National Science Week fun
Well, I have to say it, I'm impressed. Being used to the way things worked back home, I'd just assumed that it would be the same here when National Science Week came around. I'm very glad to say that this is not the case.
With no pestering on my part, there is huge amounts of stuff going on, and it's brilliant! There are schools all over campus (they come regularly anyway, but the concentration seems higher this week), and lots of events going on around the city. Even the Uni's open day coincided with National Science Week, and the stars of the show this year were the team from CIRA who put on what sounds like an excellent display. I couldn't be there unfortunately as I'd already said yes to a training course before I knew about the open day. It's a shame I missed it though, apparently the Uni had organised three guys dressed in space suits to drive round the campus all day in a moon buggy style contraption handing out astronomy flyers!
Where was I while all this was going on? Camping with a bunch of other trainee leaders in the bush. Quite a few of us were up at 6am on Sunday and had a superb view of the partial lunar eclipse through the gum trees and the woodsmoke as we cooked breakfast. It was a really good weekend.
I have done my bit for National Science Week though, even though I missed open day. Yesterday I took part in a video conference with a school over in New South Wales. The class of year 9 students had come up with a whole load of questions which they asked me over the space of an hour. It was really good fun and I managed to get a few laughs out of them, so I think they enjoyed it too. I've objected to doing this sort of thing in the past, but in that case the astronomer and the participants were only 20 miles apart. To me, that seemed utterly daft. If I can get there in person, I'd much rather do that (especially as I tend to run around like a mad person and often use props with audience participation - I get a bit over-enthusiastic sometimes). In this case, however, the school was in Armidale and I wouldn't have been able to get there for just an hour's session, so a video conference was perfect (I still mamanged to use a couple of props!). It was part of a National Science Week project run by Nick Cross at AARNet and it worked really well. With so many remote communities in Australia, and WA in particular, this kind of project is great for inspiring kids that, otherwise, might never be exposed to university-level research. I'm not expecting them all to go off and become astronomers, that would be daft, but hopefully it gives them something to think about and opens their minds to possibilities they might not have considered.
Today I did a couple of sessions with the children at Al-Hidayah primary school just down the road from the Uni. I did two groups of years 4 to 7, the first lot were all girls, the second lot were all boys. I had an hour with each group and took them on a tour of the Universe, then we did a model solar system around the room, and we even managed a game of balloon rockets before the end of the session. They were all very well-behaved, but the boys were definitely louder and more eager to put up their hands than the girls were (the girls asked more questions though)! After all that, the two chemists who were also there, running activities with the younger ones, and I were invited to the principal's office for tea, samosas and cakes, all wonderfully civilised (and very welcome when you've been up and on your feet since half past five). We talked about Science Week and discovered that they had had some kind of activity or visit planned for every day this week, very impressive. I didn't realise until then that the chemists had been in the next room and were puzzled by the loud countdowns going on on the other side of the wall as we launched our rockets!
So, all in all, a pretty good week so far. And far more impressive than anything that went on in my town for National Science Week back home.....
There's more in my diary as well. Next week, SciTech are running an "Observing on the Oval" event down at Mandurah with some new telescopes that they have just bought. Thanks to an invite from SciTech, I'm going along to help and will spend the evening
playing with showing people exciting things through a 16-inch Dob. I can't wait!