SSERC Conference

SSERC Conference

2019, Dec 06    

The SSERC Annual Science & Technology Conference was held this year at the Carnegie Conference Centre in the old capital, Dunfermline. I took the opportunity to attend as an antidote to the intensity of recent weeks on the road visiting schools, and was particularly keen to refresh my ideas for practical physics in the classroom. I was not disappointed.

Welcome and Keynotes

Alastair MacGregor, SSERC’s CEO, opened the conference with an optimistic sketch of how the organisation is developing in the coming months and years, focusing on the emerging partnerships, ventures and refreshing of channels 1. Proper acknowledgement was made of the work of well-kent faces at SSERC2.

There were keynote talks given by Graeme McAlister of the Scottish Childminding Association and Howie Firth of Orkney Science Festival, and a briefing on the Young STEM Leader programme from Graeme Young.

Resources to support the sciences

After coffee, a carousel of wokshops showcasing ideas and resources designed to support teaching of the three sciences in secondary schools. The physics workshop, titled, “Micro:Bit Magic” and led by Gregor Steele and Norman Bethune, was of particular interest and relevance to me, although the others were no less full of great ideas and advice for teachers and technicians.

In the physics session, there was the usual torture of a Teddy Bear3, in the name of science. Resources on display included holographic CD cases that use the HOLHO animations on an iPad or phone to display 3-D moving graphics; microscale vacuum kit; a Canadian $5 bill with a holographic security device; thermochromic film and electro Lycra.

After lunch and a Health and Safety update, I returned to the physics team and another workshop, this time focusing on support for the senior phase. We conducted a quick investigation into the charging of a capacitor, plotting a nice curve, as an example of core experiments in this phase. An activity4 that I will most certainly follow up on with my students is the investigation of the resistance of various lengths and widths of a conducting material used to make anti-static bags, and the making of capacitors using the same material.


It is always good to catch up with friends and colleagues at events like these, and this was no exception. A week after this conference, I saw many of them again in the pub nearest to SSERC in Rosyth for a farewell “pie and a pint” with Paul Beaumont who retires soon. It was especially nice to see Jim Jamieson, Gregor’s predecessor in Physics and Radiation Protection in Scotland, at this event.


  1. For example, the rebranding of SSERC TV on YouTube. 

  2. Paul Beaumont in particular, who is retiring. 

  3. The bear was fitted with an accelerometer and Micro:Bit, programmed to detect falls. Teddy is test pilot for a device with a nice social justice dimension. 

  4. I agreed with Norman, whose idea this was, that I will wait until after the SUSS conference in January before introducing the activity to my PGDE students.