Borders science festival goes with a big bang at St Mary’s in Melrose

Bang Goes The Borders science festival. St. Mary's School, Melrose. ice cream with a difference from Heriot-Watt University.
Bang Goes The Borders science festival. St. Mary's School, Melrose. ice cream with a difference from Heriot-Watt University.

FAMILIES from all over the Borders flocked to St Mary’s School in Melrose at the weekend for the second Bang Goes The Borders science festival.

Youngsters, together with their mums and dads, found themselves thrilled by a raft of explosions, magic tricks, and light shows from the 30 events on offer.

Dr Sara Shinton, co-organiser of the festival, said that this year had surpassed expectations on every level.

“Visitor numbers were up significantly on last year.

“By expanding the programme, there were lots of options throughout the day and a great mix of scientific disciplines to choose from. We think that everyone had a fantastic experience,” she said.

“But, for me, the greatest success was that we were again able to offer everything without any cost to our visitors. The sponsorship and support we received from Rathbone Investment Management and Heriot-Watt University was amazing.

“We are so grateful to have found not one, but two organisations who share our vision of inspiring hundreds of children with a love of science and hopefully creating new opportunities for their future careers.”

A new addition to this year’s event was Friday’s evening of lectures. Hearing about world-leading research being done in and near the Borders impressed the audience. And Dr Shinton said she has already heard from people whose perceptions have been changed by what they heard and saw.

“Although the cutting-edge science that they talked about was fascinating to the audience, I think that understanding what inspired our speakers to pursue research careers and hearing first hand about the potential impact of their research has really opened people’s eyes.”

Amongst the many visitors were local MP and Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, who met many of the scientists and was impressed with their ability to engage the public. Mr Moore believes that the importance of meeting such great role models cannot be overstated.

“On behalf of the Borders I want to thank everyone who came here today because they will have stimulated an interest in some of these children that could last for the rest of their lives.”

Many of the events had universal appeal, but for older visitors there were insights into the science behind zombies, whilst the very youngest visitors had the chance to dance like bees.

Andrew Morris of St Mary’s School, who co-organised the event, explained that the hands-on approach of the day was key to its success.

“The children didn’t just see science – they were doing science in most of the workshops. Extracting DNA, feeding micro-organisms, using forensic techniques to solve crimes or building ball-bearing games – every child had the chance to roll up their sleeves and experience their own moments of discovery.”

With a constant buzz of excitement tangible throughout the day, it’s fair to say that the scientists enjoyed themselves as much as the children and many put on extra performances to satisfy demand.

Dr Christopher Leburn of Heriot-Watt University was one of those who happily gave up his weekend to share his enthusiasm for science.

“When you talk to children about your work; when you answer their questions which are so different to the questions we ask ourselves; when you see the spark of curiosity light up their faces, it really motivates you.

“My work isn’t always straightforward, but knowing you are often doing something for the very first time and through that, improving our understanding of the universe makes research a uniquely rewarding career.

“If children can meet scientists today and see how much fun we have at work, we hope they might eventually join us.”

Following on from the success of the festival, organisers are keen to repeat the event and keep the momentum going.