Guest Blog: Science in the Park 2014, by Kay Haw

The sixth year of the Nottinghamshire Branch of the British Science Association’s Science in the Park event certainly didn’t disappoint. Using the magnificent setting of Wollaton Hall, the range of activities set up to enthuse and enlighten were spread over three floors of the grand house and spilled out into other areas. Last year’s heavy snows showed no sign of spoiling the day and an early spring sun came out to shine on everyone.

The success of the day showed through, with over 3000 people counted though the door, as well as plenty of happy faces on people of all ages. It was great to see the very young getting involved, but also many adults learning new and interesting information from experts in the scientific world – one that investigates and explains the very nature of the real world in which we all live. Here’s a snapshot of some of the fun:

Science busking

The Institute of Physics science busking proved popular. Children watched in fascination while glasses of water were held, top down, over the heads of willing parents. A porous material was stretched across the hole, but why didn’t gravity pull the water through the material and wet those below? These clever science buskers were covertly teaching their audience about the wonders of air pressure and surface tension. Maybe a few will try this at home, with possibly more soggy consequences.

Other science busking tricks included exploding Alka-seltzer rockets, how to push a sharp skewer through a blown up balloon without bursting it, watching what happens to marshmallows in a vacuum, making germs and viruses (non-contagious clay ones) and creating balloon powered hovercrafts. This was certainly a popular area.

Investigating nature

The British Geological Survey team were set up in the first room of the main hall to promote their MySoil app. This citizen science project needs people all over Great Britain to help them better their knowledge of our soils. While they have a general soil map, they lack accurate information at finer resolutions. If you like playing with little bits of mud this is perfect for you.

In another corner the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust were helping people switch on their senses to become wildlife detectives. Dissecting owl pellets, a multi-odorous smelling station and an intriguing feeling station were all designed to awaken the mind to all the clues nature can leave.

Nottingham Trent University aimed to impress with their earthquake table. Apparently every time this comes out a real earthquake happens somewhere in the world, the team were hoping that day would be an exception. They also had an electrical thunder and lightening machine to help show some basic principles of nature, a friction wheel to turn movement to heat, and parts to make chemical structures.

Waste do’s and don’t’s

A rather disgusting, so obviously popular, but informative activity was Sewage Soup from Nottingham Girl Guiding, to show what should and not go down your sink. The ‘soup’ was made from (pretend) faeces, cotton buds and other waste products that people had to then clean up. This helped promote the Waste, Water and Me resource pack they developed in partnership with Severn Trent Water.

The Girl Guides were also in the science busking section with the balloon powered hovercrafts. The badges on offer these days have certainly come a long way with the explorative Science Investigation Badge – a great way to encourage more girls into science.

Compelling balls

Nottingham Hackspace brought along an elaborate interactive marble run. The eight large sections contained screws, elastic bands, building blocks and even toy soldiers that could all be manipulated. The aim was to arrange them all so the marble could start from the top and run all the way down, guided through and by the obstacles – certainly harder than it sounds. The fun and frustration here became quite addictive for some.

They were also promoting their Arduino workshops. Arduino is a microcontroller board and software designed for extreme ease-of-use and learning. It can be used by students, artists, educators and others for lots of maker projects.

Langar Model Aircraft Club was also there to show off an impressive range of planes, from the large to the small. A flight simulator programme was on hand to help people learn how to control real model aircraft. Langar airfield was once a take off point for Lancaster bombers in WWII.

Soon

The next blog will look at the explosive and extremely popular demonstrations given by Chemistry Goes Live and Physics Live – definitely shows to see.