TV scientist Professor Brian Cox explains why more young people should consider careers in science, technology and engineering, and how he hopes to inspire youngsters through a national schools competition which could win them a science lesson of a lifetime taught at their school by him.
By Lisa Salmon
Professor Brian Cox's enthusiasm for science is infectious - and the TV scientist is hoping it's a bug that plenty of the nation's young people will catch.
In a bid to encourage more youngsters to opt for careers in science, technology, maths and engineering, the physicist and TV presenter is fronting a national schools competition to win a science lesson of a lifetime.
The winning Big Bang Class of 2013 will be treated to a unique space workshop taught at their school by Cox himself.
And to win the mind-blowing prize, all school children, teachers and parents need to do is enter their class (or child's class) into a special prize draw run by The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair.
Cox says: "I want to capture the imaginations of these students, and show them that science, technology, engineering and maths are the most exciting places to work.
"It's important that we inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers, because they are key to the future success of our economy.
"I hope to convince as many students as possible that they'll enjoy being part of the UK's scientific future."
The lesson will be taught by Cox at the winning school on February 6, 2013, and he promises: "I'm excited about giving my science lesson of a lifetime and surprising pupils with, I hope, a unique and inspiring science lesson.
"The idea behind the initiative is to show young people just how important maths and science subjects are to discovering a world of opportunity out there. I'll explore everything from the Big Bang and black holes to extraterrestrial life and the Large Hadron Collider."
Cox has teamed up with The Big Bang Fair, the UK's largest free celebration of science and engineering for young people, to run the competition. The fair takes place at ExCeL London from March 14, 2013.
"The fair's about enjoying science and engineering for their own sake," says Cox, "but it's also the perfect starting point for students wanting to find out more about the career possibilities in science, technology, engineering and maths."
He explains that the key to success in science isn't being brainy, but simply being interested.
"The important thing is to make sure people understand that science is something they can do," he stresses.
"It's a real misconception that you have to be a genius - you just have to be interested and open to new ideas. I was always interested in astronomy, and lots of young people are.
"It's really a case of demonstrating that education enhances immeasurably the interest that's already present.
"Today's young generation can be part of something that changes history - and that could be building or designing spacecrafts to travel to Mars or the moons of Jupiter in search of life."
The physicist's own interest in science probably stems, he says, from growing up while the Apollo space programme was under way.
"I was born in 1968 so I definitely absorbed the sense of excitement," he remembers.
"My father was into it too and I remember the pictures of the moon landings on the wall in our house.
"I was probably seven or eight when I had my first telescope and I remember having star maps and looking up at the sky before that. For as long as I can remember, that's what I wanted to do."
And now, after obtaining a doctorate in high-energy particle physics, as well as presenting many science programmes on TV and working at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, Switzerland, Cox can share a wealth of fascinating facts about the universe, and its "daunting" size.
For instance, he says there are up to a trillion stars in a galaxy, and there are more than 350 billion large galaxies in the observable universe.
"It's incredible that we've even been able to measure that," he points out.
In addition, the solar system is full of amazing things, he stresses, explaining that the sun is a vast sphere of plasma which could comfortably fit a million Earths inside. Incredibly, it burns 600 million tons of hydrogen every second.
Cox also explains that there are hundreds of worlds out there, all little moons, "and none of them are boring".
Many may even harbour life, and he adds: "At least, this possibility is well worth exploring over the coming decades, and today's young people could be involved in those missions."
:: To enter the Big Bang Class of 2013 prize draw, visit www.facebook.com/TheBigBang4U. Entries close on December 13. For more information about The Big Bang Fair, visit www.thebigbangfair.co.uk
Ask the expert
Q: "My nine-year-old son gets into trouble at school every day for doing things such as swearing, hitting other pupils and being generally disruptive. His behaviour isn't bad enough for him to be excluded, but the school can't seem to cope with him and just send him out of class. He's sometimes badly behaved at home but not as bad as he is at school. I'm at my wits end - what should I do?"
A: Former American footballer Jim Roberson, who now specialises in teaching pupil discipline in the UK and is the author of The Discipline Coach (Independent Thinking Press, £16.99, available now), says: "You need to address the problem now. If this young man isn't in class, he'll fall behind and you're giving him more reasons to misbehave as he gets older.
"You have to ask yourself some hard but honest questions. He's nine years old - where does he hear those swear words? I doubt it's in the classroom. What's going on in your own home? Does anyone there randomly swear?
"In his room does he have access to video games, TV, the internet? Children are mainly influenced by their environment.
"Maybe this is a time for a little parental responsibility. What are the repercussions and consequences when he misbehaves at home? If there are none, you're giving him the impetus to take his bad behaviour further afield.
"You need to impress upon him the value of an education, and the consequences of not having one. Even at nine years old children need to know how serious the repercussions of not having a decent education can be in later life.
"You need to start preparing this young man for the rest of his life. Four days a week give him a quiet hour after school with no television and no computer, just books. You need to re-establish some kind of structure.
"Talk more about his future and how school will help him. Before you turn on his computer games, his homework should be done.
"He needs to learn respect for himself and others, accountability and preparation.
"If you sort out these problems in the home, school will sort itself out because he'll know that he can't go there and be disrespectful."
This science kit from John Adams includes nine experiments kids can do at home - with the added fun factor of being 'radioactive'! Mini professors can create glowing ectoplasm, build a glowing water fountain, and even concoct edible radioactive jelly. The kit comes with a UV light viewer - so that the radioactivity can be witnessed in full fluorescent glory in the dark - and all required equipment. Suitable for kids aged eight and above, £19.99, from various retailers including Argos, Toys R Us and www.smythstoys.com
Build Your Own Erupting Volcano
New to the UK toy market this year, Seedling produces a range of innovative craft kits aimed at getting kids' imaginations bubbling over - just as this volcano will do, after being built and painted on the kitchen table. The kit includes an instant paper mache mix and paints and brushes for making the volcano, plus the vinegar and baking soda that will chemically react to produce the eruption. Suitable for kids aged five and above, £30, from various stockists including Harrods, Heals, Liberty, Huggle and www.kindtoys.co.uk
Build Your Own Bouncy Ball
Sometimes the simplest toys are the best, and every kid loves a bouncy ball - especially when they get to make it themselves. The kit comes complete with secret-formula powder, mould and full instructions. This is a great budget stocking-filler for young chemistry fiends - just make sure they don't play with it near any breakables. Suitable for kids aged eight and above, £3.99, Lakeland stores and www.lakeland.co.uk