{Scotland} Science without the kids

April 19, 2011


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Last Thursday I went to attend ‘City Art Centre Without the Kids’ at the Edinburgh Science Festival. If, like me, you were wondering what the City Art Centre has to do with science, it doesn’t. Seems I didn’t read the information properly and it’s actually just a host venue. Nevertheless, I had an enjoyable evening. Basically, it’s all the cool, fun science stuff kids get to do, except on Thursday night it was time for the kids to step aside and let the adults have some fun.

I decided to start at the top and work my way down (I never realised the City Art Centre had so many floors), and ended taking a seat at the Blood Bar on the fourth floor for the scab lab. This involved mixing ground up scabs from the kids from last year’s workshop (or so we were told), drops of blood and water and spreading them out in a scab shape of our desire (one lady made a heart shaped scab). Following on, we then created some blood clots by shaking together red blood cells with ‘scooshes’ of plasma and thrombin (please note that none of this actually involved real blood etc), and at the end of the workshop we were allowed to take our creations home with us.

Next up was the ER, where poor dummy Alan had fallen off his bike and not crushed his knee cap and incurred a big gash in his leg, but also discovered he had a cyst in his chest and suffered from gall bladders. Working as a team, we got to try our hand at keyhole surgery to remove some of the gall stones and bits of broken knee bone. The other women in my group were obviously having some difficulty putting themselves in place of the kids, as the poor but exceedingly good humoured ‘surgeon’ leading the session had to keep repeating that “yes, it looks like pepper seeds but it’s broken knee cap bones?”. One of those sae women loudly proclaimed, on exiting the ER booth, that “You don’t take gall stones out like that!”. A lost cause, me thinks.

Finally for this floor, I took a tour with Dr Clot, who is usually accompanied by his assistant Scab, but budget restraints for this event meant he was having the night off. We started out in the artery where we each got to choose a red blood cell, white blood cell or platelet shaped pillow. The red blood cells then got to deposit their ping-pong ball oxygen reserves in little pockets of the capillary as we passed through, while the white blood cells would have got the chance to throw themselves at a green intruder a.k.a. Don Infecto, though he too sadly had the night off. Finally, the red blood cells and platelets were attached to a web of elastic bands to form a scab, through which we then exited. Usually the tour ends with the scab being covered by a plaster. It was all very well done and I think I liked this best out of this section.

I then realised that I’d spent almost half my time on just this one floor, and quickly hurried on to the fifth floor (turns out I hadn’t actually made it all the way to the top earlier on), where I made a ‘keep-and-take-away’ shadowgram and learned that you should count in elephants and not in second when developing photographs in a dark room! The wind power workshop was really busy, so I didn’t stop to make a windmill myself (but I did stop long enough to admire the display of windmills in action) and the Cosy Cosy Game Show had just started so I decided not to waste time waiting around and made my way back downstairs (I never did find out what the game show was about).

On the third floor I had to make the difficult choice between learning how to programme a LEGO robot and going on a jungle safari – the safari won out. The setting for it was two zoologists in Borneo (represented by two VERY enthusiastic science presenters) who can’t always see animals in the jungle so they need other senses to hear, e.g. the most underrated tools of hearing technology – our ears! To demonstrate how particles carry sound through the air to our ears, we were treated to a rendition of the particle dance, and then we got to test out how sound travels fastest through solids with the ‘super-sonic-sound-blaster’ (a metal coathanger with stringed attached at either end). We partnered up, each wound a piece of string round our finger, stuck it in our ears, and bashed the free floating coat hanger in the middle with a wooden stick. The incredible thing? It absolutely works. Science is awesome! We were then ready for the jungle. Just as we had finished listening to various animal calls, and learned all about how gibbons sing duets and orangutans are “super awesome and climbing trees”, a voiceover announced that the event would be closing in 15 minutes. So I decided to skip the change to listen to shrews in a burrow with a microphones and check out what I had been missing on the remaining two floors.

Unwrapping the Mummy was just coming to the end of its last session, so I was too late for that, but I did arrive just in time to hear about the mummified apples people had been making which they could keep for years and worship, if they so pleased. With the invitation to “walk like an Egyptian” on my way out, I had just enough time to visit the World of Bubbles before we were thrown out. So, all in all I had a great evening. Just one word of advice, even if your instinct when given a straw is to suck, where bubble mixture is involved I recommend blowing instead. Not that I would do anything so stupid. Just saying. That’s all.

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