Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Science club week 4

This week we wanted to do something totally different.
After three weeks of pipettes and chemicals this came as quite a surprise!
We were exploring how we use electricity especially with light.
Even the room was different - although that was because we needed to be near power sockets.

As the club members entered there were gasps of amazement at the display ranging from the plasma ball through fibre optics and even a disco ball!
Children and parents leaving school made lots of comments about how exciting it all looked. Another great advert for the club!

We explored how you can use movement to make a torch light up. We have a collection of different ones - wind up, dynamo and shaker torches.
We also looked at lots of gadgets that seem to be almost magic like cosmic balls. As this was science club we investigated how they all really worked!
We had a go at the plasma ball and finally the energy stick.

Then it as time for an investigation.
Using the energy stick which lights up and makes a noise when in a complete circuit everyone chose from a huge selection of objects to see whether they were a good conductor of electricity or an insulator.
This is such an easy way to create circuits and lots of noisy fun - which is what science club is all about!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015


We are in the middle of a new venture for Science2U
On Mondays during this second  Autumn half term we are running an after school science club with Summerhill primary school in Maghull.
We went earlier in the year as part of MerseySTEMs outreach programme to do a dry ice science show with them at the end of Big Bang week.

While we were there we discussed the possibility of running a club with the science leader Lidsay and after some discussion we started on Nov 2nd.

There are 33 pupils who have all paid up front, ranging from year 3 - year 6.
The six week club is covering topics that link to the curriculum but expand, enhance and enrich the school work.
Plus a few extras thrown in to add the WOW factor

Here are some images from our club

Thursday, 1 October 2015

New for the Autumn term

We have a new addition to our programme!
Pretty Amazing Polymers explores what it would be like to live in a world without polymers particularly plastic. Through a wide range of modern materials we look at how the disposable baby nappy absorbs liquid and what links a nappy to a roof tile!

We find out about other long chain molecules that can absorb liquid and where they are used including our disappearing hydrogel balls.

Have a look at this compilation of images to see how they grow. I've used coloured ones so that you can see!

We will see why plastic poses such a problem to our environment and see how  biodegradable polymers and recycling  are changing that.

We have created a complimentary workshop where we use a thermomoulding polymer to create a key ring to take home.


We are excited about both these sessions and hope they prove popular with schools.
We are aiming at upper KS2/lower KS3 to add to our Materials theme.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015


Just a quick report on our adventures at the Big Bang Aintree.

Early one drizzly summer morning we set out for Aintree racecourse with a car packed full of exciting science equipment and a huge box of dry ice!
We were in the Irish Bar which was also where everyone arrived to register and after setting up we had a look round the hall at the other exhibitors in our space and a quick cup of coffee. Then it was time!!!

We opened with the pink and blue bottle, moved swiftly into rainbow test tubes and then we were into our stride. Over the next 20 minutes we shared smart materials such as heat sensitive paper, our hydrochromic shower curtain, the
hydrogel balls ( of course) and far too soon it was time for the finale….vast amounts of dry ice!

We repeated the show in the morning and then raced to get all our gear off the stage for the next act. We were also to finish up the afternoon with one slightly longer show before the awards ceremony.

The hall was bustling full for most of the day but as the end got nearer our audience grew and grew and suddenly we were presenting to a packed hall with everyone really enjoying
themselves and joining in.

An unusual photograph from our point of view gives you a feel for what it was like. Pop over to our website for a gallery of images

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


without a freezer using science!

As I am writing this we are experiencing the hottest weather so far this year. So what better way to cool down than with some ice cream

Everyone loves a cool ice cream in summer - the sound of the ice cream van is evocative of long summer days.

Making home made ice cream can be as easy or as complex as you want it to be.
There are many custard based recipes where you have to do proper cooking before you even get to freeze your mix.

There are super scientists all over the place making it with liquid nitrogen ( huge fun but not don't try it at home!)

this is me many years ago at Catalyst Science Discovery Centre Widnes

There are home ice cream machines - some that do the whole thing can be quite pricey - others where you freeze the bowl overnight and the machine basically churns the mix are cheaper.

