The newly-opened Science Oxford centre is a fabulous space for enthusing kids about the joys of scientific discovery. I went along with a curious friend for a special Harry Potter-themed night just for over-18s, to witness several examples of the real-life magic of science.
A lot of thought from the SO team had gone into making the night a memorable experience: on arrival, we passed through a curtain 'wall' representing Platform 9&3/4, to be greeted by an unexpectedly cheery Moaning Myrtle, who directed us to our personalised 'Hoxwart's' letters. These contained a helpful 'Marauder's Map' signposting the evening's activities, and a coveted drinks token. With the latter I got my hands on a spectacular colour-changing cocktail (there were alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions available) and I was later tempted to a delicious 'butterbeer'.
Thanks to the detailed map, we were then free to roam around the centre, trying out different activities and experiments - with helpful staff on hand to give us some guidance if we looked stuck. The first port of call for us was naturally the wand-making station, since you can't start learning magic without one... this comprised of combining a simple LED circuit with some pretty paper straws, with just enough hands-on messiness (thanks to a glue gun!) to awaken our inner children. Wands at the ready, we then enjoyed turning a witch into a cat, using not charms but coding, and dissecting an owl pellet - which I thought was a particularly brilliant link between biology and Harry Potter's world, even if I was a bit squeamish about the sheer volume of bones.
Aside from a scarier-than-anticipated trip into the Forbidden Forest (which during normal visiting hours provide a great space for observing wildlife), the more overtly Potterverse activities ended there, allowing us to explore the more permanent features of the centre's exploration zone. These certainly possessed a magic of their own: the system of suction pipes that made scarves whizz around, the air table where you could test the aerodynamic qualities of paper planes, and the system that allows you to listen to music through your teeth, all produced child-like squeals of delight (possibly fuelled a little by the afore-mentioned beverages) and provided a spectacle that felt like witnessing a movie's special effects in real time. It's easy to see how these state-of-the-art facilities have been designed with curious youngsters in mind, and I will be thoroughly recommending to families that they check out one of the upcoming open days.
For last night's grown-up visitors, this was an opportunity with fantastic value for money: the £15 ticket cost included 3 hours of entertainment, all the materials we used (we got to keep our letters and wands) and a free drink, all of which combined to producing a fascinating, insightful alternative to socialising down the pub. I look forward to seeing what this creative bunch of science communicators come up with next, to tempt more people to their absorbing new venue.