x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Climbing robot helps to rope in youngsters at science festival

Robot Skelly among many of the attractions enticing children and parents alike to Abu Dhabi Science Festival's third year.

Aya Mohammed, 12, Irene Ramos, 12, and Lina Temimi, 9, operate on a medical figurine during a workshop at Abu Dhabi Science Festival. Silvia Razgova / The National
Aya Mohammed, 12, Irene Ramos, 12, and Lina Temimi, 9, operate on a medical figurine during a workshop at Abu Dhabi Science Festival. Silvia Razgova / The National

ABU DHABI // Thousands of children packed into the du Forum on Yas Island on Friday to build windmills, race Mars rovers and cheer on a rope-climbing robot named Skelly.

Now in its third year, the Abu Dhabi Science Festival opened with workshops intended to thrill, educate and inspire children to pursue a future in science and technology.

Sixty per cent of this year’s exhibits are new – but some favourites have returned.

“It has got a good buzz to it,” said Simon Gage, director of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, which works with the Abu Dhabi Technology Development Committee to stage the annual interactive event.

“Once the word starts to get out, more and more people come and, by the end of the festival, we sell out. At this stage, it’s quite nice and calm, actually. So, I advise people who want to come, come early.

“Everyone loves to go to OR – Operation Room – it’s the simulation of an operating theatre using real surgical equipment on a very realistic ‘body’. The electronics workshop mad lab is also very popular.”

Visitors are met with a cacophony of sounds – the hum of motors, the hiss of thousands of balloons being inflated, the musical ring of mallets striking wooden xylophone keys and the giddy squeals of children making new discoveries.

“It’s really fun,” said Basel Abu Baker, 12, from Dubai, who was visiting the festival for the first time with his father, uncle and cousins.

“You get to do a lot of experiments and you watch a lot of shows, interesting shows. It makes you learn about science a lot.”

Karim Bekka, 11, from Abu Dhabi, was one of dozens of children bouncing with excitement in line for the Mars Rover workshop.

“I think this is awesome,” said Karim, who wants to be a scientist when he grows up. “My favourite subject in school is science, so I just want to see how we actually made the rovers.”

The children were guided by science communicators as they built their own rovers using household materials such as plastic cups, cotton, tape, paper clips and other materials.

“We need to just make them more curious about exploring and things relating to Nasa and air space,” said Mahra Al Kaizi, 21, a mechanical engineering student at UAE university who was acting as a science communicator at the exhibit. “Our goal is not just to make them slide the car, we want to make them think out of the box.”

At the Operating Room surgery workshop, children were dressed in surgeon caps and coats as they operated on very lifelike “sick” patients using real medical tools and equipment.

It is not uncommon for some children to faint at the true-to-life workshop.

But 11-year-old Sarra Sfaxi was not one of them. She liked the part where they used a needle to draw blood from the patient’s arm.

Sarra said she wanted to be a doctor when she grows up “because I want to help other people to not be sick”.

Another big draw at the festival was a 1.82-metre, 50-kilogram robot named Skelly. Children chanted its name and coaxed it to climb a rope as high as the ceiling.

“It was so complex, it was so amazing that a robot could actually climb a rope,” said Jaiveer Chadda, a 10-year-old who was visiting with his family from Dubai.

Entry to the du Forum costs Dh10 for children aged five to 15 and Dh5 for adults, with children under five free. The event boasts 32 hands-on workshops that each take about 30 to 45 minutes to complete.

These require prior registration, which can be done online at abudhabisciencefestival.ae or in person. Children can reserve up to three workshops per day.

The festival is also being held at the Corniche East Plaza, with free exhibits that offer visitors short, interactive presentations and workshops.

The festival ends on November 23.

rpennington@thenational.ae