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Public Engagement Grant Scheme funded projects 2015

Project summaries from the winning applications

Sarah Walley, Ignite!

Project: Strelley Fun Palace

The project will provide an opportunity for an accessible and interactive community ‘Fun Palace’ event in Strelley, a disadvantaged area of Nottingham, inspired by the International Year of Light. The event will engage new ‘hard to reach’ family audiences with physics.

The event will be led by a steering group of young people aged between 10 and 15 along with both a scientist and creative practitioner. The group are from local Strelley clubs, including boxing and gymnastics, and have not typically engaged with science previously. The project will enable the group to work with an astronomer/physicist skilled at science communication and a creative practitioner to develop an inspirational day of light themed activity to be shared with their community. Together they will plan a day of experiments, demos and explore creative methods to engage predominantly family audiences with the physics of light. Exploring such areas as light pollution and the physics behind optical illusions and a camera obscura.

In partnership with Nottingham City Homes (responsible for Nottingham’s council houses) Strelley Fun Palace will take place in a lorry organised by Nottingham City Homes designed for public interaction. The lorry located at the local Asda Supermarket will provide an exciting and accessible mobile space in the heart of the community which will reach local families across ages (approx 750 individuals). The Strelley Fun Palace will take place on Saturday 3rd October as part of the Fun Palaces weekend – spaces in the community where art and science and fun and learning meet.

Alan Walker, University of Edinburgh

Project: PP4SS at the Orkney Science Festival

The project is to take the Particle Physics For Scottish Schools (PP4SS) exhibition (organised from Edinburgh) to the Orkney Science Festival in Kirkwall from 3-9 September 2015. PP4SS is a large exhibition with a series of hands-on exhibits and graphics displays on both particle accelerators and particle detectors. There are two main story themes (i) how do particle accelerators work and (ii) how do we detect the particle produced. The graphics panels in fact cover the whole of particle physics including the matter in the present Universe. The main purpose is to show how particle physics research is undertaken and how we can deduce the basic building blocks of matter and how they interact, culminating in the current Standard Model. The hands-on exhibits include live detection of cosmic ray muons using scintillators and working diffusion cloud chambers showing cosmic ray tracks and alpha particle tracks.

We have an interactive ‘Cosmic Ray Doorway’ to the exhibition triggered by both the visitor and the detection of vertically moving cosmic rays. Uniquely the PP4SS exhibition is normally fully staffed by experienced demonstrators the majority of whom are postgraduates or post-doctoral researchers working on LHC experiments at CERN or in closely related fields. At its venue of Kirkwall Grammar School it will be open to support lectures on related topics throughout the Festival, including a lecture by Alan Walker and Victoria Martin on ‘From Maxwell to Higgs and beyond’.

Scot Owen, Techniquest Glyndwr

Project: Physics at the Fire Station

This project aims to bring the physics underpinning firefighting and emergency rescue services to life with two one-day events in the summer/autumn of 2015.

A collaborative event with the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, is proposed for late August. Whilst North Wales Fire Service has already agreed to host an event, we propose to contact the nearby Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and propose that we run an identical event at one of their local stations, thereby extending our target audience and geographical reach.

The target audience will be local youth groups from around the Wrexham and Cheshire areas which will be invited into the fire station to experience a day of physics experiments and demonstrations linked to the operation of the fire service. Experienced members of the fire service have volunteered to be present to discuss the role physics plays in influencing decisions they make under pressure, decisions that might affect whether people and buildings will survive.

Techniquest Glyndŵr will supply live science demonstrations and interactive activities from its current science program that will highlight the role of physics in this professional scenario. Themes of the day will include convection, conduction and radiation of heat, Newton’s third law, forces, pressure, pneumatics and hydraulics. The project will highlight the importance and relevance of physics in fire prevention in everyday life and also in careers within the fire service.

William Wadsworth, University of Bath

Project: The Power of Light

Light is a powerful tool for understanding the world around us. At the University of Bath we are using light to help to answer questions such as “are we alone?”, “how can we cut the pieces for Smartphones more smartly?”, “am I well?”, “are fundamental constants really constant?”, “how can we make the internet cheaper?”. In the International Year of Light 2015 we are bringing these challenges and solutions to life through a hands-on activity with a spectroscope to make and take home. With a simple CD, a tube and a little know-how you can see the colours of light that come from the sun, and the different light bulbs that you might have in your house. You can understand the different ways to make light, you can even see what the sun is made of, you can understand the challenges we are addressing in making lasers of every colour, making the very best spectrometers for astronomy and finding alien planets. The activity is run by active researchers who each bring their own perspective and can explain exactly how what you are seeing fits in with their own cutting edge research. This activity has been enjoyed by participants of all ages from year 3-7 just beginning to understand light, to year 8-13 and adults with a range of science training and it even fascinates seasoned scientists who are used to seeing these things in large experiments, but are amazed what you can see with your own eyes.

