Saturday, June 28, 2008

Recapturing The Excitement Of Science

This article is all over the place and going in all directions. Its main emphasis is on the refurbishing of the Faraday Lecture Theatre at the Royal Institution in London. Still, it is an interesting read, especially on the historical aspect. Even more interesting, however, is that the impression that I have regarding the teaching of physics, and how the importance of physics is communicated to the general public, are articulated exactly in the article.

What a contrast with today. Last week, Ofsted reported that at both primary and secondary school level, science lessons were dull and there were not enough practical experiments. Teachers no longer entertain classes with explosions of powdered magnesium; gone are the bunsen burners for heating noxious mixtures in fragile test-tubes.

"Science is a fascinating and exciting subject," said Chief inspector Christine Gilbert. "Yet for many pupils, it lacks appeal because of the way that it is taught."

So why are so many people today happy to admit that they find science difficult and dull? Some of the blame may be laid at the doors of our education system, as the Ofsted report suggested. But there must be more to the flight from science.

People who would never admit to a lack of understanding of art or literature are happy to confess to total incomprehension where science is concerned. Yet our lives today depend as never before upon the outcomes of innovative science and technology. Without medical science, our lives would be shorter and more painful; without physics and chemistry, domestic conveniences that ease our everyday lives could never have been developed.

If, however, the reason for the general public's disenchantment with science is to be laid at the door of scientists unable or unprepared to communicate their subject so as to engage the interest and enthusiasm of non-specialists, then the Royal Institution is continuing a long tradition actively to counter such a trend.

This person in that speeding case may be exactly the product of such an environment, resulting in a complete disconnect between the advances in physics and the way we live our lives today.


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