions at me. And, most importantly, you have to make all the right noises. If you think something is really impressive you might want to go 'woooo'. Try it."

"WOOOOO!" goes the audience. "Great," says Stuart. In just over half an hour the presenter, who studied mechanical engineering at Strathclyde University, takes his audience on an action-packed tour of science that would be the envy of any careers officer.

A chemist's bangs, flashes and eerie luminescent light give way to the strange insect world of the entomologist, followed by the rockets of the space scientist, and the whirling, water-filled buckets illustrating the physical laws at the heart of high-performance sport.

It's a selective survey of science, aiming for breadth and entertainment rather than depth. But as the pupils' comments reveal as they wander around the equally eclectic exhibits, what they want from science is fewer facts and more fascination.

"At school, you sit and watch and learn," says 13-year-old Kulwinder Kaur.

"Here you can run about and do things, so it's a lot more interesting. It would be great if school science was more like this."

"Physics is dull," agree two young girls, as they pedal on an electricity-generating bike that looks set to soar through the huge glass wall in front of them and across the river to Glasgow University on the hill.

Biology, on the other hand, seems popular with these pupils, who are about to choose subjects for the next two years, which could include physics, chemistry and biology, instead of the integrated science of their first two years at secondary school.

A couple of boys take time out from their investigations of an exhibit with craftily concealed cameras to explain what they like about the subject. "I really enjoy the hands-on stuff, at school and in this place," says Ryan Vogwell (14), who plans to become a PE teacher.

"Biology is good because I learn stuff that will be useful to me about the body and muscles. Also I just like the subject."

His friend, 13-year-old James Wright, wants to be a rugby player and says that chemistry is his favourite subject. Apart from the science show, the most memorable thing he has seen at the Science Centre is a "big robotic bird that talks to you".

"It tells you where the stairs and toilets are, and what they feed it on - screws and washers and stuff. It's a good laugh. I like a bit of humour with my science."


Glasgow Science Centre 50 Pacific Quay Glasgow G51 1EA Tel: 0141 420 5000 Email:

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