School Talks


All our school talks are by experts, keen to enthuse and excite students, on a wide range of subjects from forensic science, astronomy and physics to literature, culture and the arts. Many of our speakers are willing to work with teachers to tailor their talks to fit with class curriculums and for different age groups (P6 to S6) and class sizes.



Due to Covid-19, school talks this year will be run online up to December. This will be reviewed in January, taking into consideration Scottish Government guidelines before deciding whether school talks can resume in person.



Update: We are blown away by the incredible response so far and would like to say a huge thank you to all who have completed our online form: we are a small team and are processing your requests as fast as we can. Due to a large volume of enquiries, we are closing our online booking form from 10 November while we do our best to accommodate the requests – we aim to fulfil as many of these requests as possible. In the meantime, if you are still interested in having one of our speakers deliver a talk to your class/school, please fill out our Note of Interest form. We will notify you when our online booking form is open again.

If you have any questions about programme content or suitability please contact our Public Engagement team at [email protected].

[email protected] School Talks Programme

Download the Schools Talk programme 2020/21 - a series of talks and lectures for schools across Scotland. [email protected] Schools talks are FREE to schools and available at any point during the school year.

2020 Programme

Authors And Readers
Dr Alice König

Authors like J. K. Rowling and Michael Morpurgo are amazing at creating characters who feel very real to us and at describing places and events that we get drawn into. But unless their books are read, their stories and characters lie dead. This talk will look at what happens when a reader takes a book off the shelves and opens its pages. What does the reader her/himself bring to the story? What relationship do they have with the book (and how does that change depending on its format – paper/electronic/audio etc)? How do readers relate to authors? How do authors communicate with or manipulate readers? And how do successive generations of readers gradually change the story? We will begin with Judith Kerr’s tale of The Tiger Who Came to Tea…


Dee Dum, Dee Dum: How Poetry Works
Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE

Why is poetry different from prose? This workshop is concerned in particular with the study of patterns in verse, and ranges from the study of metre, onomatopoeia and phonaesthesia to issues of typographical presentation (as manifested in concrete poetry). We will be working with a set of poems presented in facsimiles dating (roughly) from their time of composition, ranging in date from the Anglo-Saxon period to the present day.


From Scroll To Book (And Back): A History Of Literacy In Ten Texts
Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE

Practices of literacy have changed over the centuries. The shift from scroll to book; the evolution of cursive handwriting; technological innovations such as printing or computermediated communication; the emergence of visual cues such as title-pages, page- and folio-numbers, and punctuation, and even emojis: all such developments can be related to the ‘uses of literacy’. Were written texts originally a back-up to memory? How does writing relate to speech? How do we find our way around a book, or an online resource? Such questions engage with some very profound questions about the functions of literacy, and how literacy relates to other ways of organising and transmitting knowledge.

In this talk a series of images of texts, mostly in English and Scots, are analysed: inscriptions on stone; manuscripts dating between 300 and 1700 CE; books from the earliest days of print to the present-day; and pages mounted on websites, or taken from social media.


Poetry Workshop On The Theme Of Energy Or Geoscience
Professor Patrick Corbett FRSE

Professor Corbett offers a one-hour poetry workshop on one of two themes: Energy or Anthropocene. It will involve a short introductory explanation of either the RSE’s Recent Energy Futures June 2019 report and current electricity/transport/heating sources (the energy challenges and options available) or a short talk on the Geological Record (referring to the geology of Dumfries and Galloway – the desert in Dumfries 250 million years ago!).

In both cases these will be followed by a creative session writing poetry. So as not to expect students to have experience of poetry we would start by asking for their responses on either Energy Options or our likely effect on the Geological Record. Students might offer couplets which collectively could be moulded into poems. We would then work this up in an interactive session to produce a class poem – which they could all take home. The objective is to open their minds to the challenges we face as a society in energy and our likely long-term impact on the planet.


