Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 22

Submission from the Royal Institution of Great Britain

  The Royal Institution (Ri) was founded in 1799 and over the years has grown significantly in size, breadth of activity and profile from within its original, elegant central London townhouse. The Ri's events are open to everyone, and now with over 3000 individual members, fourteen corporate members and in excess of fifty event partners, the Ri offers unlimited access for many thousands of people to encounter "real" science.

  Over 30,000 children and tens of thousands of adults attend our varied programme of public lectures and events each year. In recent years, the Ri has covered a huge range of relevant topics, from cutting-edge discoveries in chemistry and physics, to debates on genetics and other medical and health issues, the application of the latest technological advancements to our everyday lives, exploring the symbiosis between science and arts, discussions about travelling to outer space, and even the science of ice cream!

  The Ri is particularly committed to increasing access to science for young people. In fact, Michael Faraday himself inaugurated the very first science lectures for young people in the 1820s, and since then our work with schools has been at the heart of our success. Our Science for Schools (SfS) programme comprises special events for primary, secondary and 16+ school groups, including science talks; thousands of children come through our doors via the SfS programme every year. The aim of these unique events is to get children excited about science, technology and maths, aware of their impact on their everyday lives and to consider a career in science as a viable option.

  Some of the most successful and popular events that we have run as part of the SfS programme have covered human space flight, the science, engineering and technology required to take humans into space and highlighting the diversity of disciplines involved in one mission. In 2005, we ran a few events given by Dr Kevin Fong from the Centre for Aviation, Space and Extreme environment medicine. We found that the students not only responded to his delivery style, but also that the focus of the event on a highly inspiring topic made learning complex science much easier than it otherwise would have been.

  Using the focus of human space flight made learning about physics (eg trajectories of planets and spacecrafts, the solar system, rockets, etc), biology (eg how the human body works and the effects of zero gravity) and chemistry (eg chemical composition of rocket fuel) easier for the majority of students than it otherwise would have been. Having the benefit of input from scientists actually involved in human space flight added to the quality of the experience, and helped raise students aspirations to envisage themselves taking part in similar programmes. From our involvement with scientists involved in human space flight programmes, we feel that the motivational benefit for UK students is enormous and can only have a positive impact on the UK skills base.

October 2006

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