Arun Bector, BME Housing Consortium

Project: S.T.O.R.M. ROADSHOW (Science Through the Operation of Remote Mechanisms)


  • To build on the success of our previous S.T.O.R.M. event by demonstrating the physics of momentum and forces through the experience of assembling and racing remote control electric and nitro cars, to people living with mental health problems, mild learning disabilities and older people living in supported or specialist housing schemes.


  • Men, women and young people (18+) especially from BME communities with life limiting health conditions.


  • 80 participants.


  • August 2015 to December 2015.


  • Wolverhampton.

What we are planning

  • Recruit 2 trainers to run 6 workshops assembling remote control electric and nitro cars across 4 months with up to 13 people attending each workshop and racing tournament event.
  • Purchase 1 electric and 1 nitro remote control cars to build (we already have 2 cars), which clients will learn from, assemble and race.
  • Video each workshop and racing tournament.

Description of the physics

  • Participants will learn the difference between electric motors and nitro fuel motors.
  • The physics explanation of each individual mechanism (starter motor, engine, glow plug, air filter, clutch, gear box, servo, suspension, battery, receiver, remote controller, nitro fuel) their function in both electric and nitro cars and how all these parts work together to produce momentum.
  • Demonstrate the physics and laws of momentum and forces by gather data at timed circuit trial racing tournaments.
  • The trainers will communicate information through discussions, hands-on demonstrations, one-to-one assistance in assembly and circulating handouts as construction guides.

Gregory Watson, Children’s Radio UK LTD

Project: So You Want To Know About… Waves?

Fun Kids is the UK’s radio station for children and their families. We entertain and help children learn by encouraging them to listen, use their imagination, develop interaction skills and help make them more aware of their wider environment. But Fun Kids is not just a station for children – it is very much a family listen, with over 620,000 children and parents listening across the UK each month.

Over the last 5 years, Fun Kids has created over 30 audio series to help introduce children to a range of topics, from the human body to space flight to life in the armed forces, in a style that is informative and entertaining; instilling within them a desire to find out more.

Our IOP Public Engagement project is to create a series of ten bespoke audio features for broadcast on Fun Kids and for free download (in perpetuity) to help introduce children to waves, namely light and sound waves, with a focus on those physical properties relevant for communication. Features will explore the underlying concepts, investigate research undertaken and outline practical applications. Further information will be provided on dedicated pages on the Fun Kids website where children will be able to find out more before being directed to relevant content on the IOP website.

While a family focussed initiative, our target audience is children aged 7 to 13 with an aim to capitalise on the current interest in waves given that 2015 is the International Year of Light.

Joseph Roche, Trinity College Dublin

Project: A Festival Show of Light & Sound

Music of the Spheres is a map of our solar system that's also a musical instrument, turning the physics of the planets and their orbits around the sun into musical notes. Powered by conductive paint and Arduino technology, this is an interactive take on an idea that has fascinated people for millennia: that there is musical harmony in the structure of the universe.

We will create two musical maps of the universe, that play notes when they are touched: a map of the solar system that plays a musical scale representing the different orbital lengths of the planets, and a map of some of the stars in the sky, that play musical notes corresponding to how long that light has travelled to reach earth.

The musical maps will be on display at Electric Picnic, Ireland’s largest music festival, and in Makeshop (a shop and workshop introducing people to the world of making) on Culture Night, an Ireland-wide event where museums and cultural institutions stay open late and put on special performances and workshops, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors. At these events, visitors will be able to play the musical maps and discuss the physics involved in them, and the technology used to bring them to life. We will also hold a workshop with secondary school students visiting Science Gallery for a week long mentoring programme, introducing them to conductive paint and Arduino technology.

Sarah Casey, Lancaster University

Project: Dark Matters – Our Imperceptible Universe

This mind-boggling proposition that 95% of our universe is invisible is the starting point for this project.

Artist Sarah Casey has worked alongside cosmologist Kostas Dimopoulos, and anthropologist of science, Rebecca Ellis, to explore how cosmology encounters mysterious matter that cannot be detected by light. How does cosmology study these imperceptible forces in our universe? Where is it? How is it revealed and what might it mean for the understanding the nature of our universe?

