Thursday, 25 November 2010

time to reflect

Having a couple of days off R&R and hoping to be creative about next years holiday programme. Catalyst has always put on public engagement events for visitors during the school holidays. We have come to the end of the 2010 season so I now have to put together the 2011 programme of activities. This should be fairly easy but.... we have just had the most successful year since 2006 and a fantastic summer.... so no pressure then!
This year I put together a programme that used all the old favourites and known crowd pullers because, as ever, money was tight and we needed a really good holiday season.
So I put on a giant bubbles session, we made soap and bath bombs, I did a super cool science show where we made and ate liquid nitrogen ice cream ( over 12 litres!!). Our public loved all this - add to it an incredibly successful Spooky Science October half term with sell outs on many days and you can see my dilemma - what do I do to top all that??
My team - the creative Carrie-Anne and the amazingly organised Helen - all work with me to put on this spectacular so this year we have had not only the main attraction but also hands on events in the lab and self guided fun in any available space we can use! Science busking in the galleries, 3D films in the theatre, puzzles in the Gossage room plus of course all the hands on exhibits on the 3 floors of the centre. That is alot for 3 people to organise - how I wish we had some really good, energetic volunteers that we could rope in for more than the odd day or two.
We have had some super volunteers in the past but often they can only offer an odd day here or there which is great but I can't plan around them so I need to create things that 3 of us can do.
I have a hands on show/workshop based around old fashioned medicines which could be re-invigorated and I would love to do something about the incredible things you can see down a microscope.
All this takes time - and money would be a bonus. I found an old folder with notes from 1998 about the holiday programme - it was all free then and they had a budget! Plus they actually bought in a guest speaker for one week - what luxury.
So obviously writing this blog is procrastination - I know what I should be doing - being creative! So I'd better go and do it......

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Student teachers need inspiration

Had 90 2nd year student teachers in at the Centre last week. Their tutor asked me to organise lots of hands on stuff so that they could really get to grips with actually doing some science rather than just reading about it or watching clips on you tube.
We had a good time but I found it really sad that they were so excited about what were basically very simple ideas for class experiments.They are all off on teaching placement in a couple of weeks and I have had so many e-mails from them asking for ideas and help with planning something suitable and safe that is still exciting. I don't have a problem doing this but what are their tutors doing? When I was at college it was the tutors you went to who help you to create great lessons especially in scicne and D&T.
This is the very reason that we have made the DVD for the RSC. I went to see the final edits last week - the close ups are amazing and even though I don't like watching myself I have to admit it is a pretty good DVD and if I was still in the classroom I would love to have it to inspire me. It should be out after Christmas and  it will be free - what more could you want.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Trying to be Creative!

Having a much needed day off with hubby Mike who has just got back from three weeks working in West Africa.
Time like this is precious so I am always surprised when my brain starts thinking about work again - usually I disappear into  sci fi book to stop that happening!
However today I have found myself being rather creative - I have been asked for some advice from someone at Imperial college about green chemistry demonstrations. Chemists are becoming more and more aware that many of the processes they use are not very "green" plus lots of our resources are beginning to run low so we need to think about how w can change the way we do things to use less resources, less energy and protect the planet more.
Lots of the super demonstrations that you see in science shows use quite nasty chemicals meaning that schools or the public can't do them. Of course that is why we all love to put them in our shows - it is what makes someone come to see us!
But I have discovered working at Catalyst with very little money, in a very basic lab and no real technical support that I can't do all those classic flash bangs and smelly smoke style demos. Plus I can't dispose of the chemicals safely afterwards.
So I have developed alternative things and apparently so have one or two other presenters - mostly Americans.
It isn't easy to take an experiment or demonstration and use benign resources that will still give the WOW effect. Most audiences want to know you are using something really dangerous or that you could blow yourself up - Brainiac is still very close to everyone's consciousness!!

After a spot of being creative I visited one of my favourite web sites TED and found a super lecture by Mandelbrot - the fractal guy who died last month. I did a huge chunk of my degree on fractals and think they are so wonderful. Mandelbrot called  them bottomless wonders - he was right! I find it fascinating that a simple shape formula repeated over and over can produce something so beautiful! What a mind he had - RIP Benoit Mandelbrot

Monday, 1 November 2010

I actually get paid to do this!!!

I really love my job!
Sharing science with people is great - watching them light up  as you do a demonstration that is just so cool that they can't help but enjoy themselves especially when they didn't expect to have a good time - that is magic.
When I am collecting the tickets before a show and I can see the expectation on the faces of the kids and then afterwards as they crowd round to ask how you did it all. That is such a good feeling. Yes I know I am a show off and I love the adrenalin rush of being on stage but I also really get a buzz from seeing people realise that science especially chemistry can be fascinating. Not just the flash bang stuff - Oh yes I do that sort of thing - but the colour changes, the stuff they can do at home and the slime!
Last week we had a super time with spooky science - this week a little more toned down with changing materials for primary schools but still great fun.
And I am so pleased with my pumpkin!!
Try this for a peek