Fun Science

Bubbles

There's lots of things you can do with bubbles. Experiment yourself with bubble mixtures (look out for the 'catchable' bubble mixtures which allow you to catch and hold bubbles without them popping) or let your youth try out new mixtures.

Do not dismiss bubbles as being just for use with youth. Bubble machines/generators and the use of special bubble mixtures that glow in ultraviolet light are popular at discos and raves. However, remember that most bubble mixtures are soapy so if you are thinking of doing something where there's a lots of bubbles being produced, remember the floor and that soap is slippery.

Bubble Recipes

Here are some different bubble solutions for you to try. They all improve by being left for a day or so before using, we're not sure why but they improve with age! (N.B. all references to 'washing up liquid' refer to the liquid detergent used for washing dishes ‘by hand’. In the UK normal Fairy Liquid (TM) seems to be better than most.)

All Purpose Bubble Solution

A good, all‑purpose solution for most bubble tricks, experiments and activities.

Materials

  • 7 to 10 parts water to 1 part washing up liquid/detergent (e.g. Fairy Liquid)
  • Glycerine
  • 2 teaspoons of caster sugar

Add ingredients and mix well.

Bouncy Bubble Solution

A fun solution that you can bounce off your clothes.

Materials

  • 2 packets unflavoured powdered gelatine
  • 1 Litre of hot water (just boiled)
  • 50 to 70 ml glycerine
  • 2 teaspoons of caster sugar
  • 50 ml dish (washing up liquid)/detergent

Dissolve the gelatine in the hot water and then add the dish detergent and glycerine. Note: You will need to reheat this mixture whenever you use it, as it will gel. Two to three minutes in a microwave should do it, but keep an eye on it the first time.

Thick Bubble Solution

A very thick, gooey solution that forms bubbles strong enough to withstand a small puff of air. You can blow bubbles inside of bubbles with this mixture and you don't need a straw. Just make a bubble and blow.

Materials

  • 2.5 to 3 parts water to 1 part dish detergent
  • Glycerine
  • 3 teaspoons of caster sugar

Add ingredients and mix well.

A note about glycerine

Not all ingredients require the addition of glycerine in order to make good soap solutions. Glycerine helps soap bubbles hold water and this helps to keep the bubbles from popping. Try a tablespoon or so for a small batch. Glycerine can be purchased at most chemists. You won't need much, so you will not need caseloads.

Sand Pendulum

A bit of science, a bit of art all mixed up to produce a bit of fun. The larger the area the pendulum has to swing the better the effect, so a large hall with a convenient beam across it or just hanging from a ceiling (2 metres or more). Butthis can be done on a much smaller scale as well. The pendulum itself consists of a large bag filled with fine sand and a small hole in it so the sand can trickle out, hung from a convenient point. The larger the bag the more sand that can be held.

Either put a large sheet down for the sand to trickle onto or have a dustpan and brush handy to clear up afterwards.

Fill the pendulum bag with sand and from a set point allow it to keep swinging until it stops, leaving a fine trail of sand marking its path. Try the same for different movements, e.g. pushing the pendulum slightly to one side rather than just letting go.

Fractal Designs

Based on a book by Diego Uribe. Fractal cuts are pop up cards based on geometric fractal designs (mathematical repeating shapes). Ranged from easy to hard, these were a popular craft on a recent summer scheme. The results look so good it even tempts hardened sport fanatic lads to try their hand and discover hidden talents!

Tiles

If you can not find a premade set, have a go at cutting out from coloured paper or stiff card a number of squares, octagons, hexagons, equilateral triangles but all the shapes should have sides of the same length! it might help to have each shape in a different colour. Once you have a large enough number of pieces, have fun assembling and seeing what patterns you can generate from the pieces.

Ink - Make your own

Modern inks have the advantage of intensity, colour fastness and flow, but don't let that stop you making and trying out your own from natural materials. Think about using crushed berries or walnut husk (not the nut, but the green) mixed with a little water or vegetable oil. If a pestle and mortar is handy you might be able to use this to grind your ingredients down finely and you may need to strain any results to get rid of fine particles. 

