What a wonderful world

17th November 2000 at 00:00
Astronaut's view: swirling clouds of a storm seen from an American space shuttle in the film 'Blue Planet'

Scotland's first Imax cinema in Glasgow gives a different perspective to teaching science. Douglas Blane sees the living planet in all its hues

The gleaming titanium outside shell of Scotland's first Imax cinema and the screen that occupies an entire inside wall are impressive enough, but the film Blue Planet is breathtaking. Hushed gasps of awe are heard from the rows of schoolchildren as the Earth rises majestically into view in the blackness of space, the blue of its oceans shining like a beacon in the darkened auditorium.

The Imax theatre is the first part of the Glasgow Science Centre to be completed and opened to schools. The screen is 60 feet tall by 80 feet and perforated with more holes than a box of tea bags so that the audience gets the full benefit of the 12,000 watt digital sound system. Film frames are 10 times normal size, which produces a stunning clarity of image and an unusual intensity of colour.

Blue Planet, which the children from Highdykes Primary in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire, have come to see, begins and ends on a space shuttle looking down on Earth. It is surprising how much can be seen: the lush green of the vegetation in Panama, the dusty ochre of the Sahara, even purple lightning flashing in the night sky are clearly visible.

Having surveyed the surface from space, the film takes us on a closer tour of the planet, to the Serengeti where giraffes stroll among grazing zebra, the Hubbard glacier where calving icebergs crash into the sea and the Namib Desert with its 1,000 feet high sand dunes.

Suddenly the camera plunges below the Atlantic, down to a mid-ocean ridge where tectonic plates are drawing apart and molten lava is spewing up to form new rock. Elsewere old rock is swallowed up where plates come together. In Asia, where plates are colliding with colossal force, solid rock has crumpled and buckled to form the 1,000 mile mountain range of the Himalayas.

The mood of the film darkens as it shows the damage people are doing to the planet: the island of Madagascar, once cloaked in lush forest, is now one of the most scarred and eroded places on Earth; brown sediment stains the ocean for miles around the mouth of the Orinoco; palls of smoke rise from the rainforests as developers burn them.

The spectacular and thought-provoking film ends on a positive note: "We can undo the harm we have done."

A live science show follows the film. It explores the water cycle and the three states of matter, illustrated by liquid nitrogen, a hot-air balloon and a powerful capacitor to generate lightning.

To complement the educational activities, an impressive pack prepared by teachers explains the science, identifies links to the 5-14 curriculum and provides imaginative pre- and post-visit classroom activities, with worksheets and an inventory of the science skills children develop.

"Science sometimes doesn't get as much time as it should in primary schools," says P7 teacher Valerie Rainey, "simply because most teachers don't have the training. If you try any kind of open-ended science activity, the kids ask you questions and soon pick up on it if you don't know a lot. That's why this sort of visit is great - if you can get the time away from school."

At present two Imax films are available, 'Blue Planet' and 'Dolphins'. They are aimed at P4 to S2. Admission is pound;3 per child for the film alone, pound;3.50 with the science show, pound;5 for a package that also includes a guided tour of the Tall Ship at Glasgow Harbour. School parties should book, tel 0141 420 5000

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