From 10-18th December 2015 we will stage an exhibition at the Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster, encompassing drawings, interpretation, images from cosmology, a 20 minute documentary film, booklet, 2 public talks and website. We will exhibit light-sensitive drawings, some made with heat, which cannot be seen from a single point of view, or that can only be viewed indirectly through reflections/ screens, mirrors, or from the reverse. Viewers will be invited to interact with the installation that is presented alongside visual and textual information introducing the cosmological issues. The aim is to engage an adult audience with complex and challenging ideas from cosmology though poetic, meaningful and playful encounter both in the gallery and online with an estimated audience upwards of 2500. It is aimed at adults working in education and the creative industries in North Lancashire/ Cumbria. The exhibition programme of public events is timed to mark the end of 2015 the Year of Light and coincides with academic outputs of a cosmology colloquium and end of project symposium at Lancaster University.

Jana Horal, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

Project: Light and the Natural World, family and adult workshops

This project uses mineral specimens to engage audiences in the exploration of the interaction between light and crystalline materials. We will deliver this through workshops providing an introduction to pleochorism (dichroism and trichroism), birefringence, double refraction, absorption spectra of visible light, and fluorescence in ultra violet light (short wave and length wave). Discovery will be facilitated by hands-on exploration and the properties of light, related to use in science and everyday technology.

The workshops will be developed and lead by mineralogists (Dr Jana Horak, C.Sci. and Tom Cotterell, MSc, C.Sci) with a sound knowledge of optics. The project includes opportunities for students to participate and develop their science communication skills through facilitation, and also to contribute to the refinement of workshop content after an initial evaluation by workshop participants.

Evaluation from the workshops will be used in the second part of the project to develop a pilot 'loan box', containing components of the workshop, plus guide notes and a PowerPoint presentation. This will be in bi-lingual format (English-Welsh) and loaned free to groups unable to attend the workshops, particularly those in geographically hard to reach groups. This will follow the tried and tested methodology for a loan scheme deployed by the Down2Earth project.

The project is aimed at family groups, non-curriculum youth groups (e.g. Scouts) and adults. Each workshop will be limited to approximately 20 participants to allow handling and investigation using real mineral specimens. These workshops will take place between late July and October 2015 at National Museum Cardiff.

Karen Alexander, The Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust

Project: ‘Harmony with Nature’ Geocache trail at Dumfries House Estate

The project consists of setting up a high tech treasure hunt using GPS monitors in line with the ‘Quest’ trail set up back in 2009 at Oxford University Harcourt Arboretum. The theme of the treasure hunt will be ‘Harmony with Nature’ - and aims to link physical science with nature. Similar to the ‘Quest’ trail in Oxford – participants will use GPS units to guide them to hidden containers (known as geocaches) in the Dumfries House estate grounds. Dumfries House has a vast amount of woodland and park area to explore, including a Victorian walled garden, arboretum, adventure swing park,’ Harmony’ play park (themed around Water, Air, Earth and Fire). The intention is to place activities in the boxes which relate to physics and make clear links with life science – observing how natural systems work. It is also a goal to demonstrate that the patterns in nature have a mathematical basis and how we can learn from nature when we consider product and architectural design – reflecting on the past and looking to the future.

Paul Smith, Llanddeusant Youth Hostel

Project: Meteor Impact at Llanddeusant Youth Hostel

Recipients will be able to launch ‘meteors’ and study flight path & energetics using the Trebuchets, these can be recovered using the remote control robots and robot arms, this is to mimic recovery of rocks by lunar and Mars rovers. Using the trebuchets will bring a more exciting and ‘variable’ element to the creation of craters, launching the meteors rather than just dropping them from set heights and this will involve a good deal of trial and error and analysis of the variables when launching projectiles. We will also use these as a lead-in activity to get groups who might be difficult to engage to join in.

We will be able to create a competition element as well as the practical applications and the equipment will enable us to carry out more activities indoors as needed.

We already have a suite of meteor based activities looking at impact craters using real impacts and Down2Earth simulation.

We have so far been invited to 6 large community activities and many smaller YHA, Home Ed and family centres in the period through the Summer & Autumn 2015, these are in the Brecon Beacons and Amman Valley, National Trust properties, Home Education groups in Llandovery & Lampeter and Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire & Powys MIND & GWALIA social housing. We are invited regularly to provide activities for the Brecon Beacons National Park educational groups who access and fund activities for underprivileged and under-represented groups.

Elisabetta Cannetta, St Mary’s University Twickenham

Project: Connecting Physics with Faith

The “Connecting Physics with Faith” project will enable Christians to engage with physics. It will aim to introduce the Christian audiences to the aspects of cosmology and quantum physics that are more related to creation and human consciousness: The Big Bang Theory and Quantum Superposition.

