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Public Engagement Grant Scheme funded projects 2014

Project summaries from the winning applications

Jane Cutler, Buckinghamshire Federation of Women’s Institutes (BFWI)

Project: Investigation and Discovery

The Women’s Institute was started in1915 with the aim of educating women. Unfortunately science has not been an educational opportunity which has been well received in Buckinghamshire. We are organising a day devoted to science, with speakers passionate about their subjects, to coincide with the national science week in March.

The following speakers have agreed to represent physics:

  • Dr John Methven, Reader in Atmospheric Dynamics, Dept of Meteorology University of Reading. He will talk about the weather.
  • Professor Caroline Crawford, Outreach Officer at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge and Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College. She will speak on “A Voyage Round Saturn, its Rings and Moons”

Emma Dodds and Charlotte Hale, Flux Dance Theatre

Project: The Third Law

The Third Law is a dance- theatre piece inspired by the physics and movements of a Newton’s Cradle. The work oscillates around societal relationships and questions how they could be linked to, or further still, dictated by - the basic laws of physics. A metaphor is created on stage using the simple image of a Newton’s Cradle, exploring how the balance of power continually shifts in society, as - like a Newton’s Cradle - reaction follows certain and predictable reactions. The role of art is to reflect reality and reveal universal truths. One constant truth is the fact we are monopolized by these scientific laws. Flux seeks to put these observations in theatrical form whilst also providing high-quality educational workshops for GCSE and A Level students. Our aim is to foster and encourage further interest in STEM subjects, particularly Physics, through our interactive dance workshops and dance theatre performance.

Jon London, Out of this World Learning

Festivals Circuit

Out of this World Learning is small company with 2 employees that run science workshops in schools. We want to take our workshops and interactive display pieces out of the classroom and into the community at events such as local science festivals, village fates, science fiction conventions and other meetings where we would not be able to go. We are especially keen to get to events that you would NOT expect to see real science, but where the audience would be receptive, such as science fiction conventions, cosplay events etc. Last year there were several events we attended, in an unfunded capacity. We would love to be able to go again, but transport costs in particular make it prohibitively expensive to attend all of the events we are invited to.

Dominic McDonald, Science Oxford

Project: Undercover Physics

Undercover Physics will engage 300 families with the physics underlying their everyday lives. On 8 March 2014, at the launch event for the 2014 Oxfordshire Science Festival (OSF), 10 local shops will display a showcard illustrating an aspect of physics relevant to their business: in the case of a cafe, heating and cooling; in the case of a jeweller, the formation of heavy metals inside supernovae.

The launch event for OSF attracts around 5000 people, 80-90% of whom are not visiting specifically to take part. It is therefore an excellent way of engaging with audiences who do not usually take part in science activities. A small prize will be offered to families that complete the trail.

Showcards will be double sided. On one side will be an equation and 50 words of text; on the other side will be a professionally produced cartoon illustrating the process. The project is based on a similar “Undercover Chemistry” project in at the launch of OSF2013, which saw 200 families take part.

Beth Mortimer, Oxford Silk Group

Project: SILK interactive stand at the Big Bang Fair

This grant will help us to fund an interactive exhibit for two days at the Big Bang Fair 15th and 16th March 2014 at the NEC in Birmingham. This is a huge-scale science fair, where 35000 people are expected to visit over the weekend, expected to be mainly families. Presented by researchers from the Oxford Silk Group, the SILK interactive stand is divided into exhibits on silkworms and spiders, combining hands-on activities, expert demonstrators and the animals themselves.

The aim of the stand is to raise awareness of how different scientific disciplines can work together to influence future technologies. In particular our stand uses silk research as an excellent example the value gained by combining physics, biology and engineering. We will highlight both the benefits of physics and physical sciences approaches to biology – for example quantifying the mechanical properties of silk using hands-on tensile testing. Additionally, we also highlight the value of natural diversity for understanding energy efficient physical processes which can be harnessed for everyday life. For example, another hands-on activity involves making and testing silk-based composite plates - a ‘green’ energy absorbing material that one day may be found in protective clothing, or even a car body.

