Saturday, 30 July 2016


Summer is a lovely time of year.
Weather permitting we shed layers of clothing,spend time outdoors and maybe spend a day at the seaside,  wandering along the edge of the water, building sandcastles, skimming stones and exploring rock pools.
So this summer our blog  is all about the science of spending a day at the beach.

This week we explore the smell of the sea which is so evocative wherever you are on holiday and for many of us is that childhood memory.....
One of the first things you notice when you arrive is that amazing smell. There is nothing quite like the smell of the sea...... salty, clean, fresh, sandy.........
We often think the sea air is healthier for us and of course so bracing!

I don't want to burst your bubble but that distinctive smell has quite a bit to do with seaweed and decay......
It is a sulphurous smell produced seaweed begins to break down and die.........

It is actually hydrogen sulphide produced anaerobically which is toxic but not in the small quantities you find at the edge of the sea, plus  we also produce it as a natural part of our cycle :)

However you can also smell that amazing mix of salty water and sulphur tang when you are on a boat so it can't all be seaweed.

The oceans are full of minute phytoplankton and algae which contain and produce Dimethylsulphoniopropionate (!) DMSP used to regulate osmotic pressure in cells. 

This compound can be broken down by the cells and also by bacteria giving DMS and this has a very distinct smell - that we associate with oceans.
DMS is also involved in cloud formation - just under 10% makes its way to the atmosphere and into clouds.

So a day on the beach maybe wandering along the shoreline smelling the sea
 is really a chemistry lesson!!

Thursday, 21 July 2016


So the holidays are here at last and following on from the success of last year we have created a set of new summer science blogs full of ideas for things to get up to over the holiday.
If you missed last year's great ideas look in the archive, check our featured post or follow these links

The first blog will be published next week so watch this space and follow on Facebook or Twitter for notification of new posts.

Have a great summer


What an amazing day we all had at BBNW

This year we were in a new venue - The Exhibition Centre Liverpool which is right on the waterfront and a super space for a STEM event.
Being in one large hall made it easier for teachers to keep an eye on their pupils. It also gave the exhibitors a real buzz because they were with everyone else.
the show hall

In the centre was the show stage - a huge screen to make sure everyone had a close up view and plenty of seats. However the shows were a real draw so it was standing room only for every show all day. Thankfully there was room around the seating for people to gather and get a good view.
the show stage

The perimeter of the hall was where the large activities were - the accelerator, the pendolino train, the riding horse and milking had to be there to see that!

Even larger exhibits were outside on the deck - Terry the Viking scientist and his team brought their longboat.
the Vikings

On Monday the set up started - by early afternoon the stage was almost finished and the stands were taking shape. As the evening wore on more and more companies, colleges and universities arrived to set up their stands.

We took all our kit taking advantage of the loading bay for easy access so that on the Tuesday morning we were able to park the car and walk through the main entrance.

We were on first so we set up our show tables in the early morning quiet and as everyone arrived we got our microphones on and after a quick sound check it was time to start.

We shared different bits from a variety of our shows - colour chemistry to start followed by disappearing hydrogel balls and introducing our huge blue polymer balls. We moved on to the freaky hand using bicarbonate and vinegar and then inflated a giant vet glove.

Helen made huge clouds of flame with milk powder

and then we set off a whoosh bottle.

The finale was dry ice - what else!

Lots of clouds of fog, popping lids and a crystal ball bubble to finish.

It went well - even better in the afternoon session - people were sitting in the aisles to try to see.

The audience was very receptive - the other shows went really well too.
Tom Warrender shared his fascinatingly gruesome human guinea pig show - look away if you are squeamish time!!

Stefan Gates the Gastronaut showed us some amazing science based around food even blowing strawberry fragranced smoke rings at us all.

There are so many pictures from the day - Twitter feeds, Twitpics, Facebook pics and professional photos.
Putting BBNW or #BBNW should find some if you search and of course you can go to MerseySTEM and the dedicated Big Bang NW site for plenty of links to write ups, galleries and more.