If you are experimenting with your own inks, don't  try them with modern pens as you are likely to damage the pen or at the very least clog it up.

Crystal Growing and Gardens

There are a number of kits available on the market for creating crystal gardens or growing crystals, often using alum. But growing crystals of some types of chemicals is actually not that hard and can be done using sugar and salt. The knack is to create a super saturated solution of the chemical (eg sugar or salt) by keep dissolving spoonfuls of the chemical crystal in a jar of hot water until no more will dissolve. Leave this to cool down.

Hang a small crystal of the same chemical by a piece of fine thread in the solution. This acts at the 'seed' crystal and will grow larger as the solution gets colder and over time evaporates.

Crystals will form as the water cools down since chemicals are more soluble in warm water than cold, but the knack to forming nice large regular crystals is slower evaporation.

An quick alternative is to bring back some sea water next time you go to the coast and leave this to evaporate in a dish... same effect.

Create a Wildlife Garden

Building wildlife gardens, nature areas, ponds etc is not a new idea. The area could just be a border devoted to wild plants or a whole section of a garden or an available plot of land, however in the past often the plants being introduced were nature friendly, but did nothing to conserve the native plants in the area, which were needed by animals and insects. So the twist is to create a garden that also has plants native to your area in it. To get the best out of the wildlife area it is also important to choose plants that suit the growing conditions, ie sunny or shaded area, sandy or clay soil, alkaline or acidic, near water, etc.

If you are interested in investigating the idea further visit our dedicated page which lists some of the UK's native plants which types of wildlife they support, a link to the Postcode Plants Database hosted by the Natural History Museum which will help you see which plants should be native to your area and also a specialist supplier of these plants.

[ Create a wildlife area ]

Triops

Great fun.... Triops are fast becoming one of those little wonders and I know they keep the youth at club fascinated. Looking a bit like the old trilobite or miniature horseshoe crab, they are 'living fossils' having existed 350 million years ago and still alive today. Living in temporary ponds for their individual short life spans ( 6 to 12 weeks), their microscopic eggs can exist in a diapause (suspended state) for many years until the right conditions occur for them to hatch. Within days the tiny larvae are visible, which almost in double in size everyday to become 4 cm adults within 3 weeks. All they need is about half a litre of spring or rain water at room temperature (20 - 27 oC) and about 12 hours light per day which can be easily arranged by the use of a desk lamp connected to a timer switch. The water does not need aeration as they are adapted to living in puddles.

Why's it called triops? Because although you 'see' the two dark compound eyes there is a third eye which is just light sensitive.

There are a few suppliers appearing in the UK. One of the main ones being Interplay who will supply direct or via various retail outlets.

Sea Monkeys

'Sea Monkeys' are fairy shrimps and probably better known than Triops, but they have eggs that go into diapause until the conditions are right for them to hatch. They are easy and great fun to watch develop from what looks like a tiny mote of white moving around in the water to the full size adult about 1cm in length. They also can live a lot longer than triops (2 years!) given the right conditions. Look out for the kits available. 

A Solar System

Ever wondered just how big our solar system is? or just how far does the sun's gravity influence planets? Drawings in books can never get this into perspective, but creating a scale model of the solar system is fun and enlightening.. you just need a large hall or patch of field!

Representing the Earth using a golf ball ask your group to find out to scale just big the sun and each of the other planets are, and to either find balls which are scale or cut these out of paper (you'll need some big sheets of paper for the larger planets). Now place each of these at their relative distance from the sun!

 

Pupil Researcher Initiative projects

The PRI was was run by the Centre for Science Education at Sheffield Hallum University, becoming "Researchers in Residence" in 2003, and then in 2006 it was re-tendered by the research councils and taken on by Edinburgh University.

