Thermal Selfies

Today Think Physics was visiting The Hermitage Academy STEM fair.  It was lovely to chat with the people of Chester-le-Street and beyond.

We took with us our thermal camera and plasma ball, both of which we use as part of the ‘Explore your Universe’ workshops (which are available for booking!).  Our theme was ‘seeing things differently’ and we were offering ‘Thermal Selfies’.  Now, technically, they were infrared photographs – but we decided to go with the catchy title.

We looked at the different types of information that we could get by using different wavelengths of light: visible, infrared and UV.  With the IR camera we could measure the temperature of body parts and see who had cold noses.  We could also look at how effective coats and jackets were at keeping people warm, by looking at how much IR was radiated by them.

The IR camera allows us to demonstrate why astronomers use telescopes to observe different wavelengths of light by using a black bin bag to simulate interstellar dust.  In visible light, we couldn’t see through it, but in IR we could see the children hiding very easily.  A handy gadget for our next game of hide and seek!


Hiding behind a black plastic bag? Not in infrared!

We also looked at how the sun appears in different wavelengths, comparing the slightly boring visible light pictures with the more interesting UV pictures.

Visible light images of the sun. NASA

Visible light images of the sun. NASA

UV images of the sun. NASA

UV images of the sun. NASA

Thank you very much to Ms Rose at the Hermitage Academy for inviting us along to the STEM fair.  We had a great time taking thermal selfies and talking physics.  As promised, we have put together a gallery of the pictures.  If there’s one of you, can you spot it?


Tinkering Thursday: March 5th “Turn it off!” edition

Andrew has invented the ANNOY-O-TRON!! It’s in block capitals and has two exclamation marks, to be particularly annoying. A development of the previous instrumented pendulum, the ANNOY-O-TRON!! features several key advances:

  • Annoyingly many ‘compile / wait / upload / wait / fail / turn off / wait / turn back on / wait’ cycles.
  • Annoying choice of annoyingly loud GarageBand synthesised instrument.
  • Annoyingly flaky MIDI interface from the TouchBoard to GarageBand…
  • …which turned out to be caused by an annoyingly obvious-in-hindsight bug. Who knew that unless you turn a note off before playing a new one, GarageBand spawns a new instrument for each, topping out at 64 instruments? Harrumph. Annoying.
  • Annoyingly not-very-tremendous result in the end.
Andrew does battle with the less annoying parts of his code.

Andrew does battle with the less annoying parts of his code.

Annoyances aside: Andrew’s now turned the instrumented pendulum into something wholly more whimsical and ridiculous than, er, the sampled sine wave of previous weeks. He’s also had two sensors being synthesised at once, which obviously doubles the annoyance factor.

Next up: further exploring the MIDI controller aspect of this, to see how much flexibility there is to manipulate instruments rather than simply trigger notes. Then there’s building a frame, rigging a dozen pendulums, working out what and how we want to turn into what sort of sound, and thinking about what else we can drive with the data. Sound is only part of the excessive annoying extravaganza that will be this installation.

Tune in next Tinkering Thursday for tales of triumph over annoying adversity!

Andrew would like to make it clear that the annoyingly frequent use of the word ‘annoying’ in this update is not his responsibility.

World Book Day

Today is World Book Day.  Across the country, schools will be celebrating books and reading.  Here at Think Physics we’re very keen to encourage reading too.

For our primary work with younger children, we’ve been looking for fiction books which feature science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM).  And if possible, a strong female main character.  We’ve found a few.  We’ve saved them onto a pinterest board for you to have a look at.

At secondary, we’d also like to be able to share fiction books which feature STEM with a strong female main character.  It’s a bit harder to do though.  For strong female main characters, there is of course, The Hunger Games trilogy with Katniss Everdene, but they’re not really STEM related.  I also find that, as an adult, some of the themes in young adult fiction are really gruesome or disturbing.  I’m not sure why that doesn’t seem to bother my children, but it doesn’t.  There are some young adult books which have a link to STEM, but in general, it’s far less central to the story.  There’s a useful list of books on the School Library Journal website, which gives some examples.

Finally, if you want to have a read of non-fiction popular science books, then have a browse through the shelves of the Science Teaching Library, curated by Alex Weatherall.  There are some great books on there suitable for the general reader.

If you have any recommendations, please do let us know.