What Happens When Books Talk To Each Other?
Dr Alice König

Have you heard anyone talking about ‘intertextuality’ before? The word ‘intertextuality’ was coined by a French philosopher called Julia Kristeva in 1969 to describe the conversations which build up between different texts over time. Sometimes authors deliberately allude to earlier works to add new meaning to what they are trying to say; sometimes texts are indirectly influenced by other texts; sometimes they actively ignore each other; and sometimes readers spot connections between texts which authors did not intend. What difference does all of this make? How do intertextual conversations between books change our responses to them? And what effect does intertextuality have on wider habits of thinking. In this talk, we will look at the ways in which intertextuality has shaped all sorts of social and political ideas (about race, gender, religion, etc), and we will think about its ongoing impact in our modern, digitally-connected world.


To book a School Talk please fill out our online booking form.

Brain Training On Trial
Professor Alan Gow

Many people spend their hard-earned cash on games promising to protect their thinking skills as they get older. Maybe you know some examples of those brain games and want to know if and how they work. Then let’s put brain training on trial. Be our prosecution, defence and jury as we examine the claims that brain training games protect your brain. Hear the evidence for and against their claims. As you question the evidence, what will your verdict be: brain training, guilty or not guilty?


Healthcare Around The World
Professor Liz Grant FRSE

Living with serious illness is hard everywhere in the world, but particularly hard in countries where the health service doesn’t have enough nurses and doctors or where essential medicines are missing. In this time together we will look at the types of illness in low income countries across the world, and the way in which great care can still be given especially to children and young people whose illnesses are not getting better.


Literature And Medicine: A Case For Interdisciplinary Thinking
Dr Megan Coyer

Have you ever noticed how often medical topics feature in literature? Our human encounters with mental and physical disease and the dramatic stories of our carers can be the stuff of great literature, and knowledge of the history of medicine can enhance our understanding of literary texts. This talk addresses the relationship between R. L. Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and nineteenth-century medicine to illustrate the importance of interdisciplinary thinking in literary studies. Topics that may be covered include nineteenth-century practices of medical self-experimentation, the Victorian concept of the ‘double brain’, and how Victorian doctors were dually celebrated and demonised.


Parasites And Performance – How Worms Damage African Children
Professor Francisca Mutapi FRSE

Find out about a parasitic worm as ancient as Egyptian mummies, and as sly as a fox which affect billions of people worldwide. Although these parasites occur in mostly poor areas in the developing world, you will hear about some very famous British people who have been infected by these parasites during their recent visits to Africa. Discover how they affect all aspects of children’s health, ranging from diminishing the children’s ability to concentrate in class or perform during school tests and physical activities, to the detrimental effects on the function of their bladders and livers. This talk will explain how we are treating millions of children in Africa who are affected by these parasites and what differences it is making to their health and school performance.


The Great British Brain Off
Professor Alan Gow

As people grow older, many report that their mental faculties go off the boil! But everyone experiences these changes differently: some people stay as sharp in later life as they were in midlife while others experience declines in their thinking skills that affects their quality of life and ability to live independently. In the Great British Brain Off, ´head´ chef Dr Alan Gow considers the recipe for the perfect brain, and what the latest research suggests people might do if they feel their grey matter needs some extra spice. All your questions will be put into the mix as we explore the ingredients that might protect or harm the brain as it ages.


To book a School Talk please fill out our online booking form.

Scots And English: Your Language, Your History
Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE

Scots is at the heart of many current debates on language and identity in present-day Scotland. But is Scots a language, or is it a dialect of English? What is the difference between Scots and Scottish Standard English? Is there one form of Scots or many? Where did Scots come from? These are some of the questions addressed in this talk.


Speaking More Than One Language
Professor Antonella Sorace FRSE

Do you speak another language besides English? Are you learning another language at school?

Find out why knowing more than one language is good for you – not just for travelling and talking to more people, but also for your brain. It can make you better at understanding other people’s points of view. It can make you better at solving problems and focusing your attention. Discover why you don’t need to be a ‘perfect bilingual’ for all this to happen, you just need to use both languages and have fun with them!

You will also have a chance to try some of the tests and experiments that scientists use in their labs and see how they study bilingual people’s minds.


