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Mission to inspire young minds to have a passion for science

DR Stephen Breslin doesn't need much encouragement to clamber out of bed in the morning and make his way to his office.

AMBITION: Dr Stephen Breslin has a life-long passion for science and technology. He wants the Glasgow Science Centre to be a world-class facility.
AMBITION: Dr Stephen Breslin has a life-long passion for science and technology. He wants the Glasgow Science Centre to be a world-class facility.

"I love this job, to be honest. It's the best one I've ever had," says the chief executive officer of Glasgow Science Centre. "It's my dream job in many ways, as it ties into my lifelong passion for science and technology.

"My previous job [he ran a London think-tank-cum-research-lab known as Futurelab Education] was all about education, about improving learning opportunities for children. That was a mission I really fell in love with.

"With the science centre, I've got the opportunity to explore further that passion for science and technology, for education."

Science and technology, indeed, define his life, right from his student days. At Strathclyde and Sheffield universities, he graduated in mechanical engineering, in control systems and IT, before earning a PhD in electrical engineering at Strathclyde.

His first job was as an engineering consultant seconded to the Royal Navy at the Faslane submarine base. After several steps up the career ladder he took over, in May 2012, at the science centre, one of Scotland's biggest visitor attractions.

Last April it was announced that the 13-year-old centre had just enjoyed a second year of record-breaking attendance figures - 305,485, up 12 per cent on the previous year.

Its successes have included the £2 million Body Works exhibition. It increased its number of schools and private partnerships, extended its Meet the Expert project (in which hundreds of researchers and scientists gave talks at the centre) and even managed to make a small surplus of £37,000 in its last financial year.

Added to all of which, of course, it has re-opened the Glasgow Tower, after a £1.8 million refurbishment funded by the centre and its partners, including Scottish Enterprise. The rotating tower has had a chequered existence but is now back in action.

A key factor in the rise in visitor numbers was Body Works, which has, Dr Breslin says, been an "outstanding success.

"It's popular with children and school parties as much as with adults. It really sets a standard we want to adopt for the rest of the science centre."

What were his thoughts when he first walked around the exhibition?

"There was excitement, there was pride in what my team had achieved. There was a huge degree of anticipation within the whole team: we wanted the general public in, and were excited about their reaction to it

"We've managed to achieve a careful balance between entertainment, interactivity and education. There's lots of fun stuff you can do with the family but there is also very rich, deep content on the science behind human physiology.

"It's important to engage at first: without it, there's no opportunity for learning beyond that.

"Everything we do is about interactivity, about doing rather than seeing."

Asked how the centre is seen abroad, he responds: "I think we're regarded as one of the best science centres in Europe.

"Recently I attended the Ecsite conference in The Hague, the trade body for science centres across Europe. It was obvious from delegates' remarks that we are held in very high regard across the continent.

"We're the biggest in the UK in terms of visitor numbers and square metres of exhibition space."

Dr Breslin is excited by the potential of Glasgow City of Science, a 50-partner agency that aims to raise the city's profile as a world-class science destination. Glasgow and Scotland, he believes, have always punched above their weight in terms of scientific creativity, and he insists that science underpins the nation's economic prosperity.

As for the striking, titanium-clad science centre itself, he has short and long-term ambitions.

In the short to medium term, "we want to develop our science mall as much as we possibly can. That's the reason we're here. We want to create the very best exhibition content and associated education programme that we can.

"We're working on a new exhibition which will open in October 2015 which will shine a light on the innovation and engineering excellence that is happening in the energy sector in Scotland.

"Powering the Future will feature over 100 interactive exhibits that will explore the different technologies operating in the sector and will encourage visitors to think about many ways energy is generated, how it works, and the public's demand on energy resources. It will also try and attract young people into the industry.

"Skills are a big area of focus for us," he added. "Not just in generic STEM skills - science, technology, engineering, maths - but for the last couple of years we've been running a programme, CoderDojo, in which professional software engineers mentor young people to help them develop their programming capabilities.

"It has three separate strands: We're working with young people through Glasgow City Council, with schools, and with Skills Development Scotland, to roll out this initiative."

Longer-term? "I want the centre to be recognised as a truly world-class science centre. We have the potential to be that.

"We have three iconic buildings here [the centre, the tower, and the Cineworld Imax cinema], and a dramatic setting.

"All the foundations and investment have long been made."

He never tires of wandering through the science exhibits and seeing young children being captivated by them.

"That is hugely rewarding. I was a customer of the science centre long before I was an employee, and I brought my own daughters in here from an early age.

"They still come in with me, and drag me in at the weekend.

"It is so rewarding to walk around and see children enjoying themselves, and more so when they are with their families.

"You'll get the child running around the exhibits, while his parents delve into the deeper content. The adult will call the child over and say, 'Did you know this …?'

"We want to break down the barriers in science, to make it accessible to everyone and give them the confidence to engage with science."

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Education

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