Bright young sparks enjoy sunshine science extravaganza

A circus, theatre and dance company, along with interactive science workshops, helped school children get hands on with 'Sunshine Science' at a University of Sheffield event this week (29-30 June 2010) aimed at fusing arts and science together.

The two-day event saw Year 6 primary school pupils from across South Yorkshire take part in workshops to help them get to grips with themes such as photosynthesis, solar power and solar flares, as well as issues such as decreasing fossil fuels and climate change. The pupils were also tasked with learning about polymerisation, before preparing some fluorescent slime.

The topics covered in the workshops, which were delivered by young researchers, scientists and students from the University of Sheffield's Faculty of Science, were then explored creatively with Bakewell-based theatre group the Babbling Vagabonds, local dance company Hype, and Swamp Circus company. In addition, Stocksbridge-based author and biochemist Malcolm Rose, who writes science-themed thriller books for children, attended the event.

During the creative part of the event, pupils were encouraged to write an introduction to a crime story inspired by what they had learnt about the clever self-defence tactics and dangerous chemicals produced by plants. The children also explained the chemical reactions which occur during photosynthesis through shadow puppet stories and created a hip-hop dance piece illustrating the workings of a bacterial reaction centre where light is harvested. Circus skills were then put into effect to compare the efficiency of different sources of energy such as solar panels versus fuels from algae. Finally, the pupils rounded up each day with a small performance based on their new sunshine knowledge.

The 'Sunshine Science' event, which was funded by the Faculty of Science and the Outreach and Access Office via Aim Higher, followed visits to the schools by University scientists, who encouraged pupils to embrace arts and science by writing poetry inspired by scientific images.

The event follows the launch of the University of Sheffield's unique venture entitled Project Sunshine. The project aims to unite scientists in finding ways to harness the power of the sun and tackle one of the biggest challenges facing the world today: meeting the increasing food and energy needs of the world's population in the context of an uncertain climate and global environment change.

Dr Sandrine Soubes, from the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Sheffield, helped organise the event. She said: "There was a wonderful atmosphere of fun during the event at the Octagon. Obviously, learning science through performing arts and creative writing may not be part of a traditional science lesson, but I hope that we were able to inspire these young people and that they will keep their minds open to the fun of science understanding and discovery. Science has a huge role in inspiring the work of artists and artists can also help us scientists to make our science more accessible."

Ellie Burrows, aged 11, from Holy Cross Church of England Primary School, said: "I've had a lot of fun learning about science. My favourite bit was making some flubber from chemicals which we then put in a dark box and it lit up, which was really exciting."

Zac Feeley, aged 11, also from Holy Cross Church of England Primary School, added: "I've never looked at science in this way and I loved doing a shadow play to tell the life cycle of plants. This has really got me more interested in science."

Notes for Editors: Schools that took part in the event included:

Birley Community Primary School
Brampton Ellis Church of England Junior School
Holy Cross Deanery Church of England Primary School
Netherthorpe School
Pye Bank Church of England Primary School
Rotherham Gifted and Talented Group
Shortbrook Community Primary School

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