EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE FESTIVAL.
Two hours of construction and creativity on the part of the class of primary schoolchildren are finally approaching their climax as the countdown commences. "Ten, nine, eight, seven, ..."
"My heart is always in my mouth at this point," says sculptor and science communicator Natalie Taylor over her shoulder, as she holds the bulky, billowing object in one hand and the paint-stripper which is blowing hot air into it in the other.
"For me this is always a moment of discovery." And for the children even more so, as the great balloon they have just made, its paper panels adorned with colourful dragons, flying ships and exotic birds, strains to break free. "... three, two, one. Lift-off!" Natalie switches off the blower and there is a moment of stillness. She lets go of the balloon and it begins to rise silently into the air, slowly at first then faster and faster.
One child goes "Oooooo," but most are quietly enthralled, eyes wide, faces turned upward, barely breathing.
In no time at all the balloon hits the ceiling, crumples slightly and tips to one side, leaving a purple dragon looking down menacingly on the children.
And there it remains, pasted to the ceiling by its own buoyancy. The children go "awwww", there is a ripple of applause and the spell is broken.
"It's stuck! It's stuck! Can I climb up and gt it?", "Can we make it fly again, miss?", "Can I hold the blower next time?", "Look, it's coming back down."
Very gently the large balloon, with its little basket suspended underneath, drifts slowly downward until Natalie is able to reach out and take a firm hold of it once more.
"Why did it come down?" she asks the children.
"Because the air got cold"; "Because some of it escaped."
"Quite right," she agrees. "Now let's put something in the basket and see if it can still fly."
"How about me miss?" In a few hours the children have learned, in a way they'll remember for the rest of their lives, more about the science of hot-air balloons and aviation than those pioneers the Montgolfier brothers ever knew. Despite building the conveyance that carried the first men ever to fly, Jacques and Joseph thought it was smoke rather than buoyancy that lifted their balloons.
An added bonus for the children is that the balloon is now theirs to keep.
"It was great fun making and decorating the balloon," says Lewis, a P5 pupil at Broughton primary.
"And we're going to show it to all the other classes in our school, and make it fly again."
"Hot Air Balloons", aimed at P4-6, lasts two and a half hours. Workshops run until March 10, tel: 0131 473 2070. Thereafter contact Natalie Taylor at the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop, tel: 0131 551 4190.