National Science Week: The Week That Was

What a blast! Every year UNE Discovery looks forward to National Science Week and this year we pulled out all the stops to bring Armidale something magical.

National Science Week 2023 ran from 12th – 20th August 2023 with science events being run nationwide. UNE Discovery was delighted to contribute to the national effort of science awareness through not only our regular school visits during the week, but also with two public events for everyone to enjoy.

Our Science Week began with a visit to the Armidale Farmers Markets on Sunday 13th August, where we set up a pop-up science stall full of wonderful experiments for the young and young at heart to come along and play with. Included in the stall, we had optical illusions such as moving (but not moving?) pictures, and rainbow pinwheels that became white when spun fast enough. There was water that could defy gravity and stay in an upside-down cup thanks to some tricks with water surface tension. We had ping pong balls that were seemingly terrified of tuning forks, but actually just bounced away from the almost invisible vibrations. Marshmallows that could grow bigger or shrink down small on command were another popular experiment using air pressure. Amongst all of this were rocks, fossils, insects and animals preserved in resin, and a microscope to check everything out up close!

We love to put the A in STEAM at Discovery, and so we also had a craft station set up where participants could make their very own pin hole camera. With a couple of cardboard tubes, some black paper, and a pin, we flipped the world upside down! Well, the image in the camera at least, thanks to some quirks with light and the Camera Obscura Effect.

Last but not least, we were thrilled to present the very first two performances of “The Magic of Physics” science show. Using a little help from science, team leader Kieran wowed the gathered crowd with some truly magical effects… and then gave away the Magician’s secrets!

Among these science tricks were levitating light bulbs that turned on and off on command, a magical metal plate that showed sound vibrations in the geometric patterns of sand, floating stress balls, candles that extinguish themselves in the order they are asked, and a seemingly bottomless teacup (that is actually very good at melting Styrofoam with acetone). For the grand finale, Kieran performed the infamous Flaming Hands experiment, where he ignited a handful of butane bubbles on the bare palm of his hand – coming out completely unharmed every time! A very magical effect indeed.

During the school week Discovery was very busy with visits to Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre, Martin’s Gully Public School, Sandon Public School, and Drummond Memorial Public School.

On Saturday 19th August, we wrapped up our National Science Week with a visit to the Armidale Central Shopping Centre. Here we set up another come-and-play science display, featuring many of the same experiments that we rolled out the previous weekend at the farmers markets. We also brought along some magnets to watch them resist gravity as they fell very slowly when dropped down a copper pipe. Again, we performed the Magic of Physics show to make a suitably wonderful wrap-up to our week of science.

Why magic? We were asked this many times, and the answer is that many people don’t realise that magic is real. There are many wonderful, invisible forces shaping our everyday lives that often get overlooked as ordinary. The magical thing about science is that when something is understood, we can harness that understanding to create energy and technology that our ancestors could only dream of – that to them would seem like magic! We can make light bulbs float and light up, we make things fly (and sometimes ride in them), and – in the right conditions – we can control fire. We sometimes take these scientific marvels for granted, and this year for National Science Week we wanted to remind everyone what a wonderous and magical world we live in, and all the more so thanks to science.

We would like to thank Inspiring Australia for providing the grants that allow us to get out into the community and develop programs just like this one, and to the Armidale Farmers Markets and Armidale Central for hosting us. We will be sure to make the most of our new toys, so keep an eye out for new Discovery activities coming soon.

Would anyone mind if we changed it to STEAMM: Science Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths and Magic…?