Monday, 18 September 2017

Solar Eclipse

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Sadly not here in the UK but my friends in the US had a great time when they were able to observe a total solar eclipse in August.

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I used to teach in Tennessee and one of my friends from over there sent me  a couple of sheets of their commemorative stamps.
 I am not sure if they are supposed to go on the front of a letter or to be kept. Someone - clever person - has had the great idea to use thermochromic technology to create a stamp that looks black - just like a total eclipse sun but when warmed up changes to an image of the moon.
They are brilliant!

I intend to use one sheet when we go into schools and show how science is working with modern techniques and materials. We have a few interesting things that use thermochromic technology and also a few that use hydrochromic technology - my favourite is our new rainbow umbrella!

our thermochromic mug in action

I love it when science and the everyday overlap. It is great to be able to explain how something works.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Big Bang North West

Tuesday 4th July 2107
A big day for science in the North West!

Liverpool waterfront The Exhibition Centre was taken over by 1000s of young people all wanting to see the exciting shows and stands at the Big Bang Fair North West.
The team had been working hard for many months organising the venue, sorting out the exhibiting companies and the special guests for the show stage.

This year was a new venture for us. We have been on the show stage for the last 3 years but with more and more Primary schools coming to the event the BBNW team asked us if we could organise a stand with actititves especially geared towards the younger ones....certainly!

Then we needed to think because our usual amazing science is often a one off and then make up the chemicals again type of thing - the sort of colour change science we do in our shows. Of course that wouldn't work for a science event where small groups walk up to your stand all through the day.

So we decided to take some of our kit from our Super Senses workshops - guess the smell and the feely tubs and grot bags. Guessing a smell with no clues is quite hard so anyone that got it right won a scratch and sniff sticker....they obviously had a good nose.

Brave souls who put their hand into one of our grot bags found slime, instant snow, insects ( plastic ones!) and a squooshy worm.

Of course it wouldn't be one of our events without the amazing invisible hydrogel balls but how to stop them all getting squished in the first five minutes???
We used a few giant pink ones in amongst some smaller clear ones in coloured water and played hunt the gel ball! We had extras in reserve and replenished them every so often. Soon we had a bucket of dead hydrogel balls!!

Throw in a few colour change tricks with heat sensitive paper and straws and you have a fun, hands on stand.

We even had a competition to win a half price day of shows.Well done to Aintree Davenhill Primary who won.

It was a long day - we were there very early to set up but we had help from my other half - also a STEM Ambassador - so we were at least able to take a quick bathroom break occasionally but we were so busy we didn't get to see any of the shows.

The images from the day are really great. You can see 100s on the AllAboutSTEM website and Facebook page but here are a few of us having fun.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Although the summer holidays have not arrived yet the weather is amazing so I thought it would be a good idea just to remind everyone about keeping safe in the sun.

Here's an extract from a previous summer snippet  in 2015 all about sunscreen.

Here is a simple and really fun way to test out your suncream.

These little beads are UV reactive and now you can buy them all over the place.

We have been using them for a few years to demonstrate modern reactive materials along with hydrochromic and thermochromic products.

simple bracelets of UV reactive beads
By exposing the beads to UV you can change their colour from a plain creamy white to a range of brights.

Here we have made simple stretchy bracelets and put part in a clear plastic bag which we then smeared with suncream. The other part we left out in the sunlight.
We used two different SPF strengths - it really does make a difference what strength you use!
See for yourself.........

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Our Welsh Project week 5

Our final week!! Oh no! It has actually gone really quickly!

This week we decided to explore electricity.

We took quite a few different lights, gadgets and gizmos from our show Inside the Rainbow so the classroom was darkened as the children came in with all the lights on....that got a reaction!

We then explored different light sources that used eletrciity.

Some used mains, others battery and some needed winding up or shaking to work because they had no batteries at all.

We also had some that didn't seem to have any way to turn them needed a himan to become part of the circyut before the light would work.

Just for fun we had also taken out light sabres and disco balls - well it was the last week.

Then for some serious science.....

We explained how the energy sticks worked and gave every group a stick to see what they made of it.

Then we showed the class how you can use the energy stick to test different materials to see if they wold conduct electricity or not.
Every group had a tray full of fascinating materials and began to investigate.

Finally we made a huge circle to see if the stick worked with the whole class.....and it did!

So we say goodbye for now to all our friends at Ysgol Bryn Gwalia.
thanks to Ms Griffiths for this photo montage

This first project has been very successful - there are a few tweaks we will make for the next one but I do hope more schools in NE Wales will sign up for such a great time!

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Our Welsh Project Day 4

Off to Wales again!
This time we were looking at acids and alkalis and indicators.

