Tag Archive for: maths

Sixth Form Evening Lectures: the 2018 edition

How Physics and Maths Make a Difference in the World

Each year NUSTEM organises a series of Sixth Form Evening lectures for students in North East schools.  With the help of Northumbria University’s academic community and local employers we explore how physics and maths are used in the world around us.  The aim is to show students that Physics and Maths Matters! 

Physics and maths intersect in so many different areas and lead to so many different post-16 choices that we want to showcase that to young people (and sometimes their families).  Here in the North East we have nationally and internationally renowned research and industry, and NUSTEM is proud to be able to host speakers at the forefront of these developments.

2018 has been recognised as the Year of Engineering. Engineering fundamentally relies on strong foundations in physics and maths, and the transferable skills that people who study them develop. With this in mind the 2018 NUSTEM Sixth Form Evening Lectures will open with a fantastic lecture on fluid dynamics and it applications in Mechanical Engineering.

One lesson we have learnt over the years is that the lectures appeal to a wider range of people than Sixth form students. Even though we have Y12 and Y13 students at the heart of these lectures we encourage schools to extend the invitation to Y10-Y11 students and their parents/carers, to come along and find out how fractals, hydrophobic surfaces, smart materials, waves, and electron scanning microscopes matter in the world around us.

Our series of evening lectures take place every Thursday from 17:30 to 18:30 at Northumbria University starting on the 4th of October. You can register to attend here.


Tetrahedral Kite, Beamish

As part of Beamish Museum’s ‘Wind in Your Sails’ event, visitors today helped us make this amazing tetrahedral kite. It’s constructed from drinking straws, survival blanket, fishing line, and tape (OK, and a couple of cheeky lengths of dowelling to reinforce the keel and spine).

Built and flown (…and crashed) in the same day. Huge thanks to everyone who helped out. We hope you enjoyed building this as much as we did.

Alexander Graham Bell

Better-known for inventing the telephone, Scotsman Alexander Graham-Bell was also obsessed with kites. Specifically, box kites based on tetrahedral cells, just like our. There’s a terrific set of photographs of these at Public Domain Review, here’s just a taster:

Alexander Graham-Bell's 64-cell tetrahedral kite.

Alexander Graham-Bell’s 64-cell tetrahedral kite. Public domain.

Looks familiar?


One of the neat features of this design is that it works at several different scales. If you think of the single tetrahedron as being one ‘cell’, then a 4-cell kite will fly pretty well. A 16-cell kite flies really well. Even in the gusty wind at Beamish, on Sunday Carol and Antonio managed this:

Thanks for all your help!

How long would it take to fall through the Earth?

This is a classic calculation, and one that’s surprisingly tricky: suppose you could bore a hole all the way through the Earth. If you jumped in, how long would it take you to fall through and come out of the other side?

If you’re taking A-level physics you know pretty much everything you need to do the calculation for yourself, but there are a few fiddly little problems you need to deal with along the way. Most importantly: if you’re falling through the Earth, only some of it is below your feet. The rest of it is above your head, and the force of gravity from that part is pulling you not downwards but upwards. So working out the forces isn’t as simple as you might hope, but you do get something back: when you start picking away at the maths, you’ll find that what happens when you reach the centre of the planet is pretty important.

Have a think about how you’d tackle the problem yourself, then take a look at this video from MinutePhysics.

Tip of the hat to Alom Shaha for pointing us to this.

The Wonders of the Sun

CPD Opportunities in February: KS3/4 Light and Colour, Isaac Physics

We’ve two terrific CPD opportunities coming up late this month, both to be held in our shiny new Think Lab facility at Northumbria University:

Lights, Camera, Images

26th February, 16:30–18:00
This twilight workshop is aimed at those teaching physics at Key Stages 3 and 4: it’s suitable for non-specialists. We’ll investigate a variety of activities for use in the classroom when teaching light, colour and spectra.

Presented in association with the Institute of Physics.

Light refreshments will be provided on arrival.

To book, please contact Think Physics via Annie Padwick, annie.padwick@northumbria.ac.uk.

Isaac Physics Day

28th February, 09:00–15:00
This one-day workshop is aimed at A-level Physics teachers and A-level Maths(mechanics units) teachers, or those intending to teach these subjects.

Delivered in association with Isaac Physics, the workshop will support teachers to develop mathematical problem-solving in a physics context. It will also help teachers prepare their students for physics, engineering and maths courses at University.

Refreshments will be provided through out the day.

For further information or to book a place, please contact events@isaacphysics.org.

Isaac Physics Day – brochure.
(PDF, 600Kb).

Please do drop Annie a line if you’ve any further questions, and feel free to pass this information on to anyone else you think might be interested.

We’ve information about how to contact Think Physics, and how to find Think Lab.

Tinkering Thursday: 11th December

In the photograph above, Joe is pointing a telescope at the sun. Two things about this are remarkable:

  1. It’s December, we’re in Newcastle, and we actually saw the sun today.
  2. Joe can still see.

We all know – obviously – that looking at the sun through telescopes, binoculars, even cameras is, in general, a really really bad idea. But let’s be clear, just in case this is news to you:

Looking at the sun through a telescope, pair of binoculars, or indeed any sort of optical instrument is a really, really bad idea. You’re quite likely to blind yourself.

