Sunday, 24 March 2013

Science in the Park 2013 - Pt1

This weekends “Science in the Park” event at Wollaton Hall, Nottingham was a real treat, and was a near perfect mix of activities and information that seemed to draw the interest of children and parents alike.

Timed to coincide with National Science and Engineering Week, this annual science fair is organised by the Nottinghamshire Branch of the British Science Association, the University of Nottingham and Nottingham City Council

So, lets have a look at some of the exhibits that particularly caught the attention of NSB…

Bacteria and Handwashing
A team of microbiologists from the University of Nottingham were giving children the opportunity to create their own bacteria - and had some plasticine examples of the little celled microbes to give the youngsters imagination a head start.

Plasticine microbes - and a red blood cell

Now, you might think that was just a bit of creative fun for the little ones, but NSB was surprised to see that the plasticine red blood cell was was much bigger than the bacteria - and it turns out that this is a good reflection of reality, with bacteria typically being 1-5microns while cells in humans and other multicellular life are typically 10-100micron in size.

The team were also giving advice on how to wash your hands properly, and had a fascinating practical demonstration that involves smearing a little UV fluorescent cream on your hands, and then looking at your hands before and after washing with wipes - it was often a surprise to see how much of ones hands were still fluorescing AFTER the use of hand wipes. Which just goes to show that you really need to get into all those nooks and crannies between the fingers, as well as under the fingernails to clean hands effectively

How to wash your hands

 UV fluorescent cream on NSB's hands

Increasing the level of hand-washing in the developing world is, literally, a life saver and could contribute significantly to bringing down the toll of 1.87 million children under five who die each year from diarrhoea the second-most common cause of death among children under five.

Solar Power and Electric Potatoes
The display from the “The Solar Spark” team (who hail from the SUPERGEN Excitonic Solar Cells Consortium) contained some circuits powered by electrodes inserted into fruit and vegetables and also a variety of small solar powered cars and bugs. It was fascinating to talk to the researchers on the stand and hear their views on issues such as the challenge of energy storage, the durability of solar cells in the developing world and how efficiency and cost of solar cells have changed over the years.

Budding Dr Frankensteins can start here

Solar Powered Helicopter

Imaging a Sunflower
The UoN School of Biosciences had some interesting stuff on show with visitors getting the chance to fly (via computer simulation) their “Octocoper” RPV. Despite it’s fragile look, the Octocopter can lift a 2kg camera payload which is used to scan areas of farmland.

They also had some sunflowers whose roots had grown a surprising distance in just 5 days. The team explained that they had a new “Nanotom” CAT scanning machine that could image the interior of solid objects (or hidden objects such as roots in soil) with remarkable accuracy. You can read about this here.

The Octocopter, and 5-day old sunflower seedling on the right

Your brain
The Psychology department of the UoN had a series of displays and activities including a “hook the duck” game which, far, from being a mere fairground game, gave insights into the complexity of human motor skills.

It takes years to learn the hand-eye co-ordination required to hook a duck

There was also an activity where visitors were asked to throw beanbags into net targets (which was easy enough) and then to repeat the test while wearing special goggles that shifted vision about 15 degrees to the right. Interestingly, when the goggles were removed, peoples aim remained shifted to one side, showing that the brain was still trying to compensate for the effect of the glasses. This effect has implications far beyond physical activity as it touches on how people form, change and overcompensate their views.

These glasses shift your vision to the right !

And there was more - with a presentation of work being done in the “Skills Underlying Maths” project. This research effort has looked at the skills involved in performing maths calculations, with the aim of understanding why some children find maths easy, while others struggle. Check out the results of their recent work in their January Newsletter.

Whilst No3 son was having a bash at the beanbag game, NSB asked the maths researcher how maths teaching in the UK compared to the rest of the world. The researcher commented that maths learning is a complicated skill, requiring rote learning (for formulas, times tables etc), basic understanding (why we solve maths problems in a certain way) as well as other strategies - and teaching needed to cover all these skills.

Chemistry Demonstration
“Science in the Park” featured a number of interactive talks, including talks on fossils and the Bloodhound land speed record project. NSB managed to catch the “Chemistry Demonstration” which was presented by Sam Tang who, with the help of children and adults from the audience, performed a number of entertaining experiments, as you can see below.

Sam Tang explaining the handedness of Carvone

Making a fluorescent liquid from Luminol

Any science experiemnt that requires a hammer is going to be good.

Liquid Nitrogen on water makes clouds...

... and you can never have too many clouds in a science experiment.

Read on...
Check out part two of this report, with included a dancing robot, a cool t-shirt and virtual reality gloves, amongst much else.


  1. I was planning on coming along to the event and had been looking forward to it for some time, as had my son. But with the bad weather I was unsure if the event would be going ahead. I asked BSA Notts via Twitter and Facebook if the event was still on and received no response, nor did the Nottingham City Council social media outlets respond.

    I'm rather sad we missed this now and would recommend better public engagement in the future.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I have to agree that it can often be difficult to find a contact point that actually works when one needs to urgently find out information about an event. I guess that the BSA can only do what their resources allow - and they did put on a cracking event! On reflection, I wonder whether calling Wollaton Hall itself might have been the best course of action for those unsure if the event was going ahead or not...