If you didn't get this year I really would encourage you to sign up for 2017. This is the biggest FREE STEM event in our area and so worth doing. Don't miss it.

many thanks to everyone who shared their images of the day and for the professional images which are © MerseySTEM
Courtesy of Gareth Jones (Photographer)



When the weather is fine bubbles are fantastic. The science is amazing but to be honest they are just such good fun and even the adults join in

There are lots of commercial bubble makers in the shops.
How abut this machine that makes hundreds of small bubbles

or you can buy mixture and giant wands

but it is actually easy to make your own giant bubbles mixture and homemade wands and probably more fun too

Making bubble mixture is a bot of a dark art and you will find plenty of recipes of the internet especially Pinterest.
Many American sites talk about a washing up liquid called Dawn. It is just a clear standard liquid and any of our brands in the UK will work well. To be honest I have not found any difference between cheaper and more expensive brands apart from if using a concentrated liquid use less of it

Having run week long bubble workshops at Catalyst I have picked up a few tips:
  • don't be tempted to make the mix too strong
  • don't swish it around too much FOAM doesn't make bubbles
  • leave it to stand after making - overnight if possible
  • glycerine or light corn syrup like Karo give stable bubbles
  • a humid day is best or you can spray the air with water
A good ratio for your mix is 1 part washing up liquid: 5 or 6  parts water: 1/4 part glycerine

Home made giant wands are very simple and don't need much equipment.
Try this string and plastic straw version - give it a good soak in the mixture before using it

For bubbles you can stand inside use a hoop in a paddling pool

Everyone knows that bubbles are spheres....but have you see those frames that let you make a square or triangular bubble? OK you can't blow a square bubble - the laws of physics come into force. But it is quite interesting to see

For long tube bubbles you need a round frame which you can make yourself from wire or use an old frying pan splatter guard frame

Most of these techniques need a bit of work but bubbles snakes can be done by even the very youngest. Just remember to blow not suck

Follow the picture tutorial below using an old cotton or towelling sock or a flannel. 

this is what you get

This idea comes from Persil - some people who have scientists who study foam and bubbles so they probably know a thing or two

Someone else who knows all about bubbles especially giant ones is the science presenter Ian Russell. He often attends fetes and festivals where he creates these huge bubbles. You can find his website here:

Enjoy the sunshine and your bubbles

Monday, 6 June 2016

Show of the month for June


This month's Science Spot newsletter features our POTIONS show so I am sharing it with our blog readers
This show was created as part of one school's Harry Potter themed week and has become a favourite especially for end of term treats.
 With lots of dry ice in Hermione's cauldron and colour changing liquids to reactions that need to be woken up from a deep sleep.

 A set of rainbow coloured test tubes and disappearing gel balls. Eerie lights that appear like magic, amazing human light switches. Lots and lots of oozing slime….

Being true scientists we don't give away our secrets!  So many of our
demonstrations seem like magic so we began to collect amazing transformations, colour changes, disappearing materials and suddenly we really were in Hogwarts!

We invite potential wizards to join in an incredible experiment where they change clear liquid to bright pink and back again before our very eyes!

Dress up in your own costume or wear our wizarding hat to perform the experiment.

From bubbles to smoke to fire clouds this is an amazing show but of course we all know that even though some of the things seem
almost magic - it really is SCIENCE!!
Call us to find out how to book this show.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

SHOW of the MONTH - All About You

All About You

This month we are featuring a super show for Primary schools across both key stages. All About You looks at being healthy and how we can keep clean.
For the youngest pupils we bring along our third team
member Timmy the puppet who gets help from a friend in the audience to organise his lunchbox so that he can eat healthily. Great if you are part of the Healthy Schools scheme.   

We look at our amazing senses and how they help us, with brave volunteers choosing feely tubs or grot bags to put their hands into. 
Can you tell the difference between potato and apple if you can't see it or smell it??
Three super scientists get to use all their senses to try to identify the mystery liquid.

For slightly older ones we do a mass experiment to see how we are all unique. 
For the gross effect we discover just how much snot we produce, how much sweat we make and see the millions of skin cells shed every day. 

This leads nicely into why it is a good thing to actually wash. To help us keep our teeth clean we make our own toothpaste and test it against shop bought and finally Helen gives a  group of volunteers a gungy glitter cold to see why it is important to wash our hands.
Lots of valuable messages delivered in an interactive humorous way. The workshops complement the show—Super Senses for KS1 with feely bags, grot bags and mystery liquids. Toothpaste testing OR bath bombs for KS2.