However there is another  method which uses a little bit of science knowledge to drop the temperature and freeze the mix.

This is a favourite of American teachers! I made this when I was teaching in Tennessee and it really does work.

There are lots of posts on the internet with recipes and instructions so here are a few links. Find one you like and have a go.

One tip from someone who has had icecream all over the place and mixed in with the salt....use a double bag! All that manipulation of a very cold plastic bag can cause it to split.

If you are going to eat the ice cream - and why  not we ask -  you need to remember food hygiene rules and make sure everything you use is clean and hands are washed.

Have fun!!

Thursday, 25 June 2015



There is something very British about a bucket and spade holiday.

Memories of sandwiches with real sand crunching between your teeth, struggling to get out of that wet swimming costume in one of those home made  towelling tent things - come on I am not the only one who had one surely!!

As a child we often went to Swanage on the Dorset coast and sometimes travelled along to Weymouth where the large sandy beach is a mecca for makers of amazing sandcastles which they create at the start of the season and paint so they last all summer.

Of course most dads thought they could do just as well....mine used to create cars for us to sit in and also huge holes which I seemed to be forever trying to get out of.

My two girls loved making sandcastles with their dad - and as we holidayed in Wales it was easy to see the real thing to model from.
I think we even bought a castle shaped mould - which is cheating really.

Amazingly there is a whole community of sandcastle artists and a huge amount of research goes into what actually makes the perfect model - what sort of sand, how much water, what height and so on.

So here is a little of that knowledge for you to see if it improves your building.

Of course you don't need a beach - a sandpit will work too

You can find a very scientific article here:

Here is a great extract about how to create sandcastles from
Sandcastles Made Simple by Lucinda Wierenga, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang

The list of ingredients for creating a simple sandcastle is short: sand, water and a few digging and carving tools. But that is only the start.......
Sand - The first and most important thing you need to know about sand is that you can't do a thing with it unless it's wet. When you add water to grains of sand, the liquid forms "bridges" that connect the granules to one another. This is why damp sand sticks together, so you can shape and carve it.
Packing down or "tamping" wet sand drains more water more quickly, creating even shorter bridges and an even more solid clump. Sand that has been compacted in this way can be subjected to extreme carving.
1 Use lots of water. Dry sand in its natural state is lazy stuff. It wants to lie down and spread out into all sorts of nooks and crannies. The good news is that as long as you keep gravity working for you, there is really no way to add too much water. Which brings us to our second rule.
2 Let it drain. If you've ever tried to make the base of a sandcastle by filling a plastic bucket with wet sand and then trying to unmould it, you've seen how important this rule is. With no place for the excess water to drain off, the sand makes a sucking, sticking, vacuum seal with the plastic and it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to remove the bucket.
This is why successful sand sculptors do not use plastic buckets or other closed moulds but build their shapes by stacking handfuls of wet sand or by tamping it down in a topless and bottomless form.
Compact the wet sand to form structures. "Pounding sand into submission" is an intuitive and time-honoured method of strengthening and tightening those bridges that hold the grains together. You can use your hands or feet, or even a tamper, to compact wet sand.
3. The building methods
Soft-packing is how the majority of the uninitiated approach sand.
 Mound up a big pile of sand and stabilise the pile. Using the long handle of your shovel, poke a lot of deep holes into the pile then pour buckets of water into the holes. Stomp on the pile until it feels very solid beneath you. If necessary, go back and poke more holes and add more water.
Pack and shape. Working from the tallest element in your composition, pack the shape with your hands until it feels stable. Take handfuls of moist sand, push them into place and roughly shape them.
Carve and smooth. Using your smoothing tool, smooth and define the elements of your composition. Moisten as necessary. The longer you work on your composition, the more your sand sculpture will dry out – you must keep it moist.You need to keep pushing and smoothing.
When you're tired of crawling around a soft-packed sculpture on your hands and knees, you will be ready to try hand-stacking. It takes practice but once you master the mix-scoop-plop-flatten-jiggle move, you'll be building the best castles on the beach. The method is just a modified dribble technique using larger handfuls of sand – very large, very wet handfuls.
Hand-stacking involves scooping out handfuls of wet sand and helping them settle into each other in order to form structures. It's the only building technique in which you mix the sand and water in advance. With soft-packing, you start moulding with dry sand and then add water.
The most difficult aspect of hand-stacking is that it's less intuitive than soft-packing; many people have an instinctual urge to pound the sand into submission. Hand-stacking is a great way to involve the whole family in a sand-sculpture project, with duties evenly divided between "stackers" and "carvers".
Mix Scoop Plop Jiggle
You will soon find that big, fat things are easier to carve then little, skinny things, so build big. To do this, you need big handfuls of sand. You do not need big hands to get big handfuls if you scoop properly.
With one smooth, swift motion (so that you don't lose too much water), plop the double handful of sand on to your base. There may be a bit of "pouring", but a common error to avoid is the "slam dunk". The taller and more delicate your structure is, the more gently you should plop. If you are building a tower, keep your hands on top of the sand; if you are building a wall, your hands will go directly to the sides.
Jiggle. Very gently, jiggle the new pile of sand. The common urge is to force this to happen by pounding, packing and pummelling the sand into compliance. Resist. Instead of using brute force, jiggle or vibrate the sand, helping it to settle evenly on to the layer beneath. Wet sand wants to flow downwards, and as long as you keep it moving, it will continue to settle in on itself, becoming denser and filling in spaces.
Almost as important as understanding how to jiggle is knowing when to stop. When the sand has stopped flowing, further jiggling will form cracks in your structure. Don't jiggle sand that has already settled into place.

