The Royal Society’s 2009 Summer Science Exhibition

Penrose tiling: how nature and art fill spaces

If you’re in central London tonight, or during the day this week, you should find a few moments to stop by The Royal Society. The national academy of science of the UK and the Commonwealth is staging their Summer Science Exhibition. Not only are they putting on a week of exhibits from the cutting edge of science but also featuring involved scientists themselves for you to ask questions of.

What a cool opportunity. This is a direct public-engagement event. You can look at items and exhibits and models lots of places, but how often do you get a chance to ask questions of a real, live scientist? There’s a list of exhibitshere, along with writeups that indicate which ones might be good for kids.

From their site:

We’ve got over 20 fascinating, diverse and interactive exhibits. Fields of study range from how fluorescent fish could provide better understanding of human diseases, to a chewing robot that can help us develop dental technology, to how new space missions could help to unlock the history of the universe.

There’s also a good writeup at Nature Network’s London blog about the exhibition.

You can find info on how to get there and what their hours are here.

Why is science important?

There’s an excellent article in the Guardian about teacher Alom Shaha’s passion for science and the film he’s made to explain to kids why it’s important for them. There are some great clips from that film, including:

  • If you don’t have a grasp of science, how will you stay out of the clutches of charlatans?
  • Dissing science is like dissing your mum.
  • Science will tell us whether we’re alone in the universe.
  • Science forewarns us about the effects we’re having on the environment.
  • Science helps us appreciate how lucky we are to be on this amazing planet.

Or you can watch the whole film right here:

Do the maths

There seems to have been a flurry of maths*-related articles in the news recently.

  • From the Telegraph comes a story that claims that the UK population is woefully underskilled in maths and is wasting earning and development potential. About 10% of the population (6.8m) don’t have the skills to do simple things like pay bills or understand train timetables. A government scheme to address literacy and numeracy in adults has been taken up by only 2% of those they judge needed it.
  • The BBC covers the same story. They make it a little clearer that an education watchdog body says that despite this, numeracy plans for 2010 are on target (though their 2020 targets are at risk).
  • A couple of days ago the BBC did a piece claiming – and my experience supports this, as does this column from the Times – that Brits seem quite happy to admit that they’re bad at maths.
  • The day before that the BBC wrote a story claiming that fewer than half of England’s secondary school maths teachers have a degree in the subject.
  • On the same day the BBC reported on the watchdog claiming that maths exams are easier than they used to be (it looks like news agencies are using bits of the report each day, rather than blowing it all at once).

I don’t think the problem is that people don’t recall how to solve a quadratic equation or can’t do integration by parts. Only those in maths- and science-heavy jobs need to do those things regularly. Of course, if trends continue we might not have enough of these advanced mathematicians either. And I think that a lot of people would be better off with some of the basics (percentages, statistics) plus being better able to do sums in their heads.

*And thus my transformation to Britishness is complete.