We support these activities with science-trained demonstrators - a mix of silk experts and trained student volunteers from a range of scientific backgrounds. We encourage participation with eye-catching presentation of the live animals and silk structures, and will have ‘goodies’ and information leaflets to take-away from the stand.

Hiran Patel, Social Steam Engine Community Association

Project: Social Steam Engine Wellbeing and Science Workshop

We aim to make physics accessible to the most vulnerable in our society who are excluded from learning about and enjoying physics. Specifically we will target service users of social care services and their carers, living in Wolverhampton in a fun and innovative way to explore the role of non –medical, non -biological and non -psychological science in improving individual and community wellbeing

We plan to target Black Minority Ethnic individuals accessing statutory or third sector social care services in Wolverhampton but the event will be open to all service users and carers regardless of BME status.

The workshops will take place between April and August 2014 at the Brickkiln Street Community Centre Wolverhampton West Midlands. We are planning to host 4 activity workshops around physics of linking the physics of colour, gravity, astronomy and motion  to individual wellbeing

The astronomy workshop for example will centre around making a basic telescope using refuse and magnifying glasses, leading onto a discussion about day and night and why and how service users are excluded from enjoying the night sky and how contemporary physics could help reduce that exclusion.

Xanthe Pitt, Ramsgate Town Team

Project: “…the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe”

Here in Ramsgate we want to bring enriching educational opportunities to people who would not usually have the opportunity to take advantage of them by weaving them into the fabric of their everyday experience. Over a two day period people going about their weekday shopping in Ramsgate Town Centre will find a pop-up planetarium, supplied by the University of Kent and installed temporarily within an empty shop has appeared within their shopping parade. The shop front will have been decorated in a high quality, imaginative way by local artists and will have been advertised for some time in advance through posters, local press and social media. Shoppers can wander in; listen to an accessible and interactive talk about the night sky given by a physicist. They will be told about the relevance of astronomy to their everyday lives by hearing, for example, about the recent meteor in Russia and the Comet ISON. They will be told about current research going on in Kent University, only twenty minutes away on the train, and will be given a ‘planisphere’  to enable them to identify the stars and planets for themselves – something that they can do at any time at no cost and share with their friends and families. They will have been introduced to astronomy without having had to step out of their ordinary lives.

4 shows per day will be given over two days. The planetarium has the capacity for an audience of 30 people. Public liability insurance etc will of course be obtained and all necessary health and safety requirements will be complied with.

Richard Robinson, Brighton Science Festival

Project: Moog Music

The invention of the Moog synthesizer 50 years ago, in 1964 will be commemorated by some hands-on activities for 11+ aged children and families.  The project will introduce people to some aspects of electricity, and then allow them to play with them and create very simple electronic machines, specifically a musical instrument. The activities can be timed (up to 30 at a sitting) or drop-in, and can be adapted for class use, linking to the Key Stage 3 curriculum. (NC 3.1 Energy, electricity and forces). These will be presented at the Brighton Science Festival half term workshops Feb 22-23 2014 in the Brighton Youth Centre. The workshop leads to an understanding of electrical resistance, capacitance and the nature of sound.

Participants construct an electric organ from resistance wire, capacitors, oscillators and speakers. Before doing that, and in order to understand the processes, they make: a simple capacitor from paper (dielectric) and kitchen foil (plates); a simple sound generator from a piece of paper; a simple variable resistor from a pencil. They study: the nature of resistance and how a capacitor works using a water analogy; the connection between resistance, heat and incandescent light bulbs, using resistance wire; and the convenience of a commercial resistor over loose resistor wire.

Then they apply that knowledge to some simple equipment to make music, perhaps playing a tune together in harmony.

