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Public Engagement Grant Scheme funded projects 2013

Project summaries from the winning applications.

Kim Barnett, National Trust

Project: Step into the Light Fantastic!

Visitors to Woolsthorpe Manor – the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton – will investigate fundamental properties of light in a new interactive area as part of the Manor’s Science Discovery Centre. Visitors of all ages will explore concepts such as shadows, colours and the wave / particle nature of light through a range of simple experiments, and gain a deeper insight into these ideas by talking to the Science Centre volunteers. Woolsthorpe Manor currently attracts around 34,000 visitors per year. The exhibition is planned to open by the end of February 2013.

Siobhán Nicholas, Take the Space

Project: STELLA, a story of women, their men, and astronomy

This new play by Siobhán Nicholas tells the story of astronomy from a female perspective: Caroline Herschel, comet sweeper from the 18th century, and Jessica Bell, a fictional radio astronomer from the 21st century, simultaneously inhabit the same house in Bath. The double narrative invites audiences to consider concepts of time and space, as well as the challenges of the modern astronomer alongside the legacy of the Herschels, fundamental to the development of stellar astronomy and cosmology. STELLA, suitable for audiences over 12 yrs, embarks on a UK tour that includes Greenwich Theatre, Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough and The Rose Kingston. For more information, including a list of tour dates, visit the Take the Space website

Ra Page, Comma Press

Project: Thought Experiments: Physics through Fiction

Comma Press will commission five acclaimed, literary authors to write short stories that will engage with five classic thought experiments from physics, as part of a wider piece of fictional drama. Physicists will be paired with the authors to act as consultants, in addition to writing an explanatory afterword about the thought experiment for each piece. This project aims to celebrate the creativity and ingenuity of physics when it is forced to talk in hypotheticals in order to solve a real-world problem. The stories will be presented at a public event in June 2013 at the Manchester Digital Laboratory, with the authors and scientists present.

Dominic McDonald, Science Oxford

Project: Copenhagen comes to Abingdon

On 13 March 2013, as part of the Oxfordshire Science Festival, Science Oxford will stage a performance of Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen at the Amey Theatre in Abingdon. Copenhagen focusses on the trip made in 1941 by Werner Heisenberg to see Niels Bohr and it aims to engage local people with the science of the atom, the scientific history of the town in which they live, and the moral dilemmas faced by scientists. The play will be performed as a dramatic reading by three members of the local Studio Theatre Club amateur dramatic group and an audience discussion of the scientific and moral issues raised in the play will take place after the play. It is expected an audience of 200 people will attend.

Scot Owen, Techniquest Glyndŵr

Project: Physics in the Castle

During the spring and summer school holidays of 2013, presenters from Techniquest Glyndŵr will deliver a series of shows and workshops to visitors at three rural historical castle settings in Wales. The workshops and shows aim to engage people of all ages and backgrounds with physics in a historical context and activities will include making trebuchets and investigating how pulleys make lifting things easier. The shows and workshops will take place at Rhuddlan Castle, Flint Rugby Club (next to Flint Castle) and Chirk Castle and it is expected that 100-150 people will take part at each event. Dates of the events will be available on the Techniquest Glyndŵr website.

Jay Stewart, Gendered Intelligence

Project: Celebrating Gender Diversity in the World of Physics

Gendered Intelligence will run a campaign exploring and challenging the complexity of gender stereotyping within the field of physics. This will include a discussion workshop for 25 young transgender people (aged 13 – 25) on 23 February 2013. Following the workshop there will be a panel discussion in March for an audience of 75 and speakers will include an expert on gender diversity within physics, and a trans identified physicist. An online media campaign will present findings from the workshop and panel discussion to a wider LGBT audience of 1000+.

Jonathan Shimwell

Project: A Transportable Modular Bed of Nails for Outreach Events

During 2013, visitors to a number of public events in and around Sheffield will experience what it is like to lie on a bed of nails. The exhibit will be facilitated by physics communicators and concepts such as ‘why is it better to sit on many nails as opposed to just one?’ will be explored. The activity will appeal to all age groups and aims to engage 1000 people over the course of the year. Events will include The Sheffield Festival of Science and Engineering, and Norton Farmers’ Market. A full list of events and dates will be available online once they are confirmed.