I spent a few days making home made indicator paper - totally the wrong time of year for red cabbage so I used blackberries instead and extracted the colour using alcohol.

I also decided to try out turmeric which gives a vivid blood red colour in alkali

this worked really well but was quite smelly so everything was done outside!

We started the session by looking at our giant test tubes and using universal indicator liquid. 

We used this as a visual aid throughout the session to remind everyone 

We then used homemade berry paper to test and sort a range of liquids. 
We tested cola, lemonade, washing soda, bicarbonate of soda, milk and citric acid.
We added about 3 ml to each well in our dimple dish and dipped in the paper. The berry paper needed about 5  seconds to soak up the liquid and change colour. Sometimes the colour change was only faint but other liquids gave a strong change

Once we had got some idea of which were acid and which were alkali the children had to choose their best alkali to test with the turmeric paper.

Some wondered what would happen if they then dipped it into an acid - it changed back to yellow!
Finally we used universal indicator papers to give a much more sensitive and very colourful result.

what a great montage by the class teacher!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Our Welsh Project Day 3

Off we went to Wales for the third day of our project.
This week we explored colour.
We thought about what it would be like if we lived in a black, white and grey world and how strange that would be.

With year 3 we first learnt a new skill - how to use a pipette to carefully get just one drop at a time where we wanted it to go - not an easy skill.

Then we experimented mixing primary colours to see what other colours we could make. We made a recording sheet to help with remembering what we had done and then began to explore lots of other colour combinations.
After mixing colours we looked at splitting colours up using chromatography.

First we used washable pens on filter paper with water which showed us that lots of colours are mixtures and will split into different and surprising colours as they spread along the paper.
Then we thought about the topic for the term which is China and how China has 5 primary colours - red, yellow, green, white and black. Each colour means something different, represents a different part of China and has good luck, happiness or other fortune connected with it.

Finally we used Sharpie pens to create a design on a small square of material tightly stretched over a beaker. We couldn't use water to spread these colours because Sharpies are permanent  so we carefully used a few drops of alcohol which made incredible rainbows. Everyone used their new pipette skills to drop the alcohol onto the material. It evaporated very quickly so the material was dry almost straight away. Well done year 3 on some great pipette skills!

Year 4 started by exploring chromatography using washable felt pens and water before brushing up on how to use a pipette. They then drew some super designs onto white material stretched over a beaker and dropped alcohol onto the centre to make stunning patterns as the colour spread.

We then looked at how nature uses colour to attract a mate, as camouflage so it doesn't get eaten or as a predator to hide so it can catch lunch or to warn because it is poisonous.

We looked in a bit more detail at the 3 primary colours we use compared to the Chinese 5 and how colours have special significance to Chinese people.
We also were bamboozled by some amazing optical illusions.

Finally we gathered round to watch a demonstration of a homemade lava lamp which we lit up using a small torch. I think there will be quite a few lava lamps happening at home this week!

Next week we will be looking at how scientists use  colour to tell whether a liquid is acid or alkali.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Update on Day 2

Day 2 of our project at Ysgol Bryn Gwalia was all about polymers and we set a task for families to join in at home.
We sent home a small amount of clear hydrogel balls with the instruction to use a liquid to make them grow. Any liquid could be used - the more imaginative the better - and we would see what happened!
The smallest hydrogel balls only take a couple of days to grow so it is easy to take a series of photographs to show this happening.
Here is a set of pictures we took last year.

This week we were able to look at the results of the class homework.
We were very impressed with how many families joined in and how many different liquids were tried.
Some used water and got great results with the balls growing to full size - about 8mm diam - one or two added food colouring to their water - the clear balls took up the colour but in neat food colouring they didn't grow very big. In dilute food colouring they grew well.

Many had used drinks - coke, fanta, lemonade, Vimto - and got quite big balls and some had taken up the colour of the drink.

A couple has used cider vinegar which gave a gold colour but only medium growth.
Milk went off and was very smelly - not recommended!
Cocoa - very imaginative - was a bit smelly too.

We were very impressed with one young man who tried different strengths of food colouring and decided to display his results in clean water so we could all see. The balls in dilute blue grew best and gace a pale shadow of colour but neat colours didn't really grow at all.

We all decided that the balls grew best in pure water. Year 4 thought this could be because drinks have so many other ingredients in them that they stop the balls growing fully.

One total surprise - someone used washing up liquid - not neat because that was too thick - so she diluted it to make a runny liquid. Her balls grew to the same size if not a little bigger than the ones in water. She has sent us away thinking about why!!

( great montage taken by class teacher!)
 year 3 results  and you can see the one with different dilutions of colour on the bottom right

This is an example of a class write up - I love the narrative especially the comments about using vinegar! A great example of observation and thinking through changes - well done.