Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Nuclear Fusion goes Bang

We went to the Big Bang Fair South East to tell some 3000 kids about nuclear fusion. 

There were eight of us; we set off on our road trip hardly containing our enthusiasm and excitement. The van was full of exciting demonstrations that we knew would make some future physicists and engineers happy. 

Two cars and the van set off from Culham all singing ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ in unison. (I have poetic license here right…?) Then we hit traffic on the M25 and 3.5 hours later we arrived at the Holiday Inn emotionally beaten from road rage and boredom. However, things were looking up because there was a pub just across the road. After some hilarious banter and some steak we got ready for an early night, ready to reignite our enthusiasm for the long day ahead. Thankfully, before we retired, Greg noticed we had left the van’s headlights on (that's what that worrying beeping noise was when we got out! - that could have scuppered our hopes for any success the next day!). Jim, Sarah and Ailsa made sure they got their free toothpaste from the hotel reception (if it’s free, it’s worth having – we are not quite over the student-days yet).

At 6.00am we all emerged for our free breakfast buffet, although Jason was too late for his because he had been kept awake most of the night by the couple next door to him having an argument – also his bed was too soft *grumpy Jason*!

We set off for the South of England Showground to start our day. We collected our nice big ‘Ask me what I do’ badges and, most importantly, our free drinks vouchers. Then we were off to set up our stall.

By 9am we were ready with our vacuum chamber, marshmallows, balloons, plasma ball, and magnets and tubes. However, we’re most excited about the ‘Future Engineer’ and ‘Future Physicist’ stickers and decide to give them out to as many kids as possible.

Immediately, we had kids rushing up to touch the plasma ball. There were a few of these on various stands in the vicinity but, as one lady pointed out, ours was the biggest and best! I think the kids were really impressed when they got an explanation of how the plasma ball actually worked. We also had a light bulb that lit up when it touched the globe, which they loved, until Jason broke it…*even more grumpy Jason*.
 Once they had got over the excitement of the plasma ball we steered them towards the vacuum chamber. We asked them to predict what would happen to the marshmallows and the balloons when the vacuum pump was switched on. Some of them said they would rise up, some said they would shrink, and some said they would expand (which was correct). The marshmallows grew to about four times their original size, which was really cool. Disappointment was rife when they shrunk again as we let the air back in, though!

The ‘magnets down a tube experiment’ was a success too – we had a plastic tube, an aluminium tube and a copper tube, and the time taken for the magnet to get down the tube is automagically timed. A lot of the kids were interested in how the magnet slowed down through the copper and aluminium tubes, even though they are not magnetic. Matti got super enthusiastic about this one and did a controlled experiment with some of the kids, and even made a graph of number of magnets vs time taken for them to get down the tube! I regret that we can’t release a copy of his graph until it has been approved by CCFE management and peer reviewed. Trust me though – TRUE SCIENCE HAPPENED.

We got a chance to look at some of the other stalls; there was some really cool stuff including robots, Lego, simulation surgery and telescopes. My favourite was the non-Newtonian liquid (cornflour and water) in a speaker – it did all sorts of weird things! 

The end of the day came quickly and we were all content that we had indeed spoken to some real future engineers and physicists (they have the badge forever now). So we all trundled into the van and cars and commenced another rage-filled journey up the M25 back to Culham. Greg’s journey went a bit better though, as he had a nice nap in the back seat. There are some University Open days to attend in September, so I’m sure we’ll be back on the road soon!

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