Sci-Pop @ The Forum Wallsend

Seven members of Think Physics crew descended on The Forum Shopping Centre, Wallsend yesterday for our second Science Pop-up Shop.

Families of children from local schools were invited to join us for a day of science based activities. Over the course of the day we saw over 100 families – thanks for coming along. We handled meteorites, took infrared selfies, built stomp rockets, piloted robots, explored the pinwheel galaxy, designed planets and flew hoop gliders (and that was all before lunch!) Families were also take on a tour of the universe in our Explore Your Universe show.

Have a look at the gallery below to see what we got up to, and stay tuned for news of our next sci-pop pop-up shop. You could even sign up for our newsletter.

Half term with Think Physics

At a loose end over half term? We’ve got you covered.

Think Physics is out and about around Newcastle for three days during the week:

Keep up-to-date with public events around the region from ourselves and others with our events calendar. We’re posting new stuff there all the time.

Booklet: What is So Exciting About Physics?

Question: What do the following people have in common?

Answer: They all studied a physics degree, and are all in a new booklet called What is so Exciting About Physics?

Put together by a group of students at Cambridge University called Cavendish Inspiring Women, the booklet introduces a range of people discussing what they find exciting about Physics, and where it has taken them in their careers so far. The booklet’s a quick, punchy read that introduces a diverse range of role models, several of whom are working outside what you might think of as traditional physics-related jobs. Teachers, it’s well worth passing this one on to your students.

You can download a copy of the booklet from the CiW website, and follow the project via Twitter.

Last Week, in Think Physics…

[you’ll have to imagine one of us reading this first line with some dramatic music playing in the background]

Previously, in Think Physics…

ESTEC space capsule-1650

Something suitably spacey-looking from Joe’s trip to ESTEC, as part of the UNAWE meeting.

Joe was in The Netherlands last week for the UNAWE Workshops – a worldwide primary space education conference. Hosted at Leiden University, with delegates from more than 25 countries, he reports excellent lunches and some useful ideas. We’ll twist his arm to write something more extensive soon.

Less internationally, I was at an Enterprising Science workshop in London, hosted by the Science Museum and King’s College. Lots of useful nuggets and discussions, and a trip around the utterly fabulous new Cosmonauts exhibition. I may have geeked out just a little over the Soviet-era LK-3 lunar lander that’s on display. Sadly, no photography allowed.

Back home in Newcastle, we’ve now held the first two sessions of our sell-out Royal Institution Engineering Masterclasses:

…and we had an excellent turn-out for the first of our Physics Matters! lecture series:

Free tickets are still available for the rest of the series – starting with Biophysics this Thursday evening.

Speaking of events, don’t miss our calendar – we’ve been adding loads of stuff to it. Upcoming highlights include our A-level Physics teachers’ network meeting on 18th November, astronaut Chris Hadfield at the Centre for Life a few days earlier, and Edinburgh Fringe sensation Festival of the Spoken Nerd at Northern Stage on 30th October.

Otherwise, we’ve been fielding calls and requests and meetings with loads of our partner schools, nailing down the details of what we’re going to be up to for the rest of the year. It’s busy!

A cake, this afternoon.

A cake, this afternoon.

Finally, and of critical importance, this week has started fantastically well: project director Carol brought in a cake.

[back to the dramatic voiceover]

And now, Think Physics continues…

Jobs with the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) describes itself as:

Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.

The organisation brings together 22 member states and wider partners from Bulgaria to the Ukraine, sharing financial resources and intellectual skills, allowing ESA to achieve far more than if one single European country were to go it alone. It’s a shining example of the benefits of collaboration.

The main objectives of ESA’s programmes are to find out more about Earth, its immediate space environment, our Solar System and the Universe. It also works to develop satellite-based technologies and services, to promote European industries, and to collaborate with space organisations outside Europe.

ESA has sites in Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and in the United Kingdom.

Could you have a future space career?

Yes of course! If you have a passion for space, build the skills and knowledge that are required and you’ll be in with a shot.

For more information and to see the types of jobs available visit the ESA Careers website. There, you’ll find information on graduate traineeship schemes, work placements for undergraduate or masters students, case studies, videos and current opportunities, so you can get a flavour of the types of jobs and more importantly the skills and qualifications you would need.

Find out More: Subscribe to the ‘vacancies announcement‘ list and receive weekly updates about job opportunities.

Teachers: share with your pupils the types of jobs available within the Space sector. You could even inspire students (of all ages) by displaying job opportunities on the board as they enter the classroom. For example, very recently ESA have recruited for:

  • Thermal Engineer
  • Medical Officer
  • Systems Engineer
  • Earth Observations Project Specialist
  • Contracts Officer
  • Component Engineer
  • Microelectronics Engineer

Teacher Subject Specialism Training: Secondary Physics

In an attempt to address the shortage of secondary physics teachers, the Department for Education is backing training to support non-physics-specialist teachers (or teachers wishing to return to the profession) in making the transition. A range of training opportunities are available, primarily courses with multiple sessions through the school year from October 2015.

In the North-East, such courses are being offered by George Stephenson High School in Newcastle, The Academy at Shotton Hall, Peterlee (PDF link), The Hermitage Academy in Chester-Le-Street (PDF link), and Carmel College in Darlington (PDF link). We’ve added the first session in the George Stephenson course to our events calendar primarily because we’re hosting it here at Think Lab, but do explore the different opportunities available.

