Science - Is the end really nigh?

17th February 2012 at 00:00

What it's about

Over the past months there has been growing talk of the world ending this year. The saga surrounds a supposed prediction made by the ancient Mayan civilisation, writes Andrew Lochery.

Getting started

Could there be any truth to the prediction? And how can we use it in science? It's a topic that captures the imaginations of young people and provokes scientific debate.

You could get your pupils to make their own super-volcano from papier- mache and then react vinegar with baking soda and some red food colouring to represent a volcanic eruption (one of the prophesies). Or you could look at climate change, focusing research on how human activities, as well as natural events, can have an impact on the planet.

Pupils could plan a "doomsday" survival kit for a large-scale disaster, such as world oil supplies being significantly disrupted, food crops being destroyed, mass casualties occurring, and other forms of communication being jammed.

During the past decade regions across the globe have been devastated by earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and flooding, and there have been wars and terrorist atrocities. But these have not threatened the entire human race. Your class could look at the sort of disaster that might wipe us out and, statistically, what chances there are of the prophecies coming to pass.

Pupils should be encouraged to keep an open mind about questions that are difficult to answer with certainty, and learn that science does not have all the answers.

What else?

What really killed the dinosaurs? Explore the possibilities with tasks from Andrew Jackson.

For an introduction to volcanoes, check out's animation.

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