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A Q & A with… Professor Stuart Monro from Our Dynamic Earth

Date Posted: 02/06/2014

Professor Munro dressed as James Hutton.

Pictured: Professor Monro dressed as James Hutton.

A brand new gallery, aiming to tell the story of planet Earth has recently opened at the popular Edinburgh attraction, Our Dynamic Earth. We spoke to the man behind it all, Professor Stuart Monro.

Q. Can you tell us all about the new Scotland’s Time Lords galleries?

A. The new galleries are the biggest redevelopment we’ve ever had at Dynamic Earth. They celebrate the work of James Hutton, the father of modern geology, whose pioneering work influenced our modern understanding of how the Earth works.

The three new interlinked galleries, Scotland’s Time Lords, the Deep Time Machine and How it all Started, take visitors from a Georgian-style classroom complete with magic chalk boards and talking portraits, right back through Deep Time to the Big Bang and beyond.

Each of the new galleries is different - using interactive exhibits and audio visual presentations to tell the story, including the journey back to the origins of the universe and the beginning of time itself.

How it all Started has brand new footage created in collaboration with the National Space Centre which takes students on a journey through time witnessing the development of the universe from the Big Bang through to early Earth.

Q. What can school groups learn from the work of James Hutton?

A. Hutton was the first to challenge commonly held theories about the Earth’s evolution; he discovered the concept of Deep Time, and recognised that Earth is a ‘heat engine’, capable of generating molten rock and forming volcanoes.

His discoveries and thinking are still relevant today. He influenced many other scientific thinkers, including Charles Darwin and the more modern scientists who gave us the concept of plate tectonics.

Q. What was the inspiration behind this project?

A. It has long been a personal ambition of mine to see James Hutton celebrated. Without Hutton’s discoveries, Our Dynamic Earth would never have been built, so it is only right that we honour him – especially as he wrote his Theory of the Earth within a stone’s throw of where our centre stands!

Five year old Cameron Cowe admires part of the new galleries at Dynamic Earth.

Pictured: Five year old Cameron Cowe admires part of the new galleries at Dynamic Earth.

We hope the new galleries will teach school groups about Edinburgh’s major contribution to discovering how the Earth works, while also demonstrating – and commemorating – the importance of Scotland’s intellectual heritage.

Q. What sort of technology can pupils expect to see in the new galleries?

A. In the first gallery, a ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ installation brings the James Hutton character to life which interacts in conversation with animated ‘portraits’ of other great thinkers.

In the adjoining gallery, an extraordinary Puffersphere system – a full 360 degree, internally projected globe – cycles through the timeline of earth’s shifting tectonic plates. Next is the new Deep Time Machine, an Ultra HD Time Lift video installation, taking children back 13 billion years to the Big Bang in just 90 seconds.

During the journey, visitors will look out on scenes through modern times, then geological time itself and ultimately to a point when our own solar system did not even exist.

Q. What do you mean by ‘Harry Potter’ style magic?

A. The ‘Harry Potter’ style magic refers to the talking portraits, which appear just like you’ve see in the movies.

Visitors watch the ghost of James Hutton giving a lecture in a classroom, while writing ‘magically’ appears on the animated chalk boards on either side of him to illustrate his points.

The portraits on the walls of the classroom then ‘come to life’, as the images of James Hutton’s fellow scientists Charles Lyell, Arthur Holmes, Ben Peach, and John Horne interact with one another.

It’s really rather extraordinary to see the characters conversing with each other like they’re really in the room with you.

Q. Do you think that technology needs to impress in order to engage pupils?

Prof Monro as James Hutton.

A. Young people are surrounded by technology these days, whether in schools or at home, so I do think that technology needs to be fairly impressive to really capture their imagination.

Nevertheless, there are simple things which never fail to generate engagement without being too technical. As part of our new galleries, we also have more tactile displays, where pupils can look closely at rocks and maps, and we do find that these more basic elements of the galleries can really engage the pupils.

Our young visitors very much enjoy the hands on approach to learning, where they can touch the objects and wind the handle of the Henry Cadell’s Squeeze Box to see how folds and faults can be generated.

There certainly needs to be some impressive technology to get the ‘wow factor’ from pupils, but the most important thing is that the topic is interesting and delivered in an exciting and innovative way.

Q. What can Our Dynamic Earth give schools that other museums/educational attractions cannot?

A. Our Dynamic Earth is the only science centre dedicated to telling the story of Planet Earth, taking pupils on a journey through the formation of our planet, its diverse environments and myriad of different life forms. It offers an all-encompassing adventure, raising awareness and an appreciation of the role science plays in our world.

The centre also delivers a comprehensive educational programme, which supports teachers in implementing the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’, focusing on cross-disciplinary and contemporary science.

Our Education Service offers over 20 activities covering a broad range of Earth, environmental, social and expressive arts topics delivered in innovating and engaging ways.

The Time Lords gallery at Our Dynamic Earth.

It’s an incredibly successful programme, attracting 85,000 school children per year from throughout the UK.

Along with the new galleries and the education workshops, Dynamic Earth features thundering tropical storms, a real iceberg and a bone-shaking earthquake bring the extremes of Planet Earth to life.

The impressive technology also includes Scotland’s first permanent 4D theatre, 4DVENTURE, and the mind-blowing ShowDome, a must-see cinematic experience, which presents visitors with a series of 360o full-dome films on topics relevant to the themes of Dynamic Earth always engaging and with plenty of ‘wow’ factor. There really is nowhere else quite like Our Dynamic Earth.

For further school trip information visit

School Travel Organiser's Guide