The Big Bang, Manchester

Between the 11th – 13th March The Big Bang Fair was held in the Manchester Central Convention Complex in the heart of Manchester city centre and I was there on the NPL stand to show the some of 17,631 people who attended how science can be fun, and highlight some of the amazing work that NPL does.

The first two days were mainly for school groups and young people aged 11 – 18, whereas the Saturday was open to everyone who fancied to pop in and explore the wonders that was on offer, and what science, engineering and maths does and how you can get involved. Among the stands with NPL were the likes of Shell, E-on, BAE Systems, Airbus and the BBC to name just a few, as well as there being live shows from the BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory and Sky’s Braniac.

The NPL stand proved very popular with the visitors; where we had several interactive hands-on activities which demonstrated how the human mind perceives objects and how physics plays a part.

Here, a visitor is briefed on what to do on the vision test; where people have 2 minutes to decide whether 20 different samples of wood are each made of real wood, or man made wood – with their results being recorded and used to help NPL create computer systems which can mimic how humans see and compare objects.

On the other side of the test, people can also use touch, along with vision, to again try to guess which of the 20 samples are natural or non-natural wood. People who get 13 or more right won a much sought after plastic brain!

Another test on the NPL stand, which saw people having to arrange 6 Russian dolls in order weight, only to find out that they would always guess incorrectly because of the different densities of each which made everyone mistakenly believe the lighter, smaller dolls were actually much heavier than they truly were.

Someone trying to guess whether the sample being shown is natural or non-natural wood. Hopefully the results can have an influence on how man-made wood is created to give it a more natural effect and feel, thus reducing the need to cut down and use real trees.

Fellow Serco company the NNL (National Nuclear Laboratory) also shared the stand, who were demonstrating the science of nuclear power. Here, a group of school children are shown how nuclear materials are transported safely on vibrating carpets; who had the chance to win torches if they managed to pick up items moving around the carpet using robots.