Science For Children

In the past month or two I have seen two different children’s science programmes whilst channel-surfing. (Well, channel-paddling, really, with NTL’s limited choice of free channels). The first was called Eureka! and the second was called That’s Genius!. It wasn’t. I have an instinctive distrust for any programme with an exclamation mark in the title, and these shows did nothing to help that. The variously showcased inventions that were stupid, unworkable, or obviously faked. The latest one was a “hologram-radio”. Having missed the opening stages of this show, I’m not certain of the details, but I think a viewer drew up an elaborate plan for a radio with a projector showing the performers as life-sized holograms. Maybe one day this will be possible, but that day is not today, and it probably isn’t any of the days this decade either. Nonetheless, the people at That’s Genius! had to build one, so they hooked a projector to a DVD-player and made do. The finished hologram-radio had no holograms or radios anywhere near it. The problem, you see, with the hologram-radio is, according to the presenter of the show, that “radio waves carry sound, not pictures”. He didn’t actually add “so therefore television doesn’t exist and if you think you’re watching one, you are probably insane,” but I think for completeness it should have been pointed out.

Better still, though, was the “invisibility cloak” on Eureka!. It was plainly obvious to even a casual cynic that they had simply given him a blue shirt and added a background with a computer. They’d been a little subtle about it – they hadn’t lined up the background with the real background – because Science Shack taught the world that invisibility isn’t possilbe earlier this year.

Science Shack, in contrast to the other two programmes mentioned here, is what science programming should be. It’s fun, entertaining, and you learn things (sometimes). The premise of the show is that a plainly impossible task is given to a group of experts, and they fail to complete it in an ingenious way. Their idea is then tested against ideas by laymen they pulled off the street (or out of schools). It’s like an impossible version of Scrapheap Challenge.