Two hundred secondary 5 and 6 pupils from Moray schools gathered at Horizon Scotland on 28 November for a package of advanced activities in physics and astronomy.

See the Gallery for pictures of the day.

This was the third of the annual Going Nova days opening up insights into new and emerging areas of science and technology.

The event had no external funding, and was made possible by a heavy provision of volunteer time together with the generosity of Horizon Scotland, the innovation centre on the enterprise park by Forres.

Prof. Miles Padgett came from Glasgow University to lecture on quantum theory, explaining the concept of entanglement – the aspect of the theory that had so concerned Einstein, and which today seems to be at the very heart of the nature of the quantum world. In order to fit the event into his schedule, he drove all the way north in the early morning and returned home on the same day.

Caroline Graham came from Edinburgh University to speak on geophysics and the deep exploration of the Earth. Louise Barron, also from Edinburgh, gave lectures on magnetism, from the Earth's magnetic field to very small domains and nano-magnets.

Red shifts and Mars Rovers

Seven workshops covered topics from the age of the universe to programming robots.

The age of the universe was calculated in a spectroscopy workshop developed by Bill Leslie. He explained how light from a distant star carries the spectral signatures of the elements that make up the star itself. From that he went on to the spectral shift towards the red – and the way in which it was found that distant stars and galaxies are receding faster from us. And so came the opportuntiy for the students to calculate the age of the universe – from copies of the original spectrograms used by Edwin Hubble himself.

Bill Graham showed how remote-control systems work - and how the varying width of an electronic pulse can carry the information needed to steer a robot explorer craft on Mars. To demonstrate this, he produced a model Mars Rover which he designed and built himself. Students were able to steer it along the corridor and round corners and study the images coming back from its on-board video camera.

The perfect place

The corridors of Horizon Scotland, and indeed its whole space, with the lecture theatre and social area were the perfect place to host an event of this kind. One of the innovative developments housed there, Distance Lab, ran an electronics workshop for the day. This was  based on one of their areas of work, on the interlinking of electronics and textiles.

Moray College UHI provided a workshop on one of their areas of expertise, robotics. Students learned parts of a programming language and then wrote their own programme to control a robot buggy.

Maarten de Vries gave a workshop in the synthesis of electronic music, based on his own development of new systems to replicate the sound of church organs. Howie Firth explained the principles of fuzzy logic in a workshop developed with the support of the IET.

Each student was able to attend one of the lectures and two of the workshops, and the logistics of moving the groups round the building was superbly handled by a team from the two local astronomy societies – the Highlands Astronomical Society and Moray's astronomy club, Sigma. The two astronomy societies also collaborated to provide a space simulation workshop, in which students had to try to steer Virgin Galactic's Space Ship One into the thermosphere after release from the White Knight carrier plane.

Encouraging innovation

Horizon Scotland's support for the day is part of a new innovation initiative which the centre is launching, to encourage the development of a climate for innovation in the region. The future of the UK economy, and the career opportunities within it, depends on the speed with which we take up new areas of science and technology.

The day would have been impossible without the support of the innovation centre together with an immense amount of time given by over twenty volunteers, both on the day itself and in the advance planning and preparation. Warm thanks to everyone – and congratulations to the Moray schools for responding so strongly. The quality of the attention and effort of the pupils on the day was a great credit to you all.

Meanwhile Orkney schools wishing follow-up information on making a hot air balloon, as highlighted in the Hot Air Balloon Challenge in September, should click here to download the instructions.

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