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Last Updated: Friday, 16 July, 2004, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Homer helps teaching about energy
Energy illustrated in the interactive exhibit [Museum photo]
Energy illustrated in the interactive exhibit [Museum photo]
Cartoon character Homer Simpson's job in the nuclear industry apparently can help explain the process of electricity generation to children.

Homer's cavalier work practices might alarm real-life safety inspectors, but at least youngsters have heard of the Springfield power station, according to the Science Museum in London.

Researchers questioned a sample of 10 and 11 year olds and found that traditional descriptions of energy generation "drew yawns and blank looks".

Children found many standard terms confusing. They thought "fossil fuels" must be something to do with dinosaurs, for example.


Coal was "history" - seen as "dirty" because, they said, "miners got sick". Electricity was "clean" but "dangerous".

The research was carried out as part of preliminary work on the Museum's new free gallery, Energy - fuelling the future, which opens on 23 July.

The museum describes it as an "energy playground", intended to provide a stimulating environment for children aged seven to 14 to learn about energy.

In that regard it is in step with other research which suggests children and especially girls tend to be turned off by theoretical science teaching, but engaged by the issues.

So it asks questions about the political, social and environmental aspects of energy production and use. Children can play at being a global energy minister, for instance.


Science Museum content manager Emily Scott said the work with focus groups of children had been an eye-opener in helping her team to understand their thought processes.

They had little or no familiarity with many aspects of energy production.

They did not know what solar panels or wind turbines were.

Homer does not feature in the exhibit - unless you count an interactive "Doh!" if you get a quiz question wrong.

But fundamental to the organisers' approach was that tapping in to any aspect of popular culture - such as a TV cartoon - could help engage children's interest.

"Our exhibition has been described as 'education by stealth', which is something we can be quite proud of," Dr Scott said.

"It's more like an adventure in a playground than reading a text book."

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