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Sellotape stained glass windows at Cheltenham Science Festival

28 July 2017

BCFN students demonstrate practical nanotechnology using light boxes and polarising filters

Featuring interactive stalls, talks from authors, public figures and researchers, and all sorts of activities, Cheltenham Science Festival is the biggest of its kind in the UK. A key part of the event is the open ‘Discovery Zone’, where companies, universities and charities (among others) design a stall to describe what they do to the thousands of schoolchildren, families and interested visitors who come. The BCFN was faced with the same problem we have every time for demos: how do you show something that is by definition smaller than the wavelength of light, let alone encapsulate the variety of activities we undertake? 

In the end, we decided to focus on one of the most everyday ways of accessing nanostructure: optics. With polarising filters, a light source and a selection of plastics, we were able to show our visitors how the molecular arrangement in polymer products affected the paths of light waves travelling through differently depending on direction. Young children were delighted to make their own ‘stained glass windows’ from Sellotape and take home a set of polarising glasses to show the effects to their families. Older people were drawn in by the rainbows and stayed for a chat about our research, and we all got a work out on our ability to explain polarisation and refraction! 

It was great to be part of this key feature of the UK science communication calendar, and to see what other activities were presented, such as the world Famelab finals. As well as demonstrating their skills with 5 to 75 year olds, our BCFN first years designed and built the stall themselves, so everyone got to learn something. Many thanks to Duncan Casey for arranging the demonstration, along with all the BCFN students who took part. 

-      Kate Oliver, 3rd year PhD student, BCFN

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