By Matthew Kemp, Co-president, Cambridge Hands-On Science
6500 excitable children and 80 equally excitable demonstrators at 35 explosive events over 7 action-packed weeks, with one van full of experiments. This is the CHaOS Summer Science Roadshow 2016!
Cambridge Hands-On Science (or the apt acronym CHaOS) is a student-run voluntary organisation based in the University of Cambridge that aims to show that science can be fun, relevant and easily understood through a plethora of experiments and interactive experiences.
Science permeates all aspects of our lives, but a lack of understanding leads to stigma and inaction when dealing with global issues such as genetically modified organisms and climate change. Basic scientific literacy is therefore essential to show that science can be trusted whilst also cultivating a questioning frame of mind.
CHaOS strives to promote these principles by putting on events throughout the year, culminating in the Summer Roadshow. But what elements must be combined to create this mixing pot of managed mayhem? Read on to find out…
A tour, that this year went down to Cornwall, across to Essex and up to Norfolk, needs lots of planning. Demonstrators shuttle across the UK to campsites where our many tents and meticulously labelled boxes are waiting. These can be packed up along with the multitude of experiments into a TARDIS-like van (it must be bigger on the inside!).
We have a vast array of experiments covering many aspects of science, including some relevant to biochemistry: extracting DNA from kiwis; looking deep into cells using microscopes; and of course our resident skeleton Boris! We try to cover similar topics to those in the national curriculum, but as schools often resort to book-teaching, we focus on a more hands-on and practical approach to supplement the curriculum.
The first half of tour mainly consists of school visits where groups of children wander around rooms full of experiments whilst the teachers look on, glad of a small respite! For the second half we attend public events such as summer fairs and scout jamborees. We also rock up at local town halls and take to the streets with some of the more portable experiments (the strange looks we get…).
Our target age range is 9-13 (Years 5-8) but at public events we see people of all ages, including adults who have dragged their kids along (or possibly the other way around!). We aim to alter the perception of science as being boring and unimportant by developing a fun and inquisitive atmosphere to hopefully spark the interest of those attending and possibly lead them to pursue STEM subjects in higher education.
All of the demonstrators on tour are student volunteers who study STEM subjects in the University of Cambridge (though we do get the occasional lost arts student…!). Communicating science to all ages gives us valuable skills and experience – undergraduates and graduates alike.
We also do this, as a Cornish school teacher said, ‘for the love of science!’ We hope to infuse others with that same love (perhaps by osmosis?).
CHaOS received funding from the Biochemical Society to help organise the Summer Science Roadshow 2016.