Spelling And Sounds
Professor Jeremy Smith FRSE

Have you ever wondered why some people rhyme good and food, while others don’t? Why does meat rhyme with meet, but great with mate? Have you ever wondered why sight, site and cite sound the same, but are spelt differently? Why is the letter ‘y’ pronounced differently in yacht, fly and jolly? Why don’t people rhyme plough and tough? Why has ghost got an ‘h’ but go hasn’t? And is it really possible to pronounce ghoti as…? Well, let’s not give the game away. In this talk, we will find out whether English spelling really is as inefficient as is often claimed, and how – and why – it ended up the way it is.


To book a School Talk please fill out our online booking form.

Big Is Beautiful
Professor Adam McBride OBE FRSE

This talk might be described as an excursion into the world of very large numbers. More precisely, we shall meet some rather large positive integers, which have cropped up recently in a variety of mathematical problems. Magic Squares, Sudoku, secret codes and a dodgy chip all make an appearance.


Love Actuary
Professor Gavin Reid

Love maths? Want to learn how to apply it to predict the future and help save the world?! We’ll explore how you can apply maths in the real world, in areas of finance and beyond, looking at the role of an actuary in managing risk to protect people and their money. You’ll have the chance to try some typical calculations underlying an actuary’s work, and we’ll have a look at the risks involved in some real life financial problems facing the world today. How much would you charge a top sportsman for insurance against the danger of injury? How can we help prepare financially for the threat of climate change? It’s all in a day’s work for an actuary!


Maths Is BEST
Professor Adam McBride OBE FRSE

The last 40 years have been a Golden Age for Mathematics. Old problems have finally been solved after hundreds of years, whilst many new areas have sprung up in response to the needs of other disciplines. The subject can reasonably be described as the language of modern business, engineering, science and technology (BEST). This talk will try to justify this claim but will also include results that are simply elegant and beautiful. No specialist knowledge is required.

Professor McBride can adapt both talks to suit differing age groups.

To book a School Talk please fill out our online booking form.

Evidence And Truth In Science
Professor Michela Massimi FRSE

What counts as evidence in science? How do scientific disagreements get resolved? And is truth the final goal of science? In this interactive talk, we address these important philosophical questions about science and get acquainted with episodes from the history of science that can help us gain a better understanding about the role of evidence, progress and truth in science.


What Is This Thing Called Philosophy Of Science?
Professor Michela Massimi FRSE

Who is a philosopher? And why are philosophers interested in science? Learn about how the Scottish philosopher David Hume questioned the nature of causation and how the Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell used models to explore the nature of electromagnetic phenomena. In this interactive talk, we will explore some of the mind-boggling ideas and philosophical problems behind science.

To book a School Talk please fill out our online booking form.

Did We Really Land On The Moon?
Professor Martin Hendry MBE FRSE

Nearly 50 years after Apollo 11 there are a surprising number of theories around – in books, documentary programmes and the internet – that Neil Armstrong’s famous “One small step” was an elaborate hoax, filmed in secret here on Earth. Conspiracy theorists point to a range of “evidence” to support their claim, including waving flags, strange shadows, no stars in the sky and deadly solar radiation. In this talk, using real Apollo video footage and a series of simple practical demonstrations, Martin Hendry takes a closer look at the science behind “moon hoax” claims, and asks whether we really did land on the Moon.


Exploring The Dark Side Of The Universe
Professor Martin Hendry MBE FRSE

We live in a very strange universe in which less than 5% of all the matter and energy exists in the form of atoms while the other 95% comprises “dark matter” and “dark energy” – the exact nature of which is one of the biggest unanswered mysteries in science. Join Professor Martin Hendry on a whistle-stop tour through nearly fourteen billion years of cosmic history and explore the very latest theories of the Big Bang.


Gravitational Waves
Professor Giles Hammond FRSE

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave observatory comprises two detectors located in Hanford, WA and Livingston LA. These detectors are 4km long Fabry-Perot Michelson interferometers and the most sensitive length measuring devices in the world. They are able to sense a change equivalent to 1/1000th the diameter of a proton over their 4km baseline. This talk describes the technology development necessary to realise the LIGO detectors, and also describes the gravitational wave signals that have been observed from binary black hole systems. The talk also provides insight into the astrophysics which can be gained from these “dark systems”, only observable by listening to the Universe.


