National Science Week is looming, and this year we can all get involved - no excuses - from March 10-19. Hilary Wilce previews its events
Science Week organisers, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA), want you to take part in its annual celebration of science by "clicking for the climate", and pledging to make a small lifestyle change which will help tackle climate change. This might be turning the TV off instead of leaving it on standby, or refusing plastic bags in shops, but whatever it is, the association wants us to keep it up for the whole of its 10-day science fest.
"We want to look at what people are doing already, and what they are prepared to do themselves. It may be that they are prepared to walk to school, but not to forego a holiday flight," says Annette Smith, director of the regions and responsible for National Science Week, at the BA. "They might be prepared to turn the thermostat down a degree or two on some days, but not others. There are 15 pledges on our website and you can either sign up individually, or as 35 members of class 2C." So far, celebrity sign-ups include naturalist David Attenborough and Tammy Grey-Thompson, the paralympic athlete, while Annette Smith is doing her bit by taking a train to Edinburgh instead of flying. Climate change features big in the nearly 2,000 events happening up and down the country. Events range from major theatrical happenings, to string-and-yoghurt-pot activities that teachers can download from the BA's website, where activity packs cover, among other things, aspects of colour, 60-second science, and activities to celebrate Einstein's birthday.
In Sheffield there will be a lecture, "Artic Meltdown!" by Arctic expert Professor Terry Callaghan of Sheffield University, and a look at the science of climate change by another Sheffield academic Adam Scaife; while schools will be busy examining issues such as whether science will change the way we have babies, and "Do we really share 50 per cent of our genes with the banana?"
In fact, Sheffield will be offering hundreds of free activities. "We have 200 to 300 events going on in schools, and then there's the public programme. Our events go for three weeks, because we can't fit them all into one," says organiser Pat Brunskill. "It's because we work so well together, the universities, the museums and lots of other people as well."
There is a family science day in the winter gardens, a geological walk round a graveyard, and two unmissable lectures - "Is Bird Flu a Threat?", and "Blood and Guts - the Conquest of the Peptic Ulcer". Then there is an evening at the Crucible Theatre, when professors Tony Ryan and Noel Sharkey will take a theatrical look at the history of robots.
Across the Pennines, Newcastle has its own Theatre of Science evening, with science writer Simon Singh and psychologist Richard Wiseman, who explain things from optical illusions to the Big Bang, then send a million volts of electricity across the stage. This is suitable for key stages 45 says Natalie Trainor of the Newcastle Science Festival, but places at this and other events are being snapped up fast. "It's our fourth year now, and things are free, so when the leaflets drop through the door people know to book up right away."
In Greenwich, south London, at the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory, the climate is featured in a new gallery, opened last autumn, looking at the marine environment. The museum is also just opening four new time galleries, and many of its science week workshops will allow families to explore the history of time by making water clocks and exploring sundials. This year National Science Week is joined by the Economic and Social Research Council's Social Science Week, which aims to show that science is about people as well as test tubes. Its events will look at topics such as Are Farms a Place for Wildlife? and Should We buy Food From Abroad?, and there is also a photography competition asking people to try to capture "the colour in science".
It, too, is urging people to "click for the climate" and if everyone does so, the results could add up to real change. "Last year over half a million people took part in National Science Week," says Annette Smith. "If they all just replaced one ordinary light bulb in their home with an energy-saving bulb, then National Science Week would have cut down carbon dioxide emissions by over 1,500 tonnes."
l www.the-ba.netclimatechange www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.ukweek