Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Edinburgh International Book Festival 2011

As part of the Outreach Programme, I had the privilege to visit Livingstone Village and Kirkhill primary schools in West Lothian on 25 August. I was invited to discuss with Primary 5,6 and 7 my novelty book ‘How the World Works’, published by Templar.  With the help of a clock, a fish tank and a huge rubber duck, the children and I embarked on an amazing journey, discussing the story of the universe, the evolution of life squeezed in 24 hours, the water cycle, how lost rubber ducks are helping scientists to understand ocean currents, whether the climate is changing and what the future of the earth might be.

I was hugely impressed not only by the knowledge the children have about the world, but also by their enquiring mind and ability to discuss complex ideas and scientific concepts. ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ ‘Is the earth really warming?’ ‘Should we try to find another planet or change the way we do things?’ My approach was to explore with them how everything in nature is interconnected and moves in cycles, whether it is the earth orbiting the sun, the water we drink, the ocean currents or the movement of the air above our heads. It didn’t take very long for the sessions to become interactive and for hands to shoot into the air to ask questions or add interesting comments. I was very impressed by the nature of the children’s questions, not only about my books, but also about my journey and source of inspiration as an author. ‘What book inspired you the most?’,  ‘Do you consider yourself a scientist or an author?’ and, of course ‘Did you meet famous people at the Edinburgh Festival?’

As an author, I feel privileged to have met the children and enriched by this experience. I would like to thank the schools for inviting me, the Scottish Booktrust for providing me with the opportunity and particularly Chris and Beth for such an enjoyable day. It was truly uplifting to see children as young as 9 so knowledgeable about the world around us and aware of the changes we need to make for a sustainable future. 

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Wombats to the rescue!

In nature everything is recycled. Rotten leaves are a feast to wood lice and earthworms. Animal dung is food for hungry beetles, returning nutrients to the soil for new plants to grow.

We are the only species that collects and disposes of waste rather than turning it into a resource. As I am writing my new book, I am very aware of the amount of paper I use everyday and the number of trees cut down to turn the precious fibres into paper. Did you know that about a third of all trees chopped down are used to make paper? Could there be a different way?

Creative Papers, in Tasmania, has come up with an imaginative way of using the waste of local animals to make paper. They collect the droppings of wombats that live in the Cradle Mountain wildlife park. Wombats only eat plants and their droppings contain a lot of fibres, the raw material for papermaking. Every day, the droppings are collected by the park's keeper and sent to the factory. The waste is then boiled for many hours to extract the fibres and these are combined with cotton fibres from recycled fabric to produce paper. Today, entrepreneurs around the world are turning droppings from elephants, sheep, pandas and even reindeer into luxurious handmade paper. However, this is all being done at a very small scale, mainly for the tourist industry. Hopefully, as more and more companies think creatively about locally available resources, more and more trees will be saved. Talking about wombat poo paper is a fun, engaging way to make children think creatively about the concept of waste as a resource!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Think Chair that makes us think again

For billions of years, plants and animals have been busy creating complex materials and structures, without producing any waste at all. Whilst we appeared on the planet only 100,000 years ago, we are struggling to cope with the mountains of waste we create every day.

Nature has always been a source of inspiration in our journey of inventions and discoveries. The flight of birds inspired Leonardo da Vinci to draw his sketches of flying machines in the 15th century and, 400 years later, the Wright brothers to create and fly the first airplane. In 1941,The Swiss engineer George de Mestral came up with the wonderful invention of Velcro by noticing the prickly heads of plants sticking tenaciously to his dog’s fur.

We are entering an era where we need to change our ways of making things. Many companies are looking at nature’s best ideas for inspiration to create more sustainable and efficient products. Here is the Think Chair, an office chair that imitates nature’s way of doing things. It is mostly made of materials that can be recycled. It can easily be taken apart, so broken bits can be replaced or upgraded - no need to throw the whole chair away if there is a hole in the cover! Think of all the products we use everyday that could be designed as cleverly as the Think Chair! A really interesting topic to stimulate children’s creative thinking. After all, they are the future designers of tomorrow!