These projects (Pupil Research Briefs) were resources developed to help achieve the aims of the PRI of raising the motivation and achievement of young people in science, by developing their scientific capability, creativity and key skills. They are designed as educational resources for schools, but depending on what you have access to there is no reason why their use should be limited to within schools.

All Pupil Research Briefs - zip file (6.5Mb)

Astro-science

Collision Course


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
Learning about the massive rocks from space that have crashed into Earth a long time ago you will be given information that will help you assess the risk of such an event happening again. You will carry out experiments to estimate the damage such an impact will cause and make recommendations about what plans we should make to detect and track nearby massive objects in space to give us an early warning of danger.

Cosmic Web Site


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
Create a World Wide Web site which explains the science behind the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe. Starting with a set of ready-made pages, called the Starter Pack, you will research the information needed to produce links to other pages which you design.

ET Phone Earth


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
As a member of the Planetary Research Team and you have been asked to write an article for PRISM, the PRI journal, about the possibility of life existing in other parts of the Universe. A range of articles and papers on this topic are provided as useful background material for planning and writing the article

Shooting Star


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be carrying out research into meteors ('shooting stars'). The STAR Centre at Sheffield Hallam University provides information to users of the World Wide Web about meteors. Your research findings can be sent to the STAR Centre to add to the data base.

Star Trail


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
Produce materials for a talk and science trail exhibition on the topic of stars. The work you will do, taken all together, will cover the examination syllabus content to do with stars, galaxies and the Sun. You will also learn about new research on stars, especially the Sun, and find out why studying the solar wind and sunspot activity is important.

Biology

Bioengineering


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a member of a research team in a university bioengineering department. Your department is about to put forward a research proposal to obtain money to develop incubators for very premature babies. You will be asked to carry out research in this area and write part of the proposal for the research grant.

Clear Solutions


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You work for a company which is developing a new process to remove excess dyes from wastewater from factories which produce dyed fabrics. You have been asked to investigate the method to remove dyestuffs before your company puts more time and money into the process.

Lock & Key


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will carry out one or more investigations on the properties of enzymes. Your investigation(s) will be based on a question, hypothesis or prediction, relating to the science of enzymes

Plants in Space


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a researcher in a university department of bioastronomy. You are part of a team that is putting in a proposal to win a contract to design a life-sustaining unit for a space flight to Mars. You and your colleagues will carry out some research into photosynthesis, and seek out other information about dietary needs and energy requirements for astronauts during their mission. You will then write a report of your findings to present at a seminar.

Project Rainbow


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
Project Rainbow is a real research project taking place at the University of Reading looking at the problems visually handicapped people face getting about in public buildings, and devising solutions to some of the problems. You will carry out a research project in your school or college to find out what proportion of young people suffer from one or more common eye defects. You may follow this with an investigation into colour brightness.

Chemistry

A Burning Problem


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a member of a team of new research students in a university chemistry department. The department is very interested in doing research into how to make diesel engines burn fuel more efficiently. It is about to put in a research proposal to the Research Council for a grant to fund the work.

Catalytic Traps


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a member of a team of research students in a university chemistry department. The Research Council has issued a press release announcing that funding is available for new research projects in catalysis. You have been asked to try out some new ideas before the department writes its bid for funding.

Feed the World


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a member of a university chemistry department research team. The World Food Commission (WFC) has issued a press release asking scientists to help set up an educational programme for use in developing countries. You will carry out research into fertilisers. You will use your findings to help you produce a leaflet for either farmers or teachers in these countries

Michael Faraday


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
Using extracts from Faraday’s diaries, letters and researches you will look at his working methods and take part in a discussion about his work. You will also carry out your own investigations into electrolysis and compare his results with your own.

Ozone Conference


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
In this Brief you will be attending a conference on ozone. You will have short talks and you may be selected to make a presentation about ground level (tropospheric) ozone and about the ozone layer (stratospheric ozone). You will also take part in discussions on how to tackle the problems associated with ozone in these two regions of the atmosphere.

