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British Association for the Advancement of Science: Pupils captivated by 'hands-on' science menu

THE 10-year-old girls attempting to stuff an armful of internal organs back into a life-size model were quite positive: 'Science is cool'.

The 'Hands on Science' exhibit is part of the youth section running alongside the week-long meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Loughborough. For the first time, it has been put together by the BA's youth section - a science club for 8- to 18-year-olds.

This year, 5,500 children booked in advance to see the show and 1,500 had to be turned away. The popularity of the exhibition contradicts the findings of a survey published earlier this week, which suggested that pupils might be put off science by their teachers.

The survey, conducted with the support of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, found that 85 per cent of teachers thought their students found science and technology difficult, while less than one- third of students said they found the subjects hard. More than 6 out of 10 teachers and more than half of parents said science was a male domain, while students did not think that gender would matter when deciding whether to take up a scientific career.

The interactive 'science circus' has fired the enthusiasm of club members and of the general public. The programme was designed for school groups following key stages set out in the national curriculum.

The show was visited on Wednesday by Louis Cohen, emeritus professor of education at Loughborough. 'The most important thing is the hands-on element, this is the way they learn best,' he said while studying the distorted mirror display.

The varied scientific menu on offer to pupils included workshops ranging from building a telescope, to recreating the night sky in a StarDome, understanding pollution in a food chain and dressing up as a bird and picking your own beak.

The popularity of the formal presentations and lectures meant groups had to be shuffled between the shows according to a strict timetable.

The Government is to spend nearly pounds 500,000 on increasing the public's understanding of science, David Hunt, the Cabinet minister with responsibility for science, disclosed yesterday. He also announced a special award 'for excellence in promoting the public understanding of science', that would go to one or more organisations 'which, in my view, made an outstanding contribution to the public understanding campaign'.