Paul Smith, Youth Hostel Association Llanddeusant

Project: Physics at Llanddeusant Youth Hostel

There are many people who want to access physics activities at primary school age but the schools often do not have the expertise & equipment.  I aim to provide these for small groups (max 20) and to allow for them to explore the activities and be able to stay at the hostel late enabling them to experience stargazing (the hostel is in a Dark Skies area, (Western Brecon Beacons).  The activities I am putting together are designed to be affordable & can be delivered in a variety of settings, if the weather is not good enough for rockets, they can become drag racers indoors, if it is too cloudy for using the telescopes, the group can create lighting for model houses. 

Once this scheme is running I will aim to create duplicate activities at other youth hostels throughout the UK network.  This will enable ‘physics camps’ style breaks to be run at costs that are affordable as the hostels offer budget family accommodation.

Nicky Thomas

Project: Wonders of the Electromagnetic Spectrum

To celebrate the innovative world firsts achieved in Malvern at QinetiQ and its predecessors over the years, Malvern Library will host an Electromagnetic Spectrum and Physics Imaging day, to appeal to a wide range of backgrounds and age groups. This event is planned for September so we are in the early stages of planning. We intend to repeat similar events - potentially annually and in different venues in the region.

The event will include hands-on, drop-in workshops based around the EM spectrum using demonstrations and activities. Participants can make, and take away, devices or items related to imaging and the EM spectrum.

Several interactive and engaging talks will explain the physics behind such groundbreaking inventions as thermal imaging, RADAR, liquid crystal displays, LIDAR, millimetre wave imaging given by imaging specialists.

In the main library, a fixed online display, posters and a display of equipment and related objects will give information about imaging innovations and uses of the electromagnetic spectrum for imaging.

Kevin Walker and Karin von Ompteda, Royal College of Art

Project: Data Physicalisation

We aim to render physics data in new physical, spatial, multisensory and experiential forms, in a month-long project with MA students at the Royal College of Art, then display the results in a public exhibition.

We have run similar projects so far, using urban data and social statistics. This project will be our first opportunity to use data from the physical sciences. It takes place in March 2014, and the resulting projects will be produced by the students at the RCA in collaboration with physics PhD students from Imperial College London. The selected works will be unveiled at a public event - date and venue soon to be announced.

Amanda Bowens, Maritime Archaeology Trust (MAT)

Project: Set Lasers to Scan: Archaeology in 3D

The MAT will create an outreach activity which will engage the public with 3D recording techniques and develop an understanding of how lasers work and how they can be used to record the world around us.

The project will work with 30 Young Carers in Hampshire during 2014, enabling participants to build a simple laser scanner which will be used to scan archaeological objects. The scanner will consist of a laser pointer, acrylic bar, web cam and rotating platform. This is connected to a piece of open source software which calculates the position of the laser reflections in order to build up a 3D model of the object being scanned.

This activity will consist of two workshops during which participants will learn about lasers, create a scanner, and scan artefacts, as well as two sessions at public events to demonstrate the technology and processes.  During the workshops, participants will also create material for a 'DIY Laser Scanner' guide and posters to be displayed at the demonstration sessions.

Laser scanning is still a comparatively new technology but has already had a huge impact on recording and interpretation within archaeology. The technique has led to fresh discoveries about known sites and artefacts, changing the way we think about them; it has increased accessibility to the physical remains of heritage through online 3D models and helped to construct robust visual interpretations.  Its usefulness will continue to grow in the future and will soon become a staple of archaeological investigation.

Niall Christie, Dundee University Physics Society

Project: Fundamentals of Modern Physics to Encourage Young Scientists

In autumn and winter 2014, the Dundee University Physics Society will take part in a Dundee City Council family fun day as well as re-visiting a Boy’s Brigade company in Dundee with the goal of using advanced level Physics (which has been simplified for different age groups) to engage a new generation of budding young Physicists in the area. Throughout this time, the society will both visit and take out those involved; bringing demonstrations and small scale building projects on what would normally be large scale experiments on Electricity, Magnetism and Particle Physics. These will be supplemented with a discussion on the topics, as well as small activities ranging from the science of bubbles, to the basics of Renewable Energy to using everyday products to glow in the dark. It is our hope that these will inspire those children who are involved to take an active interest in Physics and science and to take this back to their schools and to plant a seed of interest for later life. 

