Sunday, 28 October 2012

Igniting interest in science

Great day out in Nottingham yesterday.  It's always fun to be a shameless tourist but the highlight was not one of the usual sights (though I did enjoy Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem) but, instead, something claiming to be The World's 1st Science Pop-up Shop.

A group called Ignite! had taken over an empty unit in the Broadmarsh shopping centre.  SG and I wandered in off the street and found a bunch of enthusiastic students, teachers and other volunteers sharing their passion for all kinds of science to curious passersby.

Plenty of parents and children on half-term stopped to check out an eclectic mix of experiments and demonstrations, focused on pointing out the amazing phenomena of everyday life.  Did you know that if you whip Marmite it goes white?  Or that if you put your thumb over a straw you can stab it straight through a potato?


The Ignite! folks were also joined by people from creative collective Hackspace, who were letting kids loose with soldering irons - I had a go and even got to make a flashing robot badge.



The walls and floor of the shop were decorated with fun facts and quizzes like the one on the left (see below for answer),which were arousing plenty of discussion among visitors.

Of course it's not a new idea to strip all the off-putting formulae and unhelpful abstractions out of science, and remove the distinctions between different scientific disciplines.  (It reminded me of many happy childhood visits to the Science Museum's basement "Launch Pad".)  What was great was to see it sandwiched in among Poundland, Argos and Wimpy.

The pop-up shop is a four-week project.  Could it work in the longer term?  It would be hard to keep fresh - they'd need to keep changing the decoration and activities if they wanted people to come back for repeat visits.  I guess they're getting the space rent-free too, which is doable with so many recession-hit units standing empty, but might not be possible indefinitely.  On the other hand, if we're all shopping online and in malls, and retailers are abandoning city centres, maybe this is the future of the high-street experience.  Saturday afternoon in town for coffee and chemistry, anyone?



(Apparently frogs' bones grow in visible rings, just like trees - so you can tell their age by cutting them open.  But bad luck on the frog...)

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