Demonstrating the nanoscale
15 August 2012
Students showing their demo to Dr Terry McMaster
There are many classic hands-on activities that demonstrate a scientific concept – building spaghetti towers, the coke and Mentos experiment, extracting DNA from fruit and suchlike.
These are staple experiments for science communicators and have wowed large numbers of people over the years.
But coming up with a novel demonstration which is not only engaging but describes cutting-edge research is a different matter.
This competition has helped promote collaboration, as well as allowing everyone to think about their research in a wider context
This was the challenge faced by students in the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials
(BCFN) for their science fair competition.
Each group of students had to design an interactive demo around a piece of their research, build a working prototype on a limited budget and choose a target audience for their activity.
They also had to consider how reproducible this demo would be as well as developing educational resources to accompany the activity.
Then, on a rainy day in June, one of the Physics labs was taken over by the groups presenting their demos to a team of judges and interested colleagues.
The projects were assessed on an extensive range of criteria including originality, scientific validity and the effectiveness of engaging their target audiences.
As such, one of the hardest tasks for the judges was acting like the target audience – guessing what a 10-year old would know about cells is a bit tricky when you are also trying to test a team’s communication skills!
The winning demonstration in action
The complex nature of the research at BCFN led to some amazing demonstrations – ranging from how the surface of materials can be manipulated to give them unusual properties (which included a specially-made marble run) to an explanation of nano-fabrication techniques through the medium of t-shirts.
The winning group’s research focused on changing the properties of drugs so that they targeted the area of the body where they were needed.
Accompanied by an interactive model of the circulatory system constructed from a pump, magnets and a lot of tubing, they ably demonstrated how their research could change the way drugs are used.
Even their language was spot-on, with references to getting poorly and taking medicine to make them better being appropriate for their primary school audience.
Creating an effective hands-on activity was the main aim of the competition. But, as with many public engagement activities, there were several additional benefits. “We wanted to foster collaboration between the cohorts.” said Philip Bassindale – one of the Self Assembled Reps who organised the competition. “BCFN has a close-knit and supportive atmosphere which is important not just for student welfare but also from a scientific perspective. This competition has helped promote collaboration, as well as allowing everyone to think about their research in a wider context.”
The Public Engagement Officer
for further information.