Monday, 6 June 2016

Presenting to U3A (the University of the 3rd Age)

Sometimes an opportunity arises that you just can't resist...  
"The University of the Third Age (U3A) movement is a unique and exciting organisation which provides, through its U3As, life-enhancing and life-changing opportunities. Retired and semi-retired people come together and learn together, not for qualifications but for its own reward: the sheer joy of discovery!"
My Grandma used to love her U3A meetings, and so when I heard someone from the materials group was going to speak at one, I just had to invite myself to join him! 
This led to Ben de Laune and I arriving at the front door of a house in Birmingham last Thursday with our demo kits strapped to the back of our bikes and a laptop with some presentations loaded, unsure of what to expect. 

We were welcomed by our host, Monica, and started setting up ready to present. As requested, we had brought printed handouts, although Ben was starting to worry he might have printed the font a bit too small... 

The meeting was 2 hours long, and we presented one at a time with a tea (and biscuit) break with discussion in the middle. Ben presented first on his work, and then I followed. There were 7 in the audience, ranging from people with no scientific background, to a former chemist! Despite this, everyone engaged with our presentations and asked some questions that proved they'd been listening. Very different from academic conferences, when you have to ignore the snoring from the back!

We had a great time, and it seemed as though everyone else did too - here is our feedback from Monica:
"Thank you very much for coming to our meeting on Thursday.  As I hope you could tell from our interactions, we thoroughly enjoyed your presentations and thought your research projects very interesting.  You were both adept at getting down to our (mixed) level.  We would like to keep you on file so that we can track what you are doing.
Thanks again, best wishes and cheers"
The Birmingham U3A group are looking for speakers, so if you're interested get in touch and I'll put you in contact: it's a great experience!

Friday, 3 June 2016

"Meet the Expert" at ThinkTank science museum

On Tuesday I went down to the ThinkTank with some other researchers from the Materials group here at the University of Birmingham School of Chemistry (@chembham) for an event they run every half term called "Meet the Expert". 
For this event, a group of researchers (in our case, 4 of us) get a spot on the museum floor to do some live demos and get people engaged with their research topic. 

We were talking about magnetism, superconductivity and electricity generation. And, more importantly, how the research in the department is developing new materials that may be important in these areas in the future. 

The use of liquid nitrogen turned out to be a big draw for the crowds, but I was impressed by the length of time people spent with us. They really wanted to hear more, not just see the "headline" demo and then carry on. We got some really interesting questions and comments from both children and their parents when discussing magnetism and superconductivity. My favourite comment was "It's not magic - it's science!" in relation to the floating magnet experiment shown below (explained here).

We found the best experiments were those that had obvious results, for instance a light becoming brighter when a cable supplying electricity to the bulb was dipped into liquid nitrogen, but also the models of the materials went down really well, especially alongside the real thing. 

We also had some electrochemistry experiments people could get involved with including a simple battery using copper and zinc, and some different water splitting experiments. This led on to my favourite topic: hydrogen! This is where I came in, showing off our model fuel cell car complete with refueling station (explained in full by me in this video).  

It turns out I am rubbish at steering remote control cars, but I managed to avoid tripping any visitors up! It was a great day - thanks so much for ThinkTank for having me, and to Professor Greaves, Dr. Horsewell and Dr. de Laune for letting me join in.