KiM Review: Powering the Future – Glasgow Science Centre

image © Glasgow Science Centre

image © Glasgow Science Centre

This review was originally written for Kids in Museums and was published on 21.2.2016

Following on from the success of 2013’s Bodyworks, Glasgow Science Centre’s newest major exhibition Powering the Future opened in December last year. The show focuses on what is known as the “energy Trilemma,” a vicious circle whereby governments are struggling to find a solution to the demand for power that is cheap, plentiful and at the same time environmentally friendly.


The exhibition opens by questioning the visitor as to how the three needs of the “Trilemma” can be met in the future, with all subsequent content intended to help inform their answer over the course of their visit. As with other Glasgow Science Centre exhibitions, Powering the Future casts its visitor in the role of a scientist for the day, learning through as series of interactive experiments. Children and adults alike learn almost exclusively through their own actions, creating an immersive and engaging experience. As you would expect from its content, it’s a lively affair, with the noise of the exhibits and excited bustle of attendees creating a peculiarly harmonious cacophony.


This excitement is not without just cause however, as Powering the Future offers a number of unique experiences. Proving to be particularly popular is the “hurricane simulator” (a glass chamber that demonstrates the power of wind energy), a tank in which you can operate an AC-ROV (small remote control submarines used to assist drilling in harsh underwater environments), and the chance to launch a small rocket by fuelling it with user-generated hydrogen energy. This is an exhibition designed to appeal to kids and “big kids” alike.


Having said that, the content is a little more complicated than previous exhibitions. As such, there is noticeably more written text here than in other areas of Glasgow Science Centre and some of the topics and terminology may be difficult for particularly young visitors to comprehend. Never the less, our energy future is an important subject that children do need to engage with, and the exhibition does a good job of translating its themes into relatable activities for children. For example, a large “Scalextrix” style racetrack where each user has to generate the power for their car by using crank handles proved particularly popular. As did the “dance mat” style game that required a certain level of prolonged exertion in order to charge up first the music, then accompanying disco lights, and lastly a group “selfie” for all of those involved, rewarding them with a nice take-away memory of their day.


With the exhibition’s focus on fostering an understanding of the scale and effort of meeting the UK energy demand, it is very deliberately designed to leave the visitor exhausted by the end, so expect some weary scientists on the trip home. While we’re on the subject of responsible energy usage though, a trip to Powering the Future is undoubtedly just that.

KiM Review: Build It! – National Museum of Scotland

image © National Museums Scotland

image © National Museums Scotland

This review was originally written for Kids in Museums and was published on 11.2.2016

Nestled in a busy corner of the National Museum of Scotland’s famous Grand Gallery is Build It. Part of their 150th anniversary celebrations and in conjunction with the Festival of Architecture 2016, the exhibition is a celebration of the work of local artist Warren Elsmore and his works created from Lego. Additionally, as part f the show Elsmore and his team will be working every Wednesday and Friday on a huge Lego recreation of the museum’s iconic building.


The works on display vary in scale and feature renowned architecture from the ancient world, such as the Roman Colosseum and the Treasury at Petra, to the modern, including the Empire State building and the Auckland Sky Tower. Smaller works then champion some of the most recognisable sights in the world of design, from the London black taxi to the Venetian gondola, while written exhibition material includes brief but effective biographies of both Lego and the artist himself. Knowledge that a young Elsmore’s bedroom floor was permanently the site of a vast Lego city may vindicate many a messy young visitor.


Exhibited content here is minimal however, as the real focus of the show is children and engaging them creatively. Around 90% of the floor space is dedicated to “maker stations” offering families the chance to take inspiration from Elsmore’s art and come up with their own creations. There is even a display case where completed works can be left for others to admire. This is a particularly nice touch as I can think of few better ways to reward creativity than the ability to say it was displayed in a national museum.


display of visitor’s Lego creations – image © National Museums Scotland

The hands-on interactivity of the exhibition was a visible and audible hit with the busy chatter of youngsters, and parents will be pleased to find a bounty of activities and events planned for the half-term holidays. These range from “Challenge Days” that will test their construction skills through a series of fun architectural tasks, “Mini Mechanics” which will explore the science of pulleys, cogs and wheels using Lego and Meccano, and the “Big Build” which will help engage youngsters with the National Museum of Scotland’s collection by assisting it’s master builders in the Lego reproduction of some of the key objects.


The beauty of Lego as a subject is that it relates to everyone; it is as nostalgic to adults as it is current to their children. There are few people who cannot say at least one sentence of their childhood story is not punctuated by colourful Lego bricks. For every child building fond memories there were adults having just as much fun, and even if it’s not your thing, there are few places better to rest your feet for a while than the airy splendour of the museum’s panoptic Grand Gallery.


Perhaps Build It’s greatest asset though is in its scope for repeat visits. It is a truly organic exhibition and no two experiences will provide the same results, such is the magic of Lego. Unlike other temporary exhibitions at the National Museum of Scotland, Build It is free, and families should be encouraged to make the most of this. Above all, the ability to track the progress of Elsmore’s live construction of a Lego National Museum of Scotland building will be fascinating. Having only been open a few days at this point, only a select number of foundation bricks have been laid down, but the sheer scale of the model promises it will be just as interesting at its various construction stages as it will be awe-inspiring in its completion.