Also be sure to follow the link to the Government page about the scheme. The downloadable training directory there is a bit buggy for me this afternoon, but there appear to be even more opportunities in the North-East than those we highlight above. There are also multiple courses for Maths specialism.



Making Apple Watch

As a counterpoint to Monday’s post about building giant ships by throwing huge slabs of steel around, here’s the opposite end of the metalworking spectrum: the precision metallurgy and machining that goes into making Apple Watch.

Product Designer Greg Koenig has a terrific blog post which dissects what little Apple has said about the Watch with a fanatical eye. All he has to go on is this set of films about the ‘craftsmanship’ involved:

From there, Koenig explores work hardening; gold metal matrix composites; ultrasonic imperfection testing of the sort usually applied only to medical implants or aircraft engine components; the order of polishing vs. machining operations; stainless steel alloys and nickel allergies; forging and the effect of grain structure; datum detection and coordinate measuring; …

I could go on. Koenig does, and it’s fascinating. Turns out, the steel and aluminium watches are made using quite different processes (forging and extrusion, respectively), and there’s something extraordinary going on with the aluminium version:

Apple is doing something utterly unique […] using a laser to clean up any burrs or finishing defects from machining. You can see the laser quickly outline the lip of an inside pocket, and come in for a more intense second pass on the floor of that pocket. […] this is an astonishingly brilliant trick they cooked up.

Materials Science and Metallurgy are fields that are easy to overlook, but so many of the devices and technologies of our lives depend on continued innovation at all levels of the supply and manufacturing chain. Mass production has been one of the key technologies of the last hundred years or so, but there are still new advances to be found.

Do read the rest of Koenig’s post. If you find it as utterly compelling as I do, bear in mind that you’d get to work with this stuff most likely from studying physics, chemistry and design technology in school. You’d go on to fields like physics, chemistry, materials science, product design, or mechanical engineering, then specialise into surface physics, metallurgy, production engineering, quality control, and so on.

Is “The Martian” accurate? Does it matter?

It’s been a big couple of weeks for the planet Mars. Two weeks ago it was the star of our North East skills stand, last Monday NASA announced they’ve found evidence of flowing water, and now it’s the setting for the big-budget rescue of Matt Damon in the movie, The Martian.

Being both a teacher and a movie fan, I’m always curious as to how I can use films to educate students. I know a lot of people worry about the scientific accuracy of films; in fact there are whole websites dedicated to exposing bad movie science, but I wonder if a movie like The Martian has other things to offer. Firstly, it’s a film that celebrates intelligence and problem solving. The film’s heroes have to use their brains to save the day, a relative rarity in a Hollywood blockbuster. Interstellar was praised for its scientific content (thanks to consultant Kip Thorne), but still ultimately boils down to “love saves the day”. The Martian bucks the trend and is a great demonstration to students of how a scientific mind-set can be our best weapon in the face of the most challenging of problems.

Secondly, I think that the insight into a large scientific organisation, in this case NASA, will help students to appreciate the wide-range of different careers onto which STEM qualifications can lead. In this film we see every type of scientist outlined by the People Like Me project which is part of the WISE campaign which promotes women in STEM. The aim of this project is to demonstrate the different roles available to people who study STEM; it’s not all men in white coats. It is the combination of these different skill-sets working together in The Martian that ultimately saves the day. Thankfully, The Martian also has a suitably diverse cast which helps to break down a few stereotypes about the types of people who work in STEM.

If we decide to use films in the classroom, I think we need to be very clear as to what our ultimate goal is. If we are using them to illustrate or teach scientific concepts, I think we must be very careful about the accuracy of the scientific content. On the other hand, if we want to show our pupils the value of a STEM education and inspire them to continue towards STEM careers, I think films like The Martian, despite the odd inaccuracy, can be very useful.

Another favourite of mine is Contagion (also with Matt Damon!), for being similarly diverse and not afraid to celebrate intelligence. What films or TV shows have/would you show in the classroom?

Watch a gigantic ship being built in six minutes

Projects like Think Physics spend a lot of time illustrating how engineering careers mostly aren’t about welding or metalwork. But there’s still something plain cool about seeing huge slabs of steel being thrown around by massive cranes and slotted together like oversize Lego. This video is the cruise ship AIDAprima being built in Nagasaki, Japan, between June 2013 and May 2014.

On board are two water slides, climbing walls, a lavish sports deck, 1643 guest rooms, thirteen restaurants and some sort of clever roof I don’t quite understand. Underneath is what sounds like a fiendishly clever air bubble system which reduces friction between the hull and the sea it’s travelling through, which is claimed to reduce fuel consumption by 7%. That’s a huge saving for a ship of this size (more technical details about the ship here).

When we’re talking about cutting edge engineering innovations and the exciting career opportunities that are emerging from breakthrough sectors, it’s worth remembering that the traditional heavy engineering companies are also still doing cool stuff. Ship building, power generation, mining, machine tool production – they’re all busy fields, and they’re not standing still when it comes to new technologies and approaches.

(video via the superlative blog The Kid Should See This)