Dr Tracey Dickens, The University of Leicester

Project: Halloween Physics

Halloween, a time for trick and treating, dressing up, sharing ghost stories and most importantly doing some fun physics. On Saturday the 25th of October the department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester will be transformed in to a Halloween mad science laboratory and aim to reach over 500 children and their parents/guardians to show case that physics can be fun and entertaining and features in our everyday lives. They will enjoy an afternoon of ghoulish activities and haunting storytelling. With six themed rooms many aspects of physics will be covered:

  • Frankenstein’s Laboratory – Electricity (Van der Graaff generator, Jacobs’s ladder, energy stick),Cornflour monsters (non-Newtonian fluid and wave frequencies), Soap monsters (Charles Law), pressure laws (vacuum bell jar) and centripetal acceleration (screaming balloons).
  • Werewolf Lair  - Phases of the moon and cratering, werewolf and the hunter (classic take on the monkey and the hunter experiment for projectile motion)
  • Pumpkin Patch - Dry ice and Liquid Nitrogen demonstrations (changes of state molecules and Kinetic energy) and fluorescence.
  • Are you afraid of the dark? - Quantum mechanics, energy levels and photon emission (fluorescence, phosphorescence and chemiluminescence) and ghost writing (light drawing with long-exposure photography).
  • The Doctor is in - Golden rod paper, Fake blood
  • Witches Cauldron - Mentos and coke display, Liquid Nitrogen ice cream, Liquid Nitrogen Sweets, bubbling cauldron’s, spooky sweets, edible slime, refraction (ghost eggs)

Dr Sharon George, Keele University

Project: Wish you were Here Space Voyage

This project is an extension of a newly installed sculpture trail linking Keele University Earth Observatory and Space Observatory at the Sustainability Hub. The large sculptures are made by local female artists and echo the region’s heritage in pottery, steelwork and creativity. This Space Voyage Project, aimed at families, will allow Hub visitors to visualise the Solar System through a virtual experience.

Using green-screen technology members of the public  will “visit”  a planet, or even the sun, in our solar system by taking a flight in a model voyager and will report back to Earth on how long it took to get there from Earth, whether the planet has a surface, what the atmosphere is like and the weather conditions.  Audiences can view the “visit” on a projection screen in a “control centre”. Props, including the model voyager will be lightweight and modular so they can be easily transported. The film can be saved by the family as a souvenir and Space Reporters will get a “Wish you were here” postcard with planet facts, links to the Planet Trail and a screenshot of themselves in the Space craft at the chosen venue.

This mobile resource will be used at the Sustainability Hub during Spooktacular, 31 November 2014, a public science event at Keele Sustainability Hub attended by members of the general public at Halloween for around 500 people and during future family fun days and outreach events through the year at the Hub.

Sonya Hallett & Fergus Ray Murray

Project: Atomic Arcade

Atomic Arcade is an interactive atom-building simulator that allows users to build their own atoms by ‘firing’ protons and neutrons with an old-style arcade machine or within an app. The behaviour and movement of the particles are designed to illustrate the basic behaviours of atomic nuclei, and the relationships between the elements. This will be a visually engaging piece of art using humour, animation and explorational gameplay to communicate scientific principles.

The public presentation of this project will involve:

  • Temporary installation of Atomic Arcade in public venues such as cafes and public spaces in Edinburgh, with a physicist on hand to give further explanation and answer questions.
  • Installation at the Dundee Science Festival on weekend of November 15th 2014. Planned tour of Mini Maker Faires in London and Dundee in Oct/November 2014.
  • Release of a free iOS and Android app version of Atomic Arcade, along with an online version, that will allow an even wider audience to experiment, interact and learn. We also have plans for additional features for the app version following its release, such as electron arrangements and further game elements.

