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A good example of our schools projects is the day of advanced activities in physics and astronomy that we organised for two hundred secondary 5 and 6 pupils from Moray schools. The venue was Horizon Scotland, the innovation centre on the enterprise park by Forres.

See the Gallery for pictures of the day.

It was the third of of a series of days opening up insights into new and emerging areas of science and technology.

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.

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.

Support for innovation

The day would have been impossible without the support of Horizon Scotland together with an immense amount of time given by over twenty volunteers, both on the day itself and in the advance planning and preparation. The Moray schools responded strongly and the quality of the attention and effort of staff and pupils was a great credit to all.

Information about another project, involving making a hot air balloon, is still available here.

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