Monday, 11 January 2016

A Review of our First Science Club

Last term we ran our first after school science club with Summerhill primary school Maghull.

The logistics of this sort of event mean that there has to be a minimum number paying in advance to make it financially viable plus enough free dates in our diary to accommodate such a commitment.

Summerhill had 33 pupils from KS2 who signed up and paid which meant we were able to buy some great resources and consumables.  We also worked on a Monday which is our quietest day and we happened to have 6 Mondays in a run, free.

The next thing was to work with the school, thinking about what sort of activities would work, how many helpers were needed for each session and where the club would take place.

We were able to get to know staff - especially in the office - so that we could arrive and set up in the hall without having to pull a teacher out of class. We also worked closely with the caretaking staff so that they trusted us not to make a mess or leave unsuitable chemicals and equipment around. They gave us access to their cleaning room which was brilliant as it was straight off the hall, had plenty of hot water and let us wash all our equipment before we left.
So this is what we got up to.....

Week 1

We were quite ambitious because we wanted to start with a WOW so we went for acids and alkalis using home made indicator. We taught pipette technique which we would use on a few occasions during the club, how to behave in a "lab" - which is very hard when you are super excited -  and working methodically - also quite hard for young ones.
We collected a range of household liquids which we tested either with home made indicator paper or liquid.
We then asked each small group to choose their best acid, alkali and neutral liquid to test and to share their results. Everyone felt very scientific and behaved extremely well following our safety rules.

Week 2

This was the first of two weeks exploring colour. We looked at how our eyes work including optical illusions and seeing in colour.
We then used colour paddles to mix light to get different colours and saw how light and pigment are different. We used the amazing rainbow glasses to split up light.
We then mixed colours using the 3 primary colours which was great fun and improved on our pipette skills.
Finally we made home made lava lamps and turning off the main lights put a torch underneath to make an awesome effect.

Week 3

The second week of colour explored splitting colour up using chromatography.
We looked at how it works by joining the chromatography bus ( you really had to be there!!) and then used paper and waterbased pens to split up mixtures

Then we got adventurous and used permanent markers and alcohol to create an almost tie dye effect on material with some very artistic results

Week 4

This was a week all about electricity especially light.
The room was in darkness as the children came in and our display of light sources brought the expected WOW! response
We used lots of different torches to show that you don't necessarily need batteries to power a torch!
We had a play with our plasma ball.
Then we turned on the lights and went into lab mode to test a huge range of objects to see if they were conductors or insulators using our amazing energy sticks

Week 5

This week was all about pretty amazing polymers and we set homework too!!
We thought about plastics all around us and what impact they have had on our lives.
We looked at polymers such as instant snow, the incredible disappearing hydrogel balls, nappies and then we used a thermo moulding plastic.
The small granules transform to a stretchy clear strand at about 45degrees C. So after lots of exploring what it felt like and how to mould it we finally made keyrings to take home.
Oh and the homework?? using dehydrated hydrogel balls we challenged everyone to rehydrate them in the most unusual liquid they could find at home and bring them back to show us the next week.

Homework results!!

oil doesn't work!!

Week 6

Our last week with these super scientists so we wanted to make it a bit special!
The theme was How Clean are You??
We looked at why we needed to keep clean to be healthy and had quite a gross session on all the things our bodies produce everyday including wind, shed skin and snot!
We then looked close up at plaque on our teeth and decided we needed to try out some toothpaste. We made homemade paste which we tested against shop bought. We didn't use our own teeth though!

And finally........

We were very close to Christmas so we made bath bombs like Christmas puddings smelling of mince pies!!

We had an incredible time with our new friends at Summerhill Primary. Huge thanks to Ms Lindsay Rannard for organising it all, to the parents for funding, helping with the plastics week and joining in so enthusiastically with the homework.
Every week Twitter was alive with photos and comments
Running a science club isn't something we can do all the time but is definitely something we shall try again. It has been super getting to know a group of very excited, enthusiastic and dedicated scientists.
Hope to see them again!