Stuart Monro: The RSE is aiming to inspire young people

Exciting lectures by famous names can motivate kids, writes Stuart Monro

The RSE's mission is to inspire and motivate pupils throughout Scotland. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The RSE's mission is to inspire and motivate pupils throughout Scotland. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The last six months has been an extremely exciting time for the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s (RSE) Young People’s programme, which runs free educational events for schools throughout Scotland.

Whether it’s delivering hands-on experiments through our Start-up Science Masterclasses at Scottish Universities, interviewing “whizzes” for our new video series, Quiz-a-Whiz, or arranging for inspiring speakers to deliver free talks in schools, the goal is to inspire and motivate primary and secondary students throughout Scotland.

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A highlight of the RSE’s Young People’s programme is the annual Christmas Lecture, which sees exceptional speakers give exciting and educational lectures to school children.

Last year, the RSE held its most popular lecture to date, hosted by its youngest-ever lecturer. Nearly 4,000 young people and their families visited the Caird Hall in Dundee to see Stampy Cat (real name Joseph Garrett), one of today’s most popular YouTube stars.

Stampy Cat shot to fame when he began posting videos of how he builds virtual worlds in the computer game Minecraft.

His YouTube channel now has an audience of more than 7.5 million subscribers, most of whom are pre-teens who watch his videos to gain tips and inspiration for their own Minecraft creations. Stampy is a superstar in the eyes of many children and tickets for the event sold out within a few hours, with Caird Hall experiencing the longest queues since Led Zeppelin played there in 1973!

During the lecture, Stampy created a brand new Minecraft episode live on stage and gave insights into how he makes his videos. He also discussed what it takes to be a successful YouTuber and highlighted that running his YouTube channel requires hard work and dedication, admitting that he often works seven days a week for up to twelve hours a day.

The young audience’s reaction to Stampy’s lecture and the energy in the room were fantastic and the event illustrated the power of computer games in engaging and educating young people about technology, creativity and collaborative working.

Filmed by the BBC, the lecture was hosted on the iPlayer platform after the event to make it available to a wider audience across the UK. In the first week it was one of the most popular programmes on the platform and to date it has had over half a million views.

Following on from the success of the 2015 Christmas Lecture, the RSE launched its own video series for young people on YouTube. Quiz-a-Whiz allows school children to submit questions to prominent public figures or “whizzes”, from bestselling authors to Nobel Laureates, on a variety of topics. The questions we receive can range from technical queries and career advice to wonderfully unusual ones, such as: “If my cat was a lot bigger would he want to eat me for dinner?”

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Featured among the many exciting interviewees are the aforementioned YouTube star Stampy Cat, broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, author Ian Rankin, forensic anthropologist Dame Professor Sue Black, astrophysicist and the President of the RSE Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Higgs, physicist and broadcaster Professor Jim Al-Khalili, psychologist Professor Nicky 
Clayton, artist Victoria Crowe and many more.

Quiz-a-Whiz aims to deliver engaging and thought-provoking content that will inspire pupils, encouraging them to be inquisitive and to think about their future career choices. The number of interviews and the online audience is constantly increasing; new videos appear every week, and there have been over 6,500 video views to date.

Alongside the digital output, the RSE’s Young People’s programme also delivers free, curriculum-linked talks in schools across Scotland throughout the year. All the talks are delivered by experts in their fields who volunteer their time and are keen to enthuse students from P6 to S6 on a wide range of topics; such as high performance computing, gravitational waves, crime and punishment in 19th-century 
literature, building solar farms and more.

Start-up science masterclasses are also facilitated twice a year in collaboration with six Scottish universities (Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, St Andrews, Queen Margaret, Highlands and Islands). At these sessions, S1 and S2 students get up to all sorts of scientific mischief and mayhem; they learn how to create things – from bagpipes to perfume; experience patient treatment in a realistic clinical environment; try their hand at design – from planes to bridges; and even indulge in a round of chemical Cluedo. The classes promote widening participation and provide the students with a unique insight into academic life and research.

The RSE’s founding mission in 1783 was to work for “the advancement of learning and useful knowledge”. The RSE’s Young People’s programme is committed to supporting this mission through creating and sharing innovative digital content and holding engaging events that inspire young audiences in Scotland and beyond.

• Professor Stuart Monro OBE, FRSE is the RSE Young People Programme Convener. For more information about the RSE’s Young People’s programme see