Tony Simmons, Combe Mill Society

Project: Combe Mill Physics Trail

Combe Mill has a fully functioning steam mill engine, and on eight special steaming days in 2013 there will be an interactive physics trail for visitors, facilitated by specially trained volunteers with backgrounds in physics and engineering. The trail will visit four key area of the mill - the waterwheel, steam beam engine, tower clocks and forge, allowing visitors to explore the physics concepts through interactive exhibits and expert facilitators. The trail expects to reach 3200 visitors and more information about the trail and days the trail will be running will appear on the Combe Mill website once confirmed.

Kathryn Dagless, Maritime Archaeology Trust

Project: Science Digs For History

Science in Action: underwater excavation is a set of hands on resources created by the Maritime Archaeology Trust, funded by a previous IOP Public Engagement Grant (Round 2, 2012). The resources enable people of all ages and backgrounds to explore an airlift in an interactive way, highlighting the role of physics in archaeological digs. During 2013 the resources will become more widely available as members of three local Young Archaeologists Clubs will learn how to use them, make a short online video to explain the physics, and run their own activity for the general public. More information about the resources will appear on the Maritime Archeology website

Kerry O’Shea, University of Glasgow

Project: Magnetism: The Attraction is Clear

Levitation! Dancing liquids! Marble launcher! Participants will have the chance to explore the various properties of magnets and discover how they behave around each other through a series of interactive displays. The applications of magnetism are extremely wide-ranging and people utilise magnets throughout their day in a large number of ways, possibly without realising it. Participants will be invited to ‘fish’ for items with a magnetic fishing rod and determine why some objects can be reeled in while others cannot. A variety of magnets will also be provided along with some iron powder to explore the different magnetic field patterns produced. Visually stunning patterns can also be made by placing magnets close to a magnetic liquid or ferrofluid, and participants will get the chance to try to make the liquid ‘dance’. Additionally, the ability to defy gravity with magnets will be explored by levitating a small object in mid-air. In a final demonstration, the use of magnets to firstly accelerate and subsequently collide a sequence of steel balls before finally launching one will also be on display, an exhibit that demonstrates other concepts in physics, such as conservation of momentum and kinetic energy transfer. This project has been designed for the Glasgow Science Centre as part of their ‘Meet the Expert’ scheme, where experts are required to provide their own materials.

Dr. Joanne Bibby, University of Central Lancashire

Project: A Dome Museum at Alston Observatory

This project will initiate the development of Alston Observatory into the first Science Hub in Lancashire. This science centre will be accessible to people of all ages across Lancashire and neighbouring communities. The Wilfred Hall telescope dome will be renovated into a unique museum and will provide visitors with an understanding of the history and science behind the telescope. Additional exhibits within the dome will explain the inner workings of telescopes, optics, and instruments that are still used today. To complement the museum and build on the knowledge on offer both day and night observing sessions will be offered for amateur astronomers, beginners and enthusiasts alike. This will provide visitors with an enhanced understanding of a variety of astronomical techniques used by professional astronomers.

Professor William Chaplin

Project: Music of the Sun and stars

When you look up at the sky on a clear night did you know that many of the twinkling stars are also playing a stellar symphony, just like musical instruments, which belies the true structure and nature of the stars? And did you know that the Sun is also playing its own “stellar symphony”? The study of this “music of the stars” is called helioseismology (for the Sun) and asteroseismology (for other stars). It provides unique insights on the structure and evolution of stars, and has led to unprecedented insights on the inner workings of the Sun, and other Sun-like stars, including those which host exoplanets.

The project will comprise an educational installation on the “music of the stars”, comprising a novel combination of science and art that aims to engage and inspire schoolchildren and members of the public with exciting, cutting-edge astronomy research. It will combine a four-channel sound installation created from actual helioseismic data by the sound artist Caroline Devine with animated educational material explaining the origins and use of the music of the stars in cutting-edge research.

