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This blog is currently on hiatus owing to work commitments. Whilst I still keep an eye on the goings on at RiAus, and contribute to the work of the good folks at eLife, little will be added to this blog for the foreseeable future. Simon Says remains open for business, albeit at a reduced capacity. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the archive of content found here will prove to be of interest.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Outreach Resources: The 12 Experiments of Christmas

TODAY I co-presented, along with a team of four other PhD students, a science Christmas Lecture for a theatre full of Year 7 students (ages 11-12), called 'The 12 Experiments of Christmas'. It was a journey through the human body, packed with experiments, demonstrations, explosions and things vanishing. It asked the following crucial Christmas questions, amongst others:

If there were a power cut at the North pole, what vegetables could be used to power Father Christmas' workshop?
If the reindeer went bonkers and ran away, how else might Father Christmas power his sleigh?
What happens to your Christmas dinner?
If all the elves went on strike, who/what else could make all the presents?
And, most importantly, what happens to reindeer poo?

It was a LOT of fun and I am indebted to the team for working so hard on it and never giving up. There was a time this was not going to happen and I am very, very glad that it did. Many thanks to the schools who came, and to all our willing volunteers.

Read on for outreach resources and notes.

Outreach resources/notes:

Reindeer Poo
(subject: nutrient cycling, detritivores, decomposition; biology)

'Reindeer poo' was made from polystyrene/styrofoam and painted brown
Following a bit of showmanship, the polystyrene was collected, piled high and acetone poured on top
Polystyrene 'dissolves' when exposed to acetone, so the 'poo' vanishes
This was done under the context of what normally happens, involving bacterial decomposition and detritivores
CAUTION: Acetone is a flammable solvent; do not keep near an open flame and take measures to avoid inhalation

Tea bag rockets (subject: convection; physics)
See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkkrXxJ4db8

Nerve races (subject: saltatory conduction, impulses, electricity, schwann cells, myelination)
A race between a runner ('message' through centre of a neuron) and a Mexican wave ('message' along cell membrane, imitating ion channel opening).
Race 1: Straight race
Race 2: Obstacles are introduced to the runner's path, including a builder and a chef, to represent two of the core processes occuring in the cell: energy production and cell maintenance (depending on the demonstration area, other obstacles representing other processes could be introduced, such as transport systems or scaffolding)
Race 3: Obstacles remain in runner's path. Mexican wave is restricted to every other person, or with well-defined gaps (depending on layout of room/lecture theatre), such that the message jumps quickly along the cell

Santa's Little Helpers (subject: behaviour, cognition, tool use, ethology)
Examples used: Orang-utan DIY tool use (BBC/Attenborough video), sea otters using stones to open abalone, female gorilla using stick to measure river depth, Betty the New Caledonian crow hooked tool task

We are indebted to this TES video featuring the demonstrations 'gums to bums', the sugar explosion and reaction times: http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/Demonstrating-Biology-8-Demonstrations-6038961/


My friend Beckie (@BeckiePort) very kindly filmed and photographed parts of the show. Videos are posted below.











And not forgetting:

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