Sea Chemistry


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will carry out one or more investigations on the chemicals dissolved in sea water. Your investigation will be based on a question, an hypothesis or a prediction, relating to the chemical composition of sea water.

Seeing the light


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a member of the Test Development Group in a university science faculty. You are asked to investigate a test for determining low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide by measuring luminescence. You will be asked to try one or more methods and evaluate their usefulness.

A Short Course Rust


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a member of the Short Courses Team at North Western University preparing to run a 4 day training course for engineers working for a Middle Eastern oil company. You will need to work through the new activities to be included in the course, checking the experiments and questions, providing written answers and specimen results and suggesting any necessary changes to the activities.

Earth Science

Marsology


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a new research student at the Institute of Planetary Research. The US National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) has asked for ideas from scientists from all over the world about what research a series of space probes to Mars can carry out on their missions. You will present a research proposal which suggests some possible Mars probe projects.

Out-of-sight


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a member of a team of new research students in a university chemistry department. The department has been asked to provide advice to a waste disposal company about the most suitable material to use to line a landfill site to stop toxic chemicals getting into the environment. You will carry out investigations to help you write your report to the company

Physics

Green Heating


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will investigate how solar panels work. You will carry out an investigation based on a question, an hypothesis, or a prediction, relating to the science of solar panels

Green Light


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You are a researcher acting as a consultant to the Energy Efficient Lighting Committee deciding on the style and content of a newspaper advertisement to promote the benefits of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and to encourage their widespread use in the home. You will present information required on specific aspects of CFLs and ordinary filament lamps, including costs and benefits, in order to produce the advertisement

Hunting the Quark


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as either a physicist applying for a research post to study the origin of the Universe or a member of the panel interviewing the applicants for the post. To prepare yourself for the interview, either as interviewee or interviewer, you will need to know about the structure of the atom and the Big Bang theory

Light Action


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will carry out a survey of how lighting is used in your school to find out how both energy and money can be saved. You will produce a report of your findings which you may be required to present to the governors, head teacher and other interested individuals.

Motoroptics


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You work for a research department which has been asked to help a motor company to develop fibre optic lighting for car dashboards. You will carry out research into fibre optics and produce a report of your findings. You will use the report to help you plan a presentation to the motor company explaining how your research could help them develop their car designs.

On air


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a scientist learning about the media by doing a placement in the Science Unit at STS Radio. Your assignment is to prepare a 4-minute feature about ultrasound and its uses for the series Science Alive. Using information from a variety of sources and conducting a real interview with an 'expert' (your teacher) you will prepare a script for the feature which will explain ultrasound to a non-scientific audience.

PET Scanners


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a member of a particle physics department. Your head of department is keen that the department makes a contribution to raising the public understanding of science. He has asked you to design a poster for schools to help inform young people how PET Scanners work, and what they are used for. You also have to produce some questions for pupils to accompany the poster.

PHEPPS


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You work for a research department that is designing a portable hydro-electric power plant (PHEPP). You will carry out some investigations to improve the design of the PHEPP. You will also look at the environmental benefits and drawbacks of a range of different ways of producing electricity and write a report of your findings

Project Rainbow


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
Project Rainbow is a real research project taking place at the University of Reading looking at the problems visually handicapped people face getting about in public buildings, and devising solutions to some of the problems. You will carry out a research project in your school or college to find out what proportion of young people suffer from one or more common eye defects. You may follow this with an investigation into colour brightness.

Radiation Carriers


Teacher Notes (TN)
Study Guide (SG)
You will be working as a member of a radioactivity research team. You have been asked to plan an investigation to test the design of a container that can carry radioactive materials used in hospitals. The investigation will be carried out by the Radiological Protection Officer.

Sound Judgement


Study Guide (SG)
You are going to find out if the classrooms in your school have good acoustics. You will learn how the ear works, carry out several investigations similar to those done by real researchers and make recommendations about how to make improvements.