In July, CERN and EUROVISION announced grants for multiplatform media proposals to spark the scientific curiosity of "tweens" – children aged eight to twelve. Now trailers for two projects chosen for further development are ready to watch. They aired for the first time at the EUROVISION TV meetings in Berlin, Germany, this week.
Baby Cow Animation and Bigfatstudio presented Cubic, Quark and Big G – the story of three quirky robots who explore the 'fun' in fundamental physics through their bumbling, slapstick experiments. Some 26 five-minute episodes are planned, covering as many topics – ranging from the size of atoms and the curves in space-time to the big bang. In the series – aimed at 8-10 year olds – the clumsy robots engage in one experiment (or simulation) per topic, per episode, in a crash-bang-wallop style, befitting their bumbling curiosity.
Rolf Landua of CERN's Education and Outreach department was scientific consultant for the series. "I had to check that the storylines and metaphors in the cartoon are as scientifically correct as possible," he says. "It's not easy finding a compromise between the world of imagination of an 8-12 year old and abstract physics concepts." But Landua says it's worth a try. "If you manage to explain such concepts to 8-12 year-olds it might lay a seed of interest in physics. Our goal is to lay that seed, raise that trigger in their minds; get people interested."
Quarks! from production company Screen Glue, is a series of short films targeting children from ten years old, featuring three teenage pranksters who share a superpower – the ability to alter fundamental laws of physics.
CERN's head of communications James Gillies was scientific consultant for Quarks!. "All kids are scientists," he says. "And the years before the teens are a vitally important time to keep them engaged in science, before high school starts channeling them away to other subjects."
If my interviewees are anything to go by, science fiction can work wonders for CERN recruiting: Gillies cites Dr Who and Star Trek as early influences that sparked his interest in physics; for Landua, it was the rather more high-brow Space Odyssey: 2001.