Dr Anna Hourihane and Dr Heather Campbell, University of Cambridge

Project: Gaia: Mapping the Milky Way from space

Launched by the European Space Agency in December 2013, the Gaia satellite will measure positions – including distances – and motions for one billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy. Gaia encompasses very accessible science of wide appeal, addressing such fundamental questions as the origins of stars, planets, chemical elements, the Milky Way itself. Combining the data with spectra from dedicated ground-based surveys, we will determine the present structure and history of our Galaxy. Gaia will also discover transient objects (such as some of the most explosive events in the Universe, including supernovae), many observable by the public using robotic or private telescopes. The public will be able to feed this data back to the Gaia team and contribute to cutting edge scientific research. More information can be found on our Gaia website 

We will bring Gaia to a wide public audience with an exhibition at the family Saturday of the British Science Festival (BSF) in Birmingham in September 2014. The BSF is the largest and longest-running science event in Europe. We will already have exhibition materials developed for the 2014 Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition which we will re-use. However, an important aspect of the BSF event is the younger demographic and for this reason we will need to develop dedicated hands-on activities to appeal to younger children. Gaia's impressive precision – equivalent to resolving a 20p coin on the moon – depends on parallax: one activity we will develop will explain the technique of parallax to children.

Dr Sarah Kendrew, University of Oxford

Project: Astronomy at Green Man Festival: Little Green Man’s Guide to the Universe

Our project consists of an astronomy-themed stall for the Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons, Wales (14-17 August 2014). Green Man host an area on the festival terrain named “Einstein’s Garden”, for science-themed exhibits and activities. With our stall we will bring a range of interactive activities to the 20,000-strong festival audience, which includes families with children as well as music lovers of all ages. The centrepiece of our stall will be a Solar telescope that safely shows an image of the Sun to our visitors. We will have a hands-on 'make your own solar telescope' activity to produce a projected image of the Sun showing sunspots and flares, and a number of other interactive playful activities, with themes ranging from the solar system, alien worlds, the structure of the universe and how it all began. Having consulted with previous participants, our activities are tailored to children aged approx. 8+ and adults.

Kevin Morgan, Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids’ Clubs

Project: Pulleys and what not!

Pulleys and what not! – is a 2 hour event for Playworkers from Out of school Childcare clubs across South East Wales in which we will demonstrate safe, simple, science experiments that are fun and informative. It will follow the theme of forces and energy and how science works. There will be an opportunity for playworkers to participate in experiments in order to gain a greater understanding of the mechanics and theory behind each experiment.

Having an event which is specifically geared to playworkers from childcare clubs will give them the confidence and opportunity to plan more structured activities for older children who attend their settings. In carrying out some of the experiments like Moon & Tides, Gears & Pulleys and Hovercraft from the event they will be assisting children to understand different forces and energy and how these affect them in life.

Giving reason to why things happen might inspire the children to explore the many fields of science in later life and who knows another little Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton might be waiting to be discovered.

Chella Quint

Project: It’s Not You. I Just Need Space. (interplanetary letters of love and rejection.) A Comedy Show by Chella Quint

It’s Not You. I Just Need Space. (interplanetary letters of love and rejection) promises to be an entertaining evening of outer space comedy: an exploration in epistolary form of the news in space, performed by comedian, comedy writer, and amateur astronomer Chella Quint.

In this stand up, sketch show and comedy performance lecture, current events as reported on the BBC news website and other reputable space-related news sources are communicated through letters, memos, voicemail and postcards sent and received, using humour, pathos and a more than liberal sprinkling of puns.

On 28th October, 2014 as part of the Off The Shelf Festival of Words, comedy fans will be invited to Sheffield’s world-famous venue, The Leadmill, for an evening of space media-literate comedy. Audience members will be encouraged to arrive early to participate in pre-show activities including space-food tasting and quizzes on the latest news from space.

The Twitter hashtag #ijustneedspace will be used to keep up the participation at the interval, promotion and evaluation will be via social media (including the fanzine’s Tumblr). Attendees will be invited to write their own space letters using prompts created by local astronomers, including retired University of Sheffield Professor David Hughes. These letters will be photographed and tweeted, and who knows – there may even be some replies!