Listening To Einstein’s Universe: The Discovery Of Gravitational Waves
Professor Martin Hendry MBE FRSE

On September 14th 2015 two giant laser interferometers known as LIGO, the most sensitive scientific instruments ever built, detected gravitational waves from the merger of a pair of massive black holes more than a billion light years from the Earth. Join Professor Martin Hendry as he recounts the inside story of this remarkable discovery – hailed by many as the scientific breakthrough of the century. Learn about the amazing technology behind the LIGO detectors, which can measure the signatures of spacetime ripples less than a million millionth the width of a human hair, and explore the exciting future that lies ahead for gravitational-wave astronomy as we open an entirely new window on the Universe.


Ripples Of Gravity, Flashes Of Light: The Dawn Of Multimessenger Astronomy
Professor Martin Hendry MBE FRSE

The first ever direct detection of gravitational waves in 2015, from the collision of two massive black holes more than a billion light years away, has been widely hailed as the biggest scientific breakthrough of the decade and led to the award of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics. August 2017 then saw another spectacular discovery – as for the first-time gravitational waves and light were detected from the same cosmic source: a pair of colliding neutron stars 130 million light years away. Join LIGO scientist Professor Martin Hendry as he explores the amazing technology behind the detection of gravitational waves, and what their discovery might soon tell us about some of the biggest unsolved mysteries in physics and astronomy.

The Dark Side Of The Universe
Professor Giles Hammond FRSE

In this talk we will explore the mysteries of the Universe. Building from the concepts of measuring the distance to faint galaxies and the Doppler shift of light, we will look in detail at the current observations that indicate that over 95% of Universe is made up of a strange form of matter called Dark Matter and Dark Energy. The ultimate fate of the Universe will also be discussed, including current observations that suggest the expansion rate is accelerating, and its implications for our understanding of cosmology and particle physics.


The Physics Of Rainbows
Professor Giles Hammond FRSE

Rainbows are beautiful natural phenomena; they are seen when it is both raining and the sun is out. But why do we see the colours in a rainbow, and why do all rainbows show the same colouring in the primary and secondary bows? This talk will discuss how light is split up into its constituent colours, and how these colours are separated in the raindrop. We will further explore why rainbows are circular, why they have no end and why the colours in the primary and secondary bow are interchanged.


The Science Of Star Wars
Professor Martin Hendry MBE FRSE

Since 1977 generations of moviegoers have marvelled at the Star Wars universe. But how much real science is up there on the big screen? Could we ever travel to other planets, crossing the vast distances between star systems using shortcuts through hyperspace? What kinds of alien worlds might exist in our Universe, and could they bear life forms that resemble the creatures found in Star Wars? Could a Jedi Knight really fight with a light sabre? Could the Death Star really blow up a planet? In this lecture astrophysicist and life-long Star Wars fan Professor Martin Hendry explores the science of Star Wars and feels the force!


What Goes Up
Dr Patrick Harkness

We are used to the idea of gravity simply attracting objects towards the Earth, but it also has some rather surprising effects in space. Gravitational forces are at least partially responsible for the Earth’s ocean tides, volcanism on Jupiter’s moons, and the stability of Saturn’s spectacular ring system. In fact, we can even exploit gravitational forces to accelerate spacecraft away from the Sun through manoeuvres called gravitational slingshots. This talk, with some accessible demonstrations involving bouncing ‘planets’, will show how all these different effects arise from one single relationship proposed by Isaac Newton many hundreds of years ago.


Why Are We Here?
Professor Martin Hendry MBE FRSE

Modern cosmology provides some startling answers to the question “why are we here?” Not only have we learned that our universe expanding but the expansion appears to be accelerating – driven by a mysterious “dark energy” which challenges our ideas about gravity and the very nature of space and time. Moreover our runaway universe is rather delicately balanced: small changes in the laws of nature would result in a very different cosmos – most likely unsuitable for life like us. Join Professor Martin Hendry as he explores the very latest theories of the cosmos and what they might mean for the existence of life in the universe.


