August means one thing: National Science Week!

This year National Science week ran from 14-22 August and the Discovery team were certainly very busy getting out and about during this most wonderful time of the year.

UNE Discovery team at the Australian Museum for the Sydney Science Trail.
UNE Discovery team at the Australian Museum for the Sydney Science Trail.

With lots of microscopes and magnifying glasses, visitors could examine some of our biological, ecological and geological specimens up close, look at how light changes through glass prisms and concave and convex lenses, and see how a pencil bends when in a jar of water. We also tested the different sounds made when a jar is filled at different levels.

Children also had the opportunity to make a kaleidoscope to take home and see how to make a rainbow in a glass, using the density of sugar and water.

The geology department at UNE lent the team some volcanic glass and crystals, as well as a petrographic microscope to examine some rock specimens. This special microscope shows light distortions (bright colours) through different crystals which is used to identify minerals.

On Saturday the wonders of the capabilities of glass were demonstrated through our creative chemistry show.  We wowed the crowd with some disappearing styrofoam where we fed the stryofoam into a mug containing acetone to make it dissolve/disappear, we made mirrors using chemicals like silver nitrate in a glass flask, and we created elephant’s toothpaste – a big foamy chemical reaction caused by hydrogen peroxide that always gets a cheer.

Ebony James showing students specimens from the UNE Natural History Museum at the Sydney Science Trail.
Ebony James showing students specimens from the UNE Natural History Museum at the Sydney Science Trail.

But Science @ Central wasn’t the only National Science Week event that UNE Discovery was involved with. Every year the Australian Museum in Sydney hosts the Sydney Science Trail and this year UNE was a major partner to this event. UNE Discovery and the Natural History Museum were delighted to be a part of this huge science week event!

UNE Discovery team members, Stephanie and Kieran, made the long trek down to Sydney to present our palaeontology activity Weighing Giants to six lucky high school groups. Weighing Giants was developed several years ago with UNE Palaeontologist Dr. Nic Campione and lets students reconstruct dinosaurs by taking plastic skeletons and using plasticine to recreate all the soft parts of the dinosaur (skin, muscle, fat, etc) which are usually not preserved in fossils. The students then weigh their dinosaurs and measure the density of their model, do some cool maths to scale their reconstruction up to full size, and see how closely their model compares to what palaeontologists actually think dinosaurs weighed. There were certainly some interesting results! Some dinosaurs came out looking “shrink wrapped”, while others were – to quote the students – “Heckin’ chonkers!”

Recreating plasticine dinosaurs is always a hit with students as it allows them to get a bit creative and inventive with how they want to portray their dinosaurs. In many cases, we will never truly know what the soft parts of these animals looked like and the best we can hope for is what the imagination of our paleo-artists can give us – making this a perfect Discovery activity!

Image showing a recreated plasticine dinosaur.
Recreating dinosaurs with plasticine was a standout activity at the Sydney Science Trail.

But the fun didn’t stop there! In addition to our Weighing Giants workshops, we were also involved in the Australian Museum’s Science Expo. The Expo ran from Monday 15th to Saturday 21st and featured dozens of organisations presenting science activities. A/Prof Karl Vernes, curator of UNE’s Natural History Museum, put together a great activity related to the concept of form and function. By looking at the skulls and teeth of different animals could you guess what the animal ate? Or even what the animal was? We certainly had some unusual creatures on the table including a fox, Tasmanian devil, wombat, koala, kangaroo, pig, dugong, and an ankylosaur dinosaur!

UNE’s expo stall was a great hit with nearly 2500 people passing by over the course of the week. A big thank you goes to Karl and his honours student, Ebony, for helping us to engage with so many people over the week.

Naturally, we’re looking forward to doing it all again next August, but until then, I think we’ve all earned a good rest.