Monday 23 January 2017

The appliance of science

You may know her as a former meteorologist for Sky News, but Lisa Burke has returned to her roots, with two new books aimed at stimulating children's interest in science. Bernice Mulligan reports

Published 08/09/2010 | 14:56

IRISH-born Lisa Burke's career background may be that of glamorous media presenter, but having recently penned two factual books for children, she is returning to her first love: science. "I have two little girls, Aurelia (four), and Lyra, (one and a half ). When Aurelia was born,

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noticed that there were no science books for kids, which seemed really bizarre. I think even before children can talk they start messing about with things in a really 'science-y' way. That's how they learn. To me it seemed crazy that there were no books to encourage that."

And so, having consulted for book publishers Dorling Kindersley for a number of years, Burke turned her attention to addressing this lack, and has since penned the Mini Scientist series, with the first two books entitled Mini Scientist in the

Garden and Mini Scientist in the Kitchen. Burke points out that parents won't need to rush out and buy anything special – all the 'ingredients' for the experiments should be in their larder or backyard. Another redeeming feature is that the experiments don't take very long. "Most parents have no more than five or 10 minutes to spare for something like this. My ethos was to make the experiments quick and fun in order to help children enjoy science, and use the word science. I think a lot of people are scared of terms such as science, maths and physics. But science builds the world; it changes our world, and it's very important to encourage it."

Describing her decade-long media career as having happened "by accident" Burke's original intention was to do a PhD in science at Cambridge after completing her master's in natural sciences. Now, 10 years later, and having left Sky in June, Burke says she is returning to her scientific roots.

So what kind of experiments can children expect to carry out in the Mini Scientist series?

"A really easy one is to get some red food colouring. Take a white flower, cut the stem, and stick it in vase. Then add the red food colouring mixed through some water. The white flower will turn red. Or another fun one is this: you get a vitamin-tablet tube with a pop lid. Put in an Alka-Seltzer with some vinegar and with the pop lid on securely. Then stand back. The lid will pop!"

The whole concept of the book is simplicity, says Burke. " The idea was to target the very youngest, and get them asking questions. The main basis of science is nothing more than asking questions, and working things out for yourself. Science also encourages you not to believe what people tell you. There must be a reason why. It's about encouraging children's enquiring minds. It should be a continuation of what they do naturally, just with a bit of structure."

She says the experiments are suitable for very young children – from three years – up to age seven, but adds that even younger children can have fun with the messier experiments. " You can't underestimate a small child, They are very clever little things."

Burke has been commissioned to write two more books in the series, one focusing on the body and another on water. She says she fits her writing around her everyday life, tending to do it either early in the morning or late at night.

"It is – to use that horrible word – a juggle. But since finishing my job at Sky, I'm getting my energy back. The job was certainly was good preparation for the baby stage, as I used to start my shift at half four in the morning, but I'm happy not to be doing early shifts anymore!"

The Mini Scientist series is published by Dorling Kindersley and is priced at 9.99.

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