Derby and District Astronomical Society

Festival of Science, University of Derby - Saturday 14th March 2009

Report by Anthony Southwell.  Photographs by Graham Ensor.

2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and to celebrate the University of Derby held a Festival of Science from the 9th to 14th March. DDAS members Graham Ensor, Anthony Southwell, Mike Dumelow and others were there to represent the Society. Graham brought along a stunning collection of meteorites and Anthony display material and Society info. In total the event attracted around 2000 visitors. There was even a Meteorite or Meteorwrong competition! Here Anthony Southwell gives an account of the proceedings...

We initially started setting up with the meteorite display on the Friday evening. I never cease to be amazed at the size and quality of Graham's meteorite collection, it is superb. And not all of the Graham's collection made it to the display cases! The following morning I arrived back at Uni with the items I had for the DDAS display at 8:30 in the morning, and things were starting to come together, the RAF were their displaying a cut-away Chinook helicopter engine, and something you don't see every day at Derby University, the sight of an RAF officer pushing an aircraft ejection seat through the Atrium! It was at that point that I realised that it was not going to be an ordinary day!

The Meteorite Collection and the DDAS Display was split into two areas. Graham had a table in the Atrium, next to the Leicester Space Centre's inflatable Star Dome, and there was another display case and a small DDAS display in a small ante-room on the balcony overlooking the Atrium. The DDAS display consisted of my laptop running the DDAS slideshow that I developed for last year's Relay for Life event (hastily updated for the Festival of Science), Society posters, meeting programme and Society information leaflets. I also brought along three books, Roving Mars by Steve Squires, Lost Moon by Jim Lovell & Jeffery Kluger and Two Sides of the Moon by Dave Scott and Alexei Leonov, which is signed by Captain Scott. So all together we had quite a good display.

There was the Star Dome, a gliding simulator, a 'Make Your own Impact Crater’ activity, which was made up of a few rubber balls and a few trays of wet 'cat litter', the idea being that the kids would throw their rubber balls into the cat litter therefore creating 'craters' in the cat litter, but it seemed that most of the cat litter ended up on the back wall and over the kids! There was also a small interactive 'zoo' with real live animals present, and there were several screams to be heard around the Atrium as a snake was brought out to be introduced to the audience! Also, and I did not see this, but there were a few meerkats scurrying around the Atrium as well! There was too much to see and do, and myself and Graham did not have too much time to look around, as we were involved with our combined display and talking to the visitors who came to look at them. The display in the room which overlooked the Atrium also held a small Darwin exhibit set up by one of the University's Biology Dept lecturers. It held books by Darwin, and a display, which was on loan for the British Geological Survey , of a selection of Igneous rock samples personally collected by Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, during his historic voyage HMS Beagle, and as a geologist I was of course drawn to these samples!

The real highlight of the day, for me, was talking to the visitors, who have restored my faith in Humankind, they really seemed interested and asked some very good questions and seemed to have a very good grasp of what they were seeing. Particularly the children, I was amazed by the depth of understanding and the questions these youngsters were asking, and these were, in the main, primary school age, or younger. I felt inspired to do more to get our message across and to get the Society to be present at more of these events, this is what the Society is for, and this is our main job! So let's do it! We have such a wonderful opportunity this year to do so.

The was one family who came up to the display room, mother, father, children, and the mother was holding a very young boy in her arms, they came up to the DDAS display, saw the DDAS slideshow and an image of the Moon came on and the mother pointed to the screen and pointed to the Moon and said to the young child, “Look, it's the Moon”, to that the little boy started saying “Moon, Moon.” So I chimed in at this point and I pointed out that this year sees the 40th anniversary of man landing on the Moon, and I happened to mention that I was two years old at the time and I remembered watching the Apollo 11 astronauts on the Moon on the TV. The Mother looked at me, then looked at the DDAS slideshow, with the Moon still being displayed, and then at her little boy, who was still looking at the slideshow with wide eyes, and she said to me "Wow, my son is two years old!" That hit me, because it was like looking in a mirror, it was like looking at myself as a two year old being entranced by the Moon, and I must admit that tears began to well up in my eyes. The mother then thanked me for my time and my Apollo 'story' and they were gone. I dearly hope that I have lit a similar fire in that little boy, that Apollo lit in me 40 years ago.

What a day! What a day!

Finally may I also pass on my thanks to all those DDAS members who turned up on the day, I hope you saw more of the exhibits than myself and Graham did! Also I wish to pass on my thanks to the University of Derby for allowing us to participate, and to the 'Student Ambassadors' who were there to assist us exhibitors, they did an excellent job, I wish I could remember their names. But, again, my biggest thanks must go to Graham Ensor, he really was the driving force behind our participation in this event. Thanks again Graham, it is really, really appreciated.