Science Smorgasbord. The Artful Scientists: Travelling Science Shows for Schools.Australian Science Festival May 2 – 6, 1998.
The Artful Scientists, Rebecca Colless (biologist) and Alan Reid (physicist) do the Professor Julius Sumner Miller thing, but their young audiences don't know about that - and the response I saw showed they wouldn't have worried if they did. Even when they knew what would happen, they cheered when the lid blew off the coffee tin and liquid nitrogen shrank the balloon.
Dramatic suspense, moments of revelation, climaxes galore and denouements of relief kept the children thoroughly entertained - even when I, a balding old man with glasses, was brought out to go fishing with an electromagnet. The atmosphere was electric, partly I thought because the Australian Science Festival arrangements gave the performers a limited time - not enough to relax, play more with ideas or ask the questions during or after the show which would lead to more understanding of the science behind the demonstrations. The hubbub and the need to push on turned the show more into a slick set of tricks.
The Festival has brought in young Australian representatives from the Science and Mathematics Olympiads to introduce the events. Thomas Lam did his bit very well, and made me start thinking about science shows. The Artful Scientists are certainly highly entertaining, but I wondered why it is that fewer people seem to be studying science at matriculation level than in the past? Though I find drama in holding a glass of water upside down above an audience member's head, with only a margarine container lid and air pressure to prevent a wet disaster, does this experience transfer to young people deciding to study science?
Despite my predilection towards seeing drama as the solution of all problems, maybe some scientific research is needed here. Colless and Reid are Artful Scientists indeed, but I felt I needed to see some educational proof. Of course the show I saw is not the full range of work they present in schools and teachers respond with enthusiasm. Yet I can't help fearing that more science as entertainment might mean less science as wonderment, personal discovery, mathematical analysis and new truths - where science and art come together.© Frank McKone M.A., F.A.C.E.
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