To book a School Talk please fill out our online booking form.

No Measurement Is Perfect
Dr Joyce Klu, Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science

It is essential that any measurement is as accurate as possible, particularly when the outcome is presented as evidence in a trial and may determine if a suspect is convicted or acquitted. This talk will demonstrate why there is no such thing as a perfect measurement. I will present the difference between errors and mistakes and why statistically, an error is not considered a mistake. I will also discuss the potential career options within statistics and how it can be applied to many areas, including forensic science.


The Art Of Falling Apart – Forensic Detectives
Dr Craig McKenzie, Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science

One of the most important roles of a forensic scientist is to examine, isolate and identify items recovered from criminal investigations. For the forensic chemist these can include controlled drugs, explosives and chemicals used to start or accelerate fires (such as flammable liquids). We often use a scientific technique called mass spectrometry to analyse these substances. If they are mixtures of compounds we first separate them using chromatography and then break the chemical bonds in a controlled way. By doing this you can find out the mass of each molecule and the molecular bits you have at the end act like a ‘chemical fingerprint’ allowing us to work out what the original molecule was. If you like puzzles, especially jigsaws, this is the job for you.


What Goes In Must Come Out (Mostly)
Dr Craig McKenzie, Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science

A toxicologist uses modern analytical techniques to study the harmful effects of drugs and poisons. They analyse samples taken from both living and dead organisms and have an understanding of Chemistry, Biology and Pharmacology. Forensic toxicologists provide independent expert information during criminal trials by providing information to help establish cause of death. After being taken (normally by ingestion, injection or smoking-inhalation), drugs and poisons will travel around the body before they can either be excreted from the body unchanged or stored in tissues. They can also be modified by enzymes in a process called biotransformation to be excreted as metabolites. How does a toxicologist know where to look? How do they know what to look for? How do they interpret the meaning of what they find?


When Nanotechnology And Forensic Science Meet
Dr Oluwasesan Adegoke, Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science

Since the introduction of nanotechnology by Nobel Laureate Richard P. Feynman in his now famous 1959 lecture titled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” various revolutionary strides in chemistry, biology and physics have demonstrated Feyman’s concept of manipulating matter (i.e., the level of molecules and atoms) at the nanoscale. Nanotechnology can be defined as the understanding, restructuring and control of matter at the nanoscale (i.e., less than 100 nm) to create device materials with fundamentally new functions and properties. The application of nanotechnology in forensic science is an emerging research area. This talk gives an overview on how nanotechnology is influencing the world of forensic science from the use of nanotechnology in fingerprint identification, illicit drug detection, explosive residue detection and DNA analysis.


To book a School Talk please fill out our online booking form.

Antarctica (You Can Go Far With Physics)
Ms Alison McLure

The Antarctic is a remarkable continent – remote, hostile and uninhabited. Yet it is of key importance to our understanding of how the world works. For the early explorers, Antarctica was the ultimate survival contest. For scientists, it remains a place of intellectual challenge. Find out what kind of science is carried out in the Antarctic. Meet a physicist and meteorologist and find out how a physics degree took her to Antarctica and what life there was like.


Arctic Islands Of Science
Ms Alison McLure

Svalbard, far to Norway’s Arctic north, is an island group with glaciers, fjords, reindeer and seabirds and also scientific research. Alison McLure, back from her second scientific expedition, shows images of landscape and wildlife in a sometimes bleak yet breathtakingly beautiful setting. Also, find out what science projects are carried out in such a far flung place.


Physics Of Mountain Rescue
Ms Alison McLure

Mountain Rescue Teams go out in all weathers, at any time of the day to try to save people. Find out the physics behind these endeavours, how physics allows teams to perform amazing rescues and how to use physics to avoid calling out mountain rescue. This talk supports some of the experiences and outcomes for forces, electricity and waves. Alison is a member of Tayside Mountain Rescue Team.


The Science And Art Of Weather Forecasting
Ms Alison McLure

The weather affects us all and is a particularly British obsession. Find out from a meteorologist how weather forecasts are prepared, and the art involved in presenting them. This talk can cover any aspects of weather the teacher wishes to cover.


