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Pupils from second grade meet researcher

Have you ever worked at NASA? How did the sun start? Do aliens exist? A torrent of questions greets researcher Magnus Herberthson when he visits the second grade pupils at Björnkärrsskolan, a local school. He has been loaned out from his normal job as professor of applied mathematics at Linköping University.

Teacher Maria Nilsson explains that they wanted to have a visit from a space researcher, as they are going to be working on the subject of outer space.

“This will inspire them in advance. We have also talked about what a researcher is and does. Very often the children have a specific image of a researcher, who it is and what he or she looks like. They drew pictures; most depicted the researcher as really old with a beard and glasses.”

Magnus HerberthsonResearch areas for Professor Herberthson – who has neither beard nor glasses, and who is not particularly advanced in years – include Einstein's Theory of Relativity and electromagnetics. Before his talk, he explains that his plan is to tell them what there is in space – about how infinitely big it is.

“Working with the community is part of my teaching job. And it’s fun to try and awaken students’ interest in science. It’s a bit nerve-wracking; children can ask all sorts of things, but it is fun.”

The students have been doing plenty of preparatory work and they are very keen. Hands wave enthusiastically in the air. They have prepared questions in advance and they also share a few spontaneous reflections.

Professor Herberthson talks about distance in space. How long does it take to go to Stockholm by bus? Or around the world in the same bus (17 days), to the sun (170 years) or all the way to the outer limits of our solar system (5000 years!)? One of the children points out that you need bridges and roads for the bus to drive on, and there aren’t any on the way to the sun.

The audience“That’s what research deals with,” Professor Herberthson explains. “To be able to imagine something, like how long it would take to get to the sun by bus and then to find a way to figure it out.”

No one knew in the beginning how old the dinosaurs were; they don’t come stamped with a best-before-date, do they? We had to figure it out. And that’s what you do as a researcher. You have to be curious and want to find the answer to all the questions that turn up. Personally I use mathematics to help me figure things out.”

Time is up, even if the questions show no sign of abating. But the next school are waiting for their visit and the space lesson is over for now.

Three of the pupilsAfter the talk, three pupils are asked if they think research seems fun.

“I think the visit was really great. I have dreamt of meeting a researcher and I could see myself being a researcher, but I also have a lot of other dreams,” says Hugo Kolleger.

“I got interested in space after I went to an exhibition about it,” says his classmate Charles Lindkvist. “It’s exciting how small the earth really is. I’d like to do research about space. I’d research about if there is a multiverse, which means more than one universe. It would be fun to find out about that.”

Evelina Sjölin-Bevonius has also been dreaming of meeting a researcher, ever since she was five, she explains. But she would rather research chemistry.

“It’s really hard. And dangerous. You have to wear goggles and gloves.”

The researcher’s visit to Björnkärrsskolan was part of Linköping University’s participation in Researcher Friday, on September 26. Some fifty schools were able to borrow a researcher to find out more about what they do. The day also had a packed programme for the public, with the opportunity to listen to breakfast or lunchtime talks. They were also able to meet researchers at Stora torget, a square in central Linköping, and ask them questions about what they do.

Researchers’ Night is held on the last Friday in September all around Europe. A number of places in Sweden take part too, under the name ForskarFredag (Researcher Friday). The aim is for the public, especially children and young people, to gain an insight into the daily life of a researcher and see how exciting and fun research is.

Story and photos: Annika Johansson

26 Sept 2014



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