The installation will be hosted at the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum for 3 months. The installation will also be in a second venue which is to be determined by the end of the year.

Chiara Mingarelli, University of Birmingham

Project: Looking for Black Holes with Lasers

Together with the University of Birmingham Gravitational Wave Group, I would love to bring our popular exhibit, “Looking for Black Holes with Lasers”, to the Cheltenham Science Festival. The exhibit guides the visitors through the world of gravity and gravitational waves through a series of hands on and interactive exhibits and experiments:

  • An interactive model of Einstein's Universe which shows how mass bends space-time and therefore how the solar system, Earth-moon system or any massive many body system works; the visitors are encouraged to experiment with different masses to see how varying these can affect the dynamics of massive systems (advanced concepts extend to searching for exoplanets and GPS networks).
  • A working Michelson interferometer demonstrates how we can search for gravitational waves on the Earth with mega projects such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).
  • Video games developed by our group including Black Hole Pong and Space-Time Quest—where the user learns how to build a gravitational wave detector1 and then uses it to find gravitational waves.
  • Visitors can also see themselves in our live webcam feed, projected in real-time, which stretches and squashes viewers as a gravitational wave passing through them would.

We have found this ensemble of activities to be very engaging for people of all ages, as our exhibitions start by explaining the physics at a very basic level but can be extended to advanced concepts due to the expertise and experience of our group members.

Niall Christie

Project: Fundamentals of Modern Physics to Encourage Young Scientists

Between September and December 2013, the Physics Society of Dundee University will visit both a Boy’s Brigade company in Dundee as well as Scout troops in the area. To demonstrate some experiments that will bring some basic concepts of modern day Physics and related subjects to children giving them a small insight into what they might be learning in adolescence and even in later life. These will consist of four separate experiments that will be led by members of the society to small groups at a time. The experiments will be based on four major topics within the field; optics, electronics, renewables and mechanics. Despite being based upon what could be advanced subjects, they will be delivered in a manner that will appeal to kids of the designated age. Reflection of light will be demonstrated using mirrors and a light box, as well as asking the participants to make patterns with the lights they manipulate. For electronics, we will give them basic rules to follow, much like in logic gates, to solve a short problem solving sequence. Moreover, in Renewables, the basic concepts of how a solar powered car will be shown and how useful they are discussed. Lastly, in terms of Mechanics, we will use a classic marble run set-up to show how accelerations will allow different marbles to travel at different speeds, and how different paths travelled will lead to different speeds and times taken to travel.

Davina Christmas, Homemade Music Ltd

Project: Centrally Heated Knickers – adventures in science and sound

Centrally Heated Knickers is a vibrant new production performed by legendary poet Michael Rosen with songs, grooves and flights of musical fancy from the Homemade Orchestra. Join us on an exciting adventure through science – where do noises come from? Why do we need plugs? Why do some things get hot and others not?! Centrally Heated Knickers will tour to 16 theatres throughout the UK from June to December 2013, performing to approximately 19,000 people and delighting schools groups, families and adults alike.

This exciting, interactive theatre piece (for ages 7+) will inspire children and adults to look at the weird and wonderful world around us and ask how it works and how we can make it work in different, better and more fun ways. Exploring the science of sound and introducing other science topics including electricity and thermodynamics, Centrally Heated Knickers will educate as it entertains and inspire audiences to find out more. Thanks to the Institute of Physics we can support audiences to find out more through post-show discussions and family-focused workshops.

Edward Gomez

Project: Cosmos in your pocket, Las Cumbres Observatory

In partnership with the international project Universe Awareness (EU-UNAWE), we have created an astronomy activity booklet for 5-11-year-olds. The purpose of the activity booklet is to engage children in a mixture of learning about astronomy and creative play. The booklet is A6 size with a buff coloured cover, ideally suited to be kept in a pocket, and has been designed to be written and drawn in directly. The content has been through rigorous review process already, with international focus groups (it has been translated into 19 languages) and modified according to the feedback received. We request funds to print the English language version of the booklets with the purpose of giving them away for free at local and national events.

