ScienceX – science takes over intu Trafford Centre
Science isn’t just for scientists. That’s why each year the Faculty of Science and Engineering and intu Trafford Centre team up to deliver ScienceX; an eye-catching collection of science experiments for all ages. It aims to get more people engaged with science whilst demonstrating the work that the University of Manchester does and how science influences our everyday lives.
Dotted around the shopping centre were a number of stalls where members of the public could put their scientific skills to the test. Everything from “Oobleck” – a liquid that is also a solid – to robotic dogs and even a flight simulator were available to explore.
Academic staff, researchers and undergraduate students were on hand to explain the science behind the fun activities and to challenge some of the traditional perceptions of science and engineering. The aim of the day was to get people asking whether they too could be a scientist.
So, what did we learn at ScienceX?
This make-it-yourself gloop is not only a fun thing to do on a rainy afternoon with the kids, but is also a rather remarkable substance; Oobleck is a non-Newtonian fluid. Non-Newtonian fluids don’t follow the usual laws of viscosity (thickness) as put forward by Newton. Instead, their viscosity changes depending on the forces applied to them. For example, Ketchup gets thinner if you shake it really hard, whereas Oobleck gets thicker if you apply pressure to it.
You may have seen experiments where people hit or even run across pools of Oobleck. The substance is simply a mix of water and corn starch (the cornflour or custard powder you have in your cupboard will also work). Mixed to 1 part water and 1.5-2 parts corn starch (and a little food colouring to prettify it), you have yourself some Oobleck (although we’ll be surprised if you manage to make enough to sprint across).
And why is it called Oobleck? For fans of Dr Seuss, you may already know the answer; it is named after the sticky substance that rains down from the sky in the story Bartholomew and the Oobleck.
Expanding our horizons with robots
Since the days of the earliest humans, we have been fascinated with the sky and what’s ‘out there’. Now we have the technology to start exploring beyond our own world, and even our own solar system (Voyager 1 became the first man-made object and spacecraft to enter interstellar space in 2012). Scientists around the world, including academics from our own School of Physics, are working on ground-breaking robotics research that will allow us to explore deeper into space.
At ScienceX, the team from the School of Physics and Astronomy brought along their LEGO MINDSTORMS® robots for people to program and drive to get a feel for the work that goes into controlling rovers on Mars, for example. There are several future projects planned for rovers and exploratory spacecraft that will expand our knowledge of the solar system. With no atmosphere, freezing temperatures and the sheer distance of space, robots are the perfect astronauts.
The science of beauty
We don’t often think about the science that goes into everyday products, but science underpins many of the most popular products on the market, take nail varnish for example. There are people who research the chemistry of this popular beauty product on so that we can enjoy a multitude of colours, applications and effects.
Holographic nail varnish, a new trend amongst many nail artists, is simply a manipulation of white light. White light is made up of the seven colours of the rainbow, and when this light is diffracted off a surface, it splits out into all these colours. Holographic nail polishes make use of this and are created using tiny silver particles with a special coating that is able to split light in this way. This gives you the very pretty holographic nail varnishes that you can buy from your local beauty shop.
So now you can see how scientific research is used for, not only the most advanced space exploration missions, but also in our everyday products. ScienceX is a fantastic weekend that brings scientists and the public together in appreciation of this and helps to change perceptions of what goes on in the lab.
Words – Enna Bartlett | Images – Enna Bartlett, Elena Zelenkova, Tanhim Shamit