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Space: the next frontier

The Astronomer Royal for Scotland has called for "more space for space" in the science curriculum. Professor John Brown believes astronomy is a "trump card" rarely used in Scottish schools.

Speaking at a conference to discuss the curriculum council's discussion paper, Professor Brown said astronomy was capable of stimulating interest in science because of the "fantastic things out there in the universe" and should be a subject in its own right with physics, chemistry and biology.

"How do we manage to kill young children's curiosity by the time they are teenagers? We don't seem to teach science with any excitement," Professor Brown told delegates. "If I am in a pub and say I am a mathematician, then no one is interested. But if I say I am an astronomer, I am bombarded with questions. My central point is that if there is a place for astronomy in stimulating interest, then that is all the more reason to include it in the curriculum. "

Professor Brown has pledged to work towards raising public awareness of science and with a Pounds 78,000 award from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has set up three inflatable planetariums, at Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews universities.

He is also one of the backers of a Pounds 40 million bid to the Millennium Fund to establish a Scottish National Science Centre at the Garden Festival site in Glasgow.

"Making space for space in the curriculum is long overdue, given that the cosmos is the greatest of all examples of the desire which people have to explore and understand the world," Professor Brown said.

Many students mistakenly viewed astronomy as an esoteric and academic subject with poor job prospects. Yet as an applied science it was "more useful than physics" and relevant in fields such as weather forecasting, crop research communications and satellite technology.

It also encouraged students to think for themselves through study of the "puzzles of space", which could not be simplified in a laboratory experiment.

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