Dr Gordon Ewen, Letchworth and District Astronomical Society

Project: Unlocking the Universe: Explaining the Physics behind the Astronomy

Our intent is to organise a series seminars/workshops to explain the basic laws of physics behind the development of the universe. Many members of our astronomical society have good observational skills but very limited knowledge of the physics behind the astronomy. Additionally, it is clear from our public astronomy activities, especially the Stargazing Live event in January 2013, that there is an unsatisfied appetite in the general public.

The society has about 180 members and over the last year we typically have 100 visitors at public events. For this special programme of events we intend to advertise more widely to attract more attendees. Our target audience size is 70 people.

The dates for the first 5 lectures are planned as follows:

May 15 The Birth of the Solar System – Graham Thompson
June 12 Spectroscopy – Dr Gordon Ewen
July 17 The Life of a Star Part 1, The Fundamentals – David Young
Sept 11 Relativity - Stan Waterman
Oct 9 Optics and Astronomy – Nick Ellis

If these lectures are a success we have plans for 8 more. The talks will be held in Elizabeth Howard Hall in Letchworth or at our observatory. These 5 talks will cover, amongst other topics: Gravity, Newton’s laws, nuclear fusion, electromagnetic spectrum, absorption and emission spectra, red shift, Hubble’s Law, Kepler’s laws, HR diagram, general and special relativity, and optical considerations in astronomy.

Simon Jago, Techniquest

Project: Techniquest on Tour 2013

The aim of this project is to overcome economic and geographic barriers and to take the science centre experience direct to people who are at risk of disadvantage and who live in rural communities. This will be achieved through a travelling roadshow which will take the science centre experience direct to three communities across South Wales.

The roadshow will be run in town centres in the following communities: Cwmbran, Merthyr Tydfil and Ebbw Vale. A two day physics roadshow will be delivered at each of the venues, consisting of the following staffed activities:

Mini transportable interactive exhibits - that will replicate the Techniquest experience out in the community. They will communicate the physics principles of forces, light and sound and materials. The exhibits will include activities such as: “placing a ball in an airstream and observing it’s amazing, gravity-defying behaviour”."Squeeze a handgrip and see the force of the grip in Newtons” Use a video microscope” and many more.

Science activities and demonstrations - delivered by our science presenters, demonstrations will include firing an Alka-Seltzer rocket (showing the impact of forces / pressure), creating a human circuit (lighting a light bulb with people and a large battery), and visitors wearing prism glasses, which will alter their visual perceptions.

Furthermore the visitors will also receive a copy of Techniquest's `Little Book of Tricks', which contains nine short experiments that visitors can try at home.

Paul Kerr, The Derby High School Specialist Science Arts College

Project: Science @ Home

Science @ Home aims to make Science a talking point outside of the classroom. It aims to instil confidence, allowing pupils to use the medium of practical Science as an ice-breaker enabling them to enthuse about their passion for the subject as well as communicating the meaning of Science to a wider audience. Students will become teachers, families will become their classes. Extending the project into the wider community, through busking events reaching audiences both young and old will maximise its overall impact. The project will conclude with two evening events, featuring Dr Matt Pritchard from Science Magic Shows performing ‘Could it be Magic?’ The show will present to both KS2 and Y7/8 pupils with their parents.

Ryan Laird, UKSEDS

Project: 50 years of Women in Space

On 16 June 1963, Valentina Tereshkoava made the first female flight in space. 16 June 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of this event. This is a notable anniversary in its own right but also offers a significant opportunity to raise the profile of space in the UK this year.

Although this anniversary has clear significance for human spaceflight, it also offers an excellent opportunity to focus attention on many other space and space-related activities and showcase the UK’s achievements and expertise in these areas. General interest in astronauts is high and is used frequently as a powerful tool for education, outreach and public engagement.

