Friday, 17 April 2015

Wow!How? - a fun family science fair

For the last eleven years the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History have organised Wow!How? This is a fun family science fair attracting between 3000 to 4000 visitors where all the activities are created and run by volunteers.

Here is a volunteer, Phillip Anderson, to tell us about what he got up to this year.

"This year I led the "good Vibrations" stall at the annual Wow!How? event.  Although I have helped out quite a bit with science demonstrations in the past, this was my first year participating in Wow!How? and since my background is in vibrations and acoustics this particular topic was a natural fit.
Phillip (left) leading the Good Vibrations Stall © Pitt Rivers Museum
My goal was to have some interactive activities for visualizing and learning about vibrations and waves, particularly sound waves, that were not too complicated and also appropriate for a wide age range. This turned out to be an ambitious goal, and on the day of the event we had five different activities operating throughout the day. A few were quite simple and hands-on, such as making straw oboes, or exploring waves with slinkies. The others were a bit more technical.

The most popular activity was a sound visualization station where visitors could speak, sing, snap, or scream into a microphone and see the differences in waveforms displayed live on a screen. We had two versions, one of which used a telephone handset connected to an old analog oscilloscope, the other with a microphone and projector for a true karaoke feel. In addition to using their voices, visitors could visualize the sound from a variety of musical instruments from the Pitt Rivers and the Bate Collection that were on hand.

Using the telephone handset at the sound visualisation station © Pitt Rivers Museum
Joy Todd using the sound visualisation station © Pitt Rivers Museum
My favorite activity was using a variable-speed strobe light to create the illusion of slow motion with vibrating objects such as a tuning fork. This video shows the effect with a vibrating string very well. The effect is visually stunning and is a great way to demonstrate motion that is normally too fast for the human eye.

I had a lot of fun putting together the 'Good Vibrations' stall this year, but a lot of credit is due to all the folks who helped me pull these activities together. The Oxford University Impact Engineering Lab, First Light Fusion, Ltd., the Pitt Rivers Museum, and the Bate Collection generously loaned most of the necessary equipment. And of course, this would not have been so successful without a team of excellent, highly motivated volunteers!"

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