Hopefully followers of this blog will have seen how I am trying to engage more in public outreach from posts such as “Beijing Science Festival 2013” (BSF). So visiting my old uni and talking with my old supervisor about outreach found me sitting in on a chemistry lecture but still my “out” had still to be “reach”ed. So you can imagine the size of my grin when after a false start the previous week I got the opportunity to stand and look pretty during my first UK outreach event (earlier today).

N.B. Due to a scheduling issue this post didn’t post when it was supposed to post and so I am now posting this post one week after the post was supposed to have posted.

This time there was no scheduling or communication confusion. Rob the team leader scheduled a meeting the day before to check out the kit. So it was a great relief when I arrived (later than planned) to see both Rob and Madeleine standing in the entrance of the University of Manchester, Chemistry Department waiting for me. The plan was to take stock and run through the show.  All in preparation for a full afternoon of science outreach with the children of a nearby primary school (year 6 if that means anything to anyone).

Now this was a first for me. In that I had not done outreach in the UK in a school and so I wasn’t certain what to expect and how the children were going to respond. The first thing I did notice was the similarity in the core experiments/demonstrations between Beijing and the University of Manchester “Solid, Liquids and Gases” outreach material (UoM SLG).

So it was with great pleasure that I got to suggest a modification to one of the demonstrations. The “blue bottle” experiment. Both in the school and BSF context this experiment was designed to get the participant to think about the invisible gas in the bottle - the oyxgen (O2). However the key difference in the UK was the scale - a massive conical flask was being used which has a great visual impact BUT a limited audience participation. Whereas at the BSF the solution was in many small bottles which could be passed to the children/audience to do themselves.

So first job that evening was to drink much “fizzy pop” and by doing so provide many clear plastic bottles to make up the “blue bottles” to give to the children to do the experiment the following day. Great change to the script and a great interaction exercise.

However one odd thing I had not observed in China but did in the UK, remembering in China we had handed out these bottles to probably hundreds of people from 2 to 70 years in age, was the almost instantaneous request of the children near the child with the bottle to “drink the solution”. Now I don’t want to criticize my fellow countrymen but really this is our future generations, gulp (pun intended)!

What does a UoM SLG Outreach event contain?

The script was pretty tidy it could do with some work to bring the material together a little bit but there was loads of scope for riffing with the kids. Can I remember the show? Yes. Can I give you a breakdown? erm, maybe? But I think it would be more fun to highlight some of the experiments in no particular order and to cast some praise on Rob and Madeleine.

So of course there was the “blue bottle” as discussed above and I think that worked quite well. Although we probably needed to tweak the mixture so that methylene blue gets reduced quicker next time and by doing so pass the bottles out to more kids to play with. Also glue the lids on rather than taping them shut - well English children appear to be either stupid or more self-destructive than Chinese children.

Then we had solid carbon dioxide or cardice as we call it. Which was loaded into various small vessels to show the difference in volume between a solid and a gas. Not to mention using it in balloons. There was rockets and a thing called a “whoosh engine” which was amazing and did setoff the smoke alarms in the school (oops) but it was ok as they were pre-warned. Of course there was “elephant toothpaste” which we told the teachers how to perform themselves. And for the finale the classic “hydrogen balloons being exploded in the rain in the playground”. Well it is Manchester it couldn’t be in the sunshine!

I am clearly ignoring the core learning points of the afternoon such as the “three states” of matter: solids, liquids and gases. Or the composition of the air around us. The liquefaction of that air, liquid nitrogen and Pringle containers. But I can do that because I don’t want to spoil the show for any kids or teachers in the future.

Thought of the DAY

I tend to be doing a lot of summing up or concluding remarks in my posts it is rather lame I guess. Anyhow here is another one….

The event was great and it was driven by the dedication and energy of the volunteers that of Madeleine and Rob. It shows a great deal of credit to them to take time out of their day to spread knowledge in STEM to children. Who knows one of those kids who didn’t attempt to drink a bottle of unknown chemicals may become the next Phil Atkins or Brian Coxs?

I think we all should do more. I have the opportunity now during my career break to do so and I am loving it. Next stop - Chroma: Art Meets Science and after that the BIG FLASH BANG show. But after that - who knows?