Throughout the evening, audience members will be treated to flying saucers, Space Raiders, and astronaut food. It is hoped that through well-crafted comedy, enthusiasm and sweets, they will have a deeper connection to the news from space, will become ‘space fans’ themselves, and will continue to seek out and identify with astrophysics-themed news stories. At the end, attendees will be asked to join the Outer Space Fan Club by completing an evaluation in exchange for a sticker, a badge, and a souvenir program and fanzine of some of the letters.

Rosemary Richards, Gravity Fields Festival

Project: Space Station Grantham, @gravityfields

Space Station Grantham takes place as part of the Gravity Fields Festival 2014. The festival incorporates arts, heritage and science events for all ages. Space Station Grantham is an outdoor video mapping projection  event and sound installation with accompanying science activities outreach on the evenings of Wednesday 24th and Saturday 27th September 2014.   The event is designed to reach an outdoor event audience of 10,000  and to provoke interest and conversation about space science and space travel both amongst the audience and in the media.

Other astronomy/space themed creative activity with community participants will be staged in the same location.

Using NASA and other video imagery a space rocket will launch from the tower of St Wulfram’s Church, Grantham – by means of an evening long projection event repeating a space rocket launch sequence with accompanying soundtrack in 10 to 15 minute cycles.

The projection and soundscape will catch the attention of literally thousands of visitors This application is to support the work of the video mapping artist who will compile launch images, the soundtrack and create the video mapping. 

Once compiled the video will also be used alongside other space and astronomy events at the festival.

Suzanne Rose, Mass Observation Archive

Project: Domestic Science at the Mass Observation Archive

The Mass Observation Archive (MOA), based at The Keep, University of Sussex, contains a unique collection of everyday life in Britain. It has been capturing the experiences, thoughts and opinions of British people since 1937, giving a rich and detailed archive of everyday life over the past decades.

This project aims to use the archives to illustrate how the application of physics influences how we live day to day, with particular focus on the development and use of domestic appliances.

On 1st November 2014, The Keep will open its doors to families (approx 300 visitors) where they will be led on a trail taking them through the use of domestic appliances through the years.

Four stations of The Keep will be set up to explore the physics behind:

Washing: washing machine, detergents and dishwasher
Cooking: ovens, including microwave ovens and refrigeration
Heating: electric bar heaters and central heating
Entertainment: music, record players and CDs

At each station visitors will be able to read a selection of stories from the archive about our use of appliances in the home, see related images from the Science Museum collections online, and try out a series of hands-on activities including some ‘make and takes’ manned by physics students from Sussex University to help show the physics involved in their development and use.

At the end of their trail the visitors will be asked what they see in their homes in the future, and asked how they think this will influence how we live. We will also encourage submissions via the MOA Twitter account. All of these suggestions will be uploaded to the MOA website, along with a summary of the project and images used, reaching a wider audience.

Patricia Turner, Simply Science and Engineering

Project: Connecting with Gravity and Air

With the recent success of the movie “Gravity” and the media attention on the probe on Mars we would like to grab a hold of the public’s current interest in this subject and help them explore the physics involved in things relating to air and motion.

As our target audience (which in 2013 reached 50,000) enjoys the display of aerobatics featured at the Rhyl Air Show in North Wales on August 30 and 31, 2014, and in particular the feats performed by the famous Red Arrows, we want to engage them in the amazing physics involved enabling these feats to be performed.  And again as they hang upside down on the roller-coaster at the featured fun-fair, we will explore why they don’t fall out.

We will explore the physics involved in forces and motion, and in particular speed, acceleration, gravity, air resistance, momentum and friction by offering various practical hands-on activities and experiments.  Our goal is to bring these physics concepts to a wider audience and help the general public see that physics is all around us, and in fact is a part of our everyday lives.  Indeed they will see that they can have fun not only enjoying the things that the study of physics has helped to create but also while learning about physics and understanding Newton’s Laws about forces, energy and motion.