Science Fair

Science stepped out of the lab and into The Edge for a day of volcanic eruptions and brain explosions.

The Context

The Edge’s Science Fair marked the end of the Bioscience quarter. Running in late June, 2012, the program provided an excuse for the team to experiment with things like liquid nitrogen sorbet, vege powered lamps and yeast powered racing boats.

The Science Fair was a free, all day event, offering hands-on activities which proved that science doesn’t have to be done in a lab. Over the course of the day 1000 citizen scientists made their way through the event.

The Nuts and Bolts

The program featured a variety of workshops including Make and Take Sessions. These thirty minute sessions were a series of fun workshops that gave participants a chance to get a bit of bioscience on their hands and aprons.

Preserved Specimen Jewellery — a crash course in crafting jewellery from botanic samples preserved in acrylic. Brooches, earrings, necklaces and pendants were among the accessories made.

Vege Powered Lamp — budding scientists were shown a way to power a small LED lamp, using fruit and vegetables for fuel.

Bio Volcano Model — (a Science Fair classic!) In this biological take on the model volcano, Vesuvius enthusiasts used a yeast-based magma for their models’ explosive endings.

Liquid Nitrogen Sorbet — participants mix-n-matched their favourite fruits and flavours, creating their very own sorbet flavour explosion with the rapid freezing process of liquid nitrogen.

Bio Boat Derby — a mix of biology and engineering, participants built yeast-powered racing boats and participated in a series of heats leading to the Grand Final.

Belly Button Biodiversity — scientists became subjects as they inoculated agar plates with swabs from their own navel. The activity progressed onto Facebook whereby photos of bacterial growth were uploaded, tagging the individuals so they could track the progress.

Aside from these short sessions, there were a series of 1.5-2 hour workshops on the day that looked to develop the skills and knowledge of attendees.

Microscopy for Fashion — this workshop used The Edge’s microscope and camera adaptor to teach the basics of Microscopy, including optimisation and creative treatment of images before preparing them for digital printing onto fashion textiles.

DIY Organic Textiles — this workshop was the first in an ongoing collaborative project to experiment with the use of a combination of yeast and bacterial cultures to grow a cellulose textile for use in fashion.

Bio-Acoustic Soundscapes — combining sound and biology, this workshop showed how bioacoustics recordings could be composed into a soundscape of the body using the software program Ableton Live.

Spoken Science — Lead by Brisbane-based writer and poet, Scott Sneddon, these workshops were delivered to help young and aspiring scientists better articulate their complex scientific ideas and concepts, and therefore make them more accessible for audiences. Participants in this workshop were also given an opportunity to present their ideas at the Mad Scientist Tea Parties.

The Learnings

  • Next time around double the number of seats available (and then double it again)
  • Managing capacity on free events is tricky
  • Always timetable a break between scheduled volcanic eruptions

The Legacy

  • The kombucha continued to grow in the basement, fuelling workshop on sustainable fashion and jewellery making
  • Spoken Science participants went on to present at the Mad Scientist Tea Parties
  • Liquid nitrogen sorbet facilitators went on to deliver workshops as part of National Science Week

Bioscience

Venture down microscopes and up telescopes into the world of the microscopic and sciency topics.

The context

The Bioscience period was one of our first concentrated forays into the realm of serious science. This was a pretty big step for the team, and at times could be pretty daunting as we worked to get our head around protocols, requirements, safe practices and what science looked like outside of a professional lab environment.

The nuts and bolts

Throughout the period we offered a range of workshops and events, along with ongoing projects open to community participation.

The Mad Scientist Tea Parties were a key event throughout the period. Held monthly, these sessions were a way to ensure that science wasn’t just for scientists. Towards the end of the series this event was attracting around 100 people to each session.

Our Catalyst for the period, Dr Cameron Wilson, set out to embed elements of science throughout our building and our calendar. He started by installing a vertical farm in our window bays, providing lettuce for all, and quickly moved into running workshops in the science of fermentation, using bacteria to turn cabbage into kimchi and using yeast to turn ginger and sugar into (low-alcohol) ginger beer.

Cameron’s ongoing obsession though, was the kombucha project, growing sustainable textiles from tea and bacteria. The kombucha went on to claim a permanent home in the so-called Creepy Lab (aka the basement) long after Cameron’s appointment had concluded.

Rebecca Cunningham joined us for a residency, continuing to work on her life-long performance piece, One. Over the period she collected DNA samples from willing participants to compile into a durational performance.

DNA jewellery making was also on the agenda, with Svenja Kratz teaching participants how to extract DNA from a piece of fruit or vegetable and then use it to create wearable art.

The period ended with a bang, as the Science Fair spilled out into the streets (well, the breezeway at least).

The learnings

  • Think twice before working with children, animals or micro-organisms
  • Some things to require experts, and those experts need to be given the structure to share their expertise across all team, from operations to communications
  • It takes time to build a new audience, especially when you are offering opportunities in this area for the first time
  • It’s really valuable to be able to move past concepts into practical activities

The legacy

  • A permanent chemical store is now located in our building
  • We now have a range of scientific equipment available for programming (in an area now fondly known as the Creepy Lab)
  • An ongoing focus on cross-disciplinary entry points to science