Let's face it, the University of East Anglia has not had great press of late. The first thing anyone thinks of is the supposed scandal over the climate change emails (supposed as it was rather a fuss over nothing - see earlier post). But I had an experience there at the weekend that puts the UEA high on my list of good places.
I had an invitation to speak at their Saturday Morning science lectures. Aimed at young people (roughly 8+) and their parents, this seemed a great concept... but how would it work in practice? I was deeply impressed.
Firstly, the audience really stuck with it. They didn't just have to suffer me, but also had one of the University's lecturers talking on the history of medicine. That meant they were there from a 10am start to 12.30 (there was a half hour break) - pretty hard work for an eight-year-old. Then there was the audience themselves. To be honest, I wasn't sure how many would turn up, but my guestimate was around 300, of whom over half were children. This was no cosy chat.
Finally, as is often the case with a young audience, I was impressed by the enthusiasm to ask questions. I was speaking on 'how the universe works' and had mentioned black holes. When my very first question, from a girl who looked about 10, was 'What is a white hole?' I knew it was going to be a stimulating q&a session.
This is such impressive outreach. Every university ought to be doing this. With the best will in the world, Norwich is a relatively sleepy place - if they can get an audience of 300, pretty well any university town should be able to. I really believe that more of this kind of thing could help prepare the ground for scientists of the future. Get to it, other universities - follow the excellent lead of the UEA.