Enthusiasm rockets after a visit from the professor
It was not a singer, footballer or actor who had pupils cheering and clamouring for autographs, but a scientist.
This was the reception that Brian Cox, the nation's best-loved physicist, received at Rydon Community College in West Sussex. The reaction is one not commonly encountered by teachers prepped for double science on a Wednesday afternoon. But then, pupils do not usually compete to have well-known television stars deliver their lessons.
Professor Cox, currently presenting BBC Two's Wonders of Life, visited the school after it won a competition organised by EngineeringUK's school science festival, the Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair.
His lesson - streamed live and still available to watch on the TES website - took children at the middle school on a visual and verbal tour through some of the most mysterious puzzles encountered by scientists.
Professor Cox explained how the universe began 13.7 billion years ago, when extremely hot, dense matter exploded in the Big Bang. Illustrated by stunning pictures depicting what the universe looks like today, he told pupils that what appears to be an empty, dark night sky actually contains hundreds of millions of galaxies so far away that the light from them takes billions of years to reach us. As Professor Cox said, "the universe is very big indeed".
The pupils were suitably impressed, even if they were not all tempted to reach for the stars. "I used to want to be an astronomer but I think it's too much training," 11-year-old Abby Flynn said. "I still really like science though, and I thought the lesson was brilliant."
Professor Cox also told pupils about his work at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) near Geneva, Switzerland, where scientists are using the Large Hadron Collider to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang to understand more about our universe. His audience could be the research scientists of the future, working on projects like Cern in little over a decade, he speculated.
Matthew Hudson, 13, who was clutching a Wonders of Life book written by Professor Cox, said that his favourite part of the lesson was the diagrams of space. "It is amazing to think how far away other galaxies are," he added.
Alice Timson, 12, who watches Professor Cox's television programmes with her family, said the hour-long lesson flew by. "I love science because it shows you what is possible," she said.
Scientists are learning more and more about the universe, but Professor Cox told the children that there are still many mysteries to solve. For example, it is thought that there may be are other dimensions - beyond the three dimensions of space and one of time - that we cannot perceive. He urged pupils to continue their scientific studies so they could help to answer these questions.
To scientists like Professor Cox, describing processes such as "accelerating protons" must be absurdly simple. To children still getting to grips with physics, the lesson must have been challenging, but Rydon's pupils eagerly engaged with the physicist's storytelling.
Headteacher Allison Murphy said pupils had prepared thoroughly for Professor Cox's visit and were excited to have the opportunity to come up with questions for him.
"I'm so impressed with the level of enthusiasm and knowledge among pupils," Professor Cox told Ms Murphy after the lesson. "I'd love to come back."
To watch Professor Cox's lesson, go to www.tes.co.ukbriancox
Explore the solar system with this amazing presentation.
Treat pupils in Year 10 and above to an astronomy masterclass.
Or try a game of solar system top trumps.
For more related resources, visit www.tes.co.ukresources.