There is so much more info on the internet so do some research and find out the fascinating science of sandcastles and maybe you will be building amazing structures like this.....

Tuesday, 16 June 2015



When the weather is fine bubbles are fantastic. The science is amazing but to be honest they are just such good fun and even the adults join in

There are lots of commercial bubble makers in the shops.
How abut this machine that makes hundreds of small bubbles

or you can buy mixture and giant wands

but it is actually easy to make your own giant bubbles mixture and homemade wands and probably more fun too

Making bubble mixture is a bot of a dark art and you will find plenty of recipes of the internet especially Pinterest.
Many American sites talk about a washing up liquid called Dawn. It is just a clear standard liquid and any of our brands in the UK will work well. To be honest I have not found any difference between cheaper and more expensive brands apart from if using a concentrated liquid use less of it

Having run week long bubble workshops at Catalyst I have picked up a few tips:
  • don't be tempted to make the mix too strong
  • don't swish it around too much FOAM doesn't make bubbles
  • leave it to stand after making - overnight if possible
  • glycerine or light corn syrup like Karo give stable bubbles
  • a humid day is best or you can spray the air with water
A good ratio for your mix is 1 part washing up liquid: 5 or 6  parts water: 1/4 part glycerine

Home made giant wands are very simple and don't need much equipment.
Try this string and plastic straw version - give it a good soak in the mixture before using it

For bubbles you can stand inside use a hoop in a paddling pool

Everyone knows that bubbles are spheres....but have you see those frames that let you make a square or triangular bubble? OK you can't blow a square bubble - the laws of physics come into force. But it is quite interesting to see

For long tube bubbles you need a round frame which you can make yourself from wire or use an old frying pan splatter guard frame

Most of these techniques need a bit of work but bubbles snakes can be done by even the very youngest. Just remember to blow not suck

Follow the picture tutorial below using an old cotton or towelling sock or a flannel. 

this is what you get

This idea comes from Persil - some people who have scientists who study foam and bubbles so they probably know a thing or two

Someone else who knows all about bubbles especially giant ones is the science presenter Ian Russell. He often attends fetes and festivals where he creates these huge bubbles. You can find his website here:

Enjoy the sunshine and your bubbles