The event will include three interactive workshops that will be held at local parishes and at St Mary’s

University in October, November, and December 2015. If these workshops are successful, we are planning to repeat similar events annually on different aspects of physics.

The workshops topics will be varied; the first one devoted to the “creation” of the Universe and the Big

Bang Theory, the second exploring “human consciousness” and Quantum Physics, and the last workshop looking into the lives and scientific journeys of Fr. Dr. Georges Lemaître (cosmologists) and Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne (theoretical physicist) whose contributions to physics and theology are outstanding.

The workshops will follow a set pattern, delivered by physicists and theologians from St Mary’s University to enable an engaging exploration of physical concepts using faith as a familiar concept for those less familiar with physics. The workshops will comprise an interactive talk delivered by physicists followed by a debate between physicists and theologians.

The audience will be able to ask questions and make comments via Twitter @PhysicsStMarys. The hashtag #physicswithfaith will also be used to further promote participation during and beyond the workshops.

Matthew Allen

Project: Explore the Universe in Virtual Reality

Our project consists of two phone apps, based around Astronomy and our Universe, which can be used with Google cardboard. Google Cardboard is a cheap cardboard headset that can be used with smartphones to create a Virtual Reality headset. The apps will allow people to explore a 3D virtual reality model of our solar system and the Universe, imaged in different wavelengths of light, to celebrate the International Year of Light. Through using the apps, users will learn about the scale and model of our Solar system, facts about objects in our Solar system and the Universe and the physics behind why we study the universe in different wavelengths of light.

The grant will be used to pay for sets of the Cardboard headsets to demonstrate the apps at several events, run or attended by myself, as well as provide headsets to some members of the public. Whilst the apps are nearly fully developed, some of the grant will pay towards publishing the apps on the Google Play store, allowing anyone in the world to use the apps for free forever.

At several events, some aimed at families and some at adults, I will give talks on our solar system, the Universe and how light is used to study it. I will take along some of the headsets allowing people to use the apps, learn how to use virtual reality and ask questions on the physics shown in them.

Samantha Clark, Comma Press

Project: Thought X: an anthology, eBook, tour and online resource

To build on the five stories already written around the theme of ‘thought experiments’, with the commission of ten new stories, and the delivery of a full-length anthology (hardcopy and eBook), to be launched at three public events in late 2015.

When we commissioned a handful of short stories in 2013, as part of a previous IoP grant (see 2b), we were surprised by the enthusiasm with which writers responded to the theme. Some authors (like Anneliese Mackintosh working with Dr Michela Massimi) started their own responses to the brief, even after the project closed, while other, high profile writers expressed an interest in offering their own responses to the brief. Comma therefore feels a full-length anthology is both realistically attainable and the only way to do justice to the original idea.

The brief is to construct stories in which characters learn, engage with, or somehow ‘mirror’ classic

thought experiments, in such a way as to draw out metaphorical parallels between the concept and the character’s own human dramas. Physicists will suggest thought experiments and then, once allocated an author, will meet them, consult on the story as it develops, and write an accessible afterword, explaining the original thought experiment (these afterwords accompany their stories in the finished book). Comma will generate public engagement with the physics, through events, the book itself, free eBooks (including eBook ‘singles’), reviews, and online recordings of the events. IoP’s contribution would cover the cost of the original physicist-author meetings, and the various public events.

Tristan Green, The Last Baguette Theatre Company

Project: Tour of “What’s the Matter?” a comedy about physics

The Last Baguette theatre company has recently created a new comedy theatre show about quantum physics called "What's the Matter?". The show is a sci-fi adventure aimed at the general public, which explores subatomic physics in a fun and imaginative way, including topics such as the structure of the atom, electron energy states, quantum tunnelling, and wave/particle duality. It was developed in collaboration with Dr Helen Heath from Bristol University School of Physics, with funding from Arts Council England.

We will take the show on tour in summer and autumn 2015, to a mix of science, arts and rural touring venues including Malmesbury Carnival, Sidmouth science Festival, Trowbridge Arts Centre, Salisbury Arts centre, and the British Science Festival Fringe in Bradford.

The aim is to reach a large number of teenagers and independent adults, and spark interest and enthusiasm about quantum physics in those who don’t necessarily have a previous interest in the subject. We will take the project to geographically isolated areas in Wiltshire, where people might not have access to STEM activity nearby.

Dr Helen Heath has also provide a written information sheet to accompany the show, aimed at those without a prior knowledge of physics, and which suggests ways to find out more about the topics in the show.

We would like to apply to the scheme to help with the costs of touring the show around the country – for example van hire, petrol, and accommodation.