To book a School Talk please fill out our online booking form.

How Scientific Was Ancient Science?
Dr Alice König

Did you know that modern medical students still learn scientific principles that were first discussed by the ancient Greeks? Did you know that architecture is thought of today as a science (like engineering) and not a trade (like plumbing) because of the scientific writings of an ancient Roman called Vitruvius? The word ‘science’ comes from the Latin word scientia (meaning ‘knowledge’); but what exactly did they (and what do we) mean when we talk of ‘science’? This workshop will look at ancient attitudes to different kinds of knowledge and different kinds of ‘scientific’ enquiry as a way of thinking about how we imagine, value and do science today.


The Travel Show Must Go On
Dr Sandro Carnicelli

We move, we travel, we tour. But, why and at what cost? The tourism industry is one of the main industries in the world and it is linked to arts, culture, education, leisure, business, and politics but also with life and physical sciences. Find out in this talk the pros and cons of tourism and how can we behave to make our tourism sustainable. This talk will explore aspects of tourist behaviour and their connections to the concept sustainability. The concept of the talk follows recent work I have done in tourism education and the importance to educate the current and future generation of travellers about their footprints and the decisions they make regarding travelling and tourism. It hopes to achieve using examples and role play a critical reflection of our actions as consumers of tourism and the consequences to environment, local communities (including indigenous populations), and local economies.


War Stories And How They Affect Us
Dr Alice König

Who tells battle narratives, and why? What shapes and forms do they come in? (poems, histories, art, film, news reports, speeches, protests) How do they affect the ways in which we respond to past or present conflicts and imagine future ones? Humans have waged war with each other from ancient times to the modern world, and for just as long we have told tales about bravely-won victories and devastating defeats, about military discipline and the chaos of the battlefield, about conquered peoples and the suffering that war brings.

This talk will look at a range of battle narratives from ancient Greece to the present day and ask what we can learn about different habits of visualising war, in all sorts of different media, and what role war stories of the future might play in shaping attitudes to conflict.


What Is ‘Expertise’?
Dr Alice König

This talk will examine the ways in which different societies have understood and imagined ‘expertise’, from the ancient world to the modern day. What did/do people look for or value in experts? How was/is expertise measured, and by what or whom? What kind of power or authority did/does expertise give individuals and institutions? Is expertise a universally recognisable phenomenon, or something that gets constructed differently by different individuals and communities? How have attitudes to experts and expertise changed in recent years and months, particularly in the light of the Brexit debate and the Covid-19 pandemic? To set the scene and shake up our modern assumptions, we will start by looking at ancient Greek and Roman attitudes to expertise, when there were no formal qualifications and when ‘virtue’ played as big a role as knowledge in some definitions of expertise.

We will also look at how ideas of expertise changed during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the so-called ‘Enlightenment’, before considering the use and abuse of experts/expertise during the 19th and 20th centuries. We will end by considering the impact which the digital age has had upon ideas about expertise and the traditional authority of experts, discussing the ‘democritisation’ of expertise but also instances of increasing hostility to experts/expertise and the implications of that for society as a whole.

Women In Science
Professor Michela Massimi FRSE

Can you name at least three famous women scientists? And if not, why is it? Does not science have women? In this interactive talk, we explore some of the reasons why women’s contributions to science tend to be forgotten, and why they should not. Along the way, we will discover the important work of some women scientists, who ushered in silent revolutions in their respective fields.


To book a School Talk please fill out our online booking form.

Space Spin-Offs, Orbits, And Cubesats
Dr Pam Anderson

This talk provides details about the reasons we go into space, the information we can gleam from space exploration and its uses and benefits. This includes a discussion of space spin-offs and the everyday, often unexpected, items we use that have stemmed from space. The use of small satellites, known as CubeSats, and the different types of orbit to gain information are also discussed. The talk aims to showcase the importance of space exploration to our life on Earth and the upcoming opportunities for pupils in the space industry in the UK.


To book a School Talk please fill out our online booking form.