This programme was initiated in 1993 by John Campbell, as a way of supporting school teachers in New Zealand.
Whenever a school pupil, most often at a rural or primary or intermediate or lower seconday school, asks a question on some general aspect of science which is outside the field of speciality or expertise of the classroom teacher or his/her colleagues or resources readily available, then the question can be forwarded to John via a teacher. The scheme is set up to support, not bypass, schoolteachers.
John selects the appropriate practising scientist who will be invited to produce a response at the level appropriate to the pupil who asked the question.
The scientist is requested to respond with 250 or so words within two weeks. Note that because of the difficulty of finding a specialist in certain fields and then that person having urgent commitments to exams, field work, absence overseas or various other types of commitments, sometimes the response take longer.
The first stage of magnification is that the responder sends the response on their organisation's letterhead addressed to the student at their school. In that way the whole class sees the response and the teacher has the response for life.
The second stage of magnification sees the best questions and responses published in a newspaper column together with the name and school of the questioner and the name, field and organisation of the responding scientist.
The column has run in the Otago Daily Times since 1993, The Press from 1993 until 2002, The Evening Standard (Palmerston North) from 1993 until 1996 then restarted 2005, as well as the New Zealand Science Monthly until it closed in 2002, the New Zealand Science Teacher, and ChemNZ.
As a third stage of magnification past responses are now available via this web site.
John Campbell retired from teaching physics at the University of Canterbury in 2005. He is the author of Rutherford Scientist Supreme, Rutherford's Ancestors and www.rutherford.org.nz