Science’s answer to the X Factor - ‘I’m a Scientist, Get Me out of Here’ - kicks off today, bigger and better than ever before, with 100 scientists and up to 8,000 students in over 150 schools involved.
Supported by the Wellcome Trust, 'I'm a Scientist' pits scientists working at the forefront of pioneering research against each other in a battle to win over the hearts and minds of secondary students around the country. The June event follows the success of three smaller pilot events and is the first of its scale.
"It can sometimes be a real battle to generate excitement about a subject so regimented by tests and curriculum. But with 'I'm a Scientist', they don't even realise they're learning," said Dan Hannard, a teacher at Woodkirk High Specialist Science School in Wakefield who has signed up to participate in the June event.
"The class even divided themselves into fan clubs for their favourite scientists. It's good to see scientists get the same devotion that Cheryl Cole has enjoyed up to now," said Jacqueline Prigmore, who teaches at Broxburn Academy in West Lothian and participated in an earlier pilot event.
The scientists are split into groups of five, each group talking to 20 classes of secondary school students and competing against each other for a £500 prize.
For two weeks students will read about the scientists' work, ask them questions and engage in live text chats with them online. The students vote for the scientist they want to win. Just like in the popular jungle reality TV show, those with the fewest votes are evicted until only one is left to be crowned the winner.
The objective is to get young people excited about science, and to get scientists talking to the public about their work.
Joe Devlin, a neuroscientist at University College London and winner of an earlier pilot event, commented: "'I'm a Scientist' is great fun but hopefully it will also give young people a better understanding of how science works in the real world, and maybe even inspire a few future Einsteins."
Sophia Collins, co-producer of the event, said: "I think the reason 'I'm a Scientist' is so successful is because it makes young people feel empowered - by letting them vote and having their vote count, it gives them a reason to engage with the science, and shows them that their opinion matters. The fact that the event is real - real scientists, real science, real prize money - makes it a far more vivid experience."
'I'm a Scientist, Get Me out of Here' was developed with support from the Wellcome Trust. The June event is the last of this year but plans are in place to roll out the project on an annual basis.