Don’t do it.

…unless you have a solar telescope. Oh heck yes, we have one of those. It has a very, very precise and very, very dark filter, and through it the sun looks like this:

The sun’s disc, with a little cloud, as seen through the solar telescope. December 11th 2014.

The sun’s disc, with a little cloud, as seen through the solar telescope. December 11th 2014.

So that was fun. We’ve some work to do getting the best performance out of the solar telescope, but the good news is that we’ve managed to extract the weird bits of material that were floating around in the eyepiece, so the whole thing doesn’t have to go back to the manufacturers. In California. Phew.

Back in Think Lab, we continued Tinkering Thursday with Joe making rather more smoke than he’d intended. He was attempting to make a lightbulb from scratch, but since we haven’t yet worked out how to isolate the smoke detectors in the Lab, we packed that in sharpish. We’ll come back to it.

Our attention turned, therefore, to the more careful (and less combustible) pursuit that is trigonometry. There is, it turns out, good reason you learn sines, cosines, and (in this case) inverse tangents in school: so you can make adorable little robots draw not-quite-lined-up Christmas trees:

This sort of thing makes us happy. If you look closely you might catch a glimpse of some extremely rough-looking code – the main output of the afternoon was, perhaps, a bug report filed with the lovely Mirobot team. We continue to be big fans of our dinky little robot friend, and as the software settles down it’s proving even more capable than we’d hoped.

More Tinkering next Thursday!

Tag Archive for: maths

Tag Archive for: maths

Cardboard building shapes

Create your own building blocks using recycled cardboard and scissors.

The Cryptographer

Extension material for our Cryptographer workshop, in which primary-age children explore the mathematics of data security. Do these activities at home!

Space Maths

Scaling and ageing the solar system, in our Space Maths workshop.

You won’t believe the scale of this activity…

We recently had a request from a local school for a workshop that linked maths and space.  A natural fit, of course, and an example of the sort of workshop we can pull together to fit in with your teaching needs.

As a starter, we looked at the first half of the classic ‘Powers of Ten’ film:

It’s a great film to use to show the massive range of scales over which physics is useful, from galaxies to people to quarks. However, for this session, I wanted to focus just on the journey out to the edge of the observable universe.

After than we turned out attention to our nearest (natural) neighbour – the Moon.  Although the diagrams of the solar system often show the Moon as being very close to Earth, you can visualise the distance easily because the Moon is about 10x the diameter of the Earth away from us.  Using any ball to represent the Earth, wrap a piece of string around the middle of the ball ten times.  Unwrap, and there you have a nice visual representation of how far away the Moon is.

When I was teaching in a school, one of my regular activities was to make a scale model of the solar system.  The problem with the solar system is that space is BIG. It’s really hard to create a solar system model which has the same scale for both the diameter of the planets and the distances between the planets.  The activity I used for Think Physics is one which is adapted from ‘The Earth as a peppercorn,’ and there are variations on the theme all over the internet.

How big are the planets in relation to each other?

food stuffs

Objects to use in our scale model of the solar system.

There are online calculators which will allow you to do the scaling without effort, but as we were doing a maths workshop, we got out our scientific calculators and did the maths ourselves.  We used a football (diameter 20cm) as the Sun, and used scaling to work out the diameter of the planets.  If you don’t want to do your own calculations then I like the Thinkzone version of the solar system calculator.  In the picture you can see the options that I offered as possible objects that would be the right size for our model.

Having worked out that hundreds and thousands are about the right size for mercury, silver dragées work for Earth, and cherry tomatoes would be good for Jupiter, we then tried to put the objects in the correct place – using the same scale.

We used a toilet roll to help with the distances (similar to this NRICH activity) – and the students quickly realised that there just wasn’t enough space in our lab.  In fact, using our scale (the Sun as a football), the only planet we could fit into Think Lab was Mercury.  The maps show where we would have to put our objects.

The orbits of the inner planets, if the sun is 20cm in diameter.

The orbits of the inner planets, if the sun is 20cm in diameter.

The orbits of the outer planets (and Pluto) according to our scale model.

The orbits of the planets (and Pluto) according to our scale model.


If you want to do this activity – you could use the Thinkzone calculator and center the solar system on your own school – you just need your latitude and longitude, which you can find by placing a marker on Google Maps.  Students can then work out where their house is on the map, or you could even go on a solar system safari and walk the distances involved using a trundle wheel and your map.


Tag Archive for: maths

19th November: Space Maths

Today, Carol and James were back at Heworth Grange for more Space Maths. We looked at the size and scale of our solar system (using sprinkles, no less), and got up close and personal with some meteorites.

Find some more information on our space maths workshop page and make sure you check out the link to the “tediously accurate scale model of the solar system”. Seriously, you won’t regret it.

Space Maths and Light Painting

Today, Carol and James visited Heworth Grange to run two workshops.

We did Space Maths – for more on that, check out our page of extra activities. Trust us, you really want to follow the link to the ‘Tediously accurate scale model of the solar system.” No, really.

We also did light and photography: we’ve another page of extra material around light painting, including some jaw-dropping videos. Here are the light painting photos you took in the workshop:

Great to meet you all today. We enjoyed working with you, and hope we’ll be back soon!