22 March 2007


13th March 2007

As part of National Science Week year 5 from Irthlingborough Primary school spent a day at Huxlow to take part in science games - a fun interactive day of scientific activities designed to promote children's interest in science and engineering.

The day kicked off with Newton's famous three laws and a game called 'Chain Reactions'. This particular game was modelled on the famous Honda advert where a series of different motions are activated along a line like a chain of dominoes. The aim of the game was to create the longest series of chain reactions that ended with a ring of a bell. Lots of different props were used for this game such as slinkys, pipe cleaners, toy cat balls (no cats unfortunately) and even tables and chairs along with that fundamental force of nature, gravity to achieve many different clever types of motion. The level of creativity was impressive; the pupils were driven by competition, grabbing the oppurtunity to continually improve on their ideas in an effort to beat their neighbouring groups. The chain reaction game was met with a very enthusiastic response from the pupils, with one quoting 'this is the best thing I've done in ages!'

The next game was called 'Volcano in a Cup'. When opening a bottle of lemonade bubbles start at the bottom of the bottle and float upwards. This is because bubbles need an irregular surface upon which to grow - a nucleation site. Pupils created their own bubbling volcano, using cherryade, cooking oil and salt. The cherryade is fizzy because it contains carbon dioxide gas. Oil is poured over the top creating a smooth layer over the cherryade to suppress the bubbles. Salt is then tipped into the cup; the salt reacts with the CO2, providing many nucleation sites for the gas thus creating lots of bubbles (mimicking the hot bubbling magma emerging from a volcano). Pupils noticed putting more salt into the 'volcano' gave rise to larger 'eruptions' and correspondingly greater gasps of admiration!

Along with flying saucers there are flying tea bags. Tea bags of the Lipton lemon tea variety (apparently the only type that defies gravity) were opened up and set alight. As they burned down to the bottom the final bit of tea bag lifted magically into the air (like David Blaine, except this is real); this was met with a standing ovation. The elevation effect is a result of convection currents created by the heat, giving air molecules energy causing an updraft which is able to lift the remaining burning bit of tea bag into the air. The only downside is no cup of tea at the end.

Another thought provoking experiment called 'Spaghetti Tower' involved constructing the tallest tower out of raw spaghetti and sweets. Pupils used the criss-cross design seen in the Eiffel Tower to build strong, stable towers. One group built a fabulously complicated tower able to support at least 240 g of weights, until one of the (tasty) marshmallows supporting the base 'mysteriously' disappeared. It appears this game was not only a test of physics knowledge but also one of self-discipline!

The last game, 'Cabbage Fish' tested the pupils understanding of chemical reactions and their artistic skills. Boiled red cabbage contains molecules called anthocyanins which act as a pH indicator. They turn pink in acidic solutions and green in alkaline conditions. The pupils were given cut-out paper fish that had previously been doused in red cabbage juice, and experimented with different liquids (acidic and alkaline) to create the best design for their cabbage fish. Some of the pupils were worried about the lack of a third dimension to their fish which they tried to correct Picasso style by sticking two eyes on one side. Cabbage Cubist fish - something new for the Tate Modern.

The day ended with a few explosions James Bond would be scared of and the conversion of tulips and hot dogs into 'glass'. Mark 'dangerous' Jones of Huxlow school demonstrated the high reactivity of hydrogen in balloons by popping them with a rather large candle (to avoid a burnt head!). Pupils watched open-mouthed as fireballs were created before their own eyes. From too hot to too cold, liquid nitrogen (boiling at -200°C) was used to turn a tulip into 'glass', the flower simply shattering into little pieces. A volunteer from the audience had the difficult job of trying to knock a nail into a piece of wood using that useful carpenter's tool, the hot dog. With the help of some 'finger-breaking' liquid nitrogen (due to its potential amputation properties big fat gloves were worn) the hot dog achieved a rigid but breakable state, and was used more successfully as a hammer. Many of the pupils looked a little upset upon leaving the school as their day of games and excitement had ended, with some mentioning they were going to play some of the science games at home. I don't envy their parents.