In 2013, Tereshkova’s role as the first female in space and the timing of the 50th anniversary of her flight will provide a very strong ‘hook’ to capture attention, which can be subsequently redirected to the wider UK space community. We would also like to take this opportunity to remember the first American women in space, Sally Ride passed away on 23rd July last year.

UKSEDS' mission is to provide a forum through which students can become involved in the international space community by encouraging and facilitating student space projects, building links between students and other parts of the space community, and engaging in outreach activities to promote space and STEM subjects.

Our aim in this project is to inspire and educate as many students as possible about space while seeking to address the gender imbalance. This project will provide a single overarching framework to stimulate and facilitate events and activities in the name of women in spaceflight.

Professor Robert E Miles

Project: Second Sidmouth Science Festival October 14th – 20th, 2013

The aim of the Sidmouth Science Festival is to show how science and technology play an important part in everyday life. We will do this by having talks, hands-on activities, discussions, science trails and demonstrations.

Dr Alessandro Narduzzo, University of Bath

Project: Serious Fun Physics Roadshow

At present BRLSI offers formal ‘hands on’ STEM workshops on the 2nd Saturday of each month for children under 11. In addition BRLSI has provided workshops for two rural primary schools and as part of a ‘Heritage’ open evening at The Roman Baths. In May BRLSI is offering three workshops at the local library.

The physics expertise for these workshops is provided by members of the Physics Department at the University of Bath, undergraduates, postgraduates and staff. Students are either Physics Ambassador volunteers or involved in outreach activities as part of their taught programmes (Final Year Projects or the Communicating Physics module). 2nd Saturday workshops at BRLSI, currently run in an imposing Georgian Building in the centre of Bath, are not effectively inclusive, as this is in the main a rural area.

We would like to be able to provide the physics workshops as a flexible ‘roadshow’, to reach small village schools and community groups, especially in the more disadvantaged areas. The roadshow will consist of a series of self-contained hands-on activities exploring the physics of sound, electricity and magnetism. The developed kit will be easy to carry, unload and use in any location by means of a trolley and 5 physics fun bags which can be used with parental and/or volunteer supervision at various advertised locations and times during school holidays and at weekends.

Andrew Newsam, Astrophysics Research Institute, Liverpool John Moores University

Project: The Galaxy Garden “Watch this Space” at RHS Tatton Show

Tatton Park Flower Show is the Royal Horticultural Society’s show in the North of England, and one of the most successful festivals in the UK, attracting about 100,000 visitors each year. In 2013 (25th-28th July), the National Schools’ Observatory is working with gold-medal garden designers Dori and Howard Miller to create a Galaxy Garden called “Watch this Space” that brings together exciting modern garden design, and the astrophysics of stars and galaxies. Here we propose to maximise engagement by supporting a team of physics “guides” who will help the public explore both the horticultural and scientific aspects of this unique opportunity.

Naomi Wyles, Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre

Project: Exploring Solar Physics at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park 2013

Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre has been invited to take part in the RHS Tatton Flower Show 2013 at Tatton Park from 25-28 July 2013. This is primarily because of the extensive gardens we have on site but we are being allowed to do some science demonstrations to promote Jodrell Bank while we are there. Our education team will be at Tatton Park for the duration of the RHS show.

Around 80,000 people are expected to attend over the 4 days of the show and the core audience is female and aged 55+ (data supplied by RHS). These people are not the same people we would normally expect to visit Jodrell Bank. Our presence there will promote Jodrell Bank and our chosen subject, solar physics, to a large number of people not previously engaged with physics.

We have chosen solar physics as our theme since the RHS have chosen Galaxy Gardens as the theme for five of this year’s show gardens (and we will have planted two displays to replicate our own Galaxy Garden at Jodrell Bank) and so talking about stars is relevant. It is also a year of maximum solar activity this year so showing people what is happening on the sun and how it affects us here on Earth is also timely.

We have been allocated a site in prime position opposite the five Galaxy Gardens to set up our equipment in. We aim to take a selection of demonstrations which are portable e.g. plasma balls and models showing the expanding universe, as well as some solar telescopes to view the Sun to the show. We will also take some general physics busking activities with us to grab people’s attention.