Dr D’s Experience the magic of science

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I saw the title of today’s speaker’s talk as science is not my ‘thing’ however, when Dr Vicki Dennison walked in dressed as I imagined an explorer would with a heavily laden rucksack on her back and an Australian type hat pulled down over her ears, the word extrovert sprang to mind and immediately attracted my attention. My smile grew even bigger as she ‘filled us in’ on her career path whilst donning the traditional ‘white coat’ as worn by all those involved in science and medicine. And then the experiments began !!

If there is such a thing as a mad female professor then Vicki would definitely fit the bill because she never stands still, constantly waves her arms around, yet keeps your full attention as she pulls things out of her rucksack or her white-coat pockets and literally helped us experience the magic of science. Her first captivating experiment was to make fire using a plunger and some cotton wool. I have no idea what the scientific terms are for what she did but she did it twice and made several members of the audience gasp in surprise whilst others raised their eyebrows in disbelief.

Whilst we’re all still contemplating how she did the first experiment, Dr D is rummaging in her rucksack for some wire wool and a glass bowl and delving into her white-coat pocket for a battery. So what on earth is this all about as she places the wire wool in the bowl then waves the battery over it and suddenly it’s all alight. What is going on? Again she explains all the scientific facts about why and how this happened but I am still in awe of how a battery can set a handfull of wire wool alight. I felt like a kid again and thought what fun it would be to try this out at home with my brillo pads!!

Vicki’s love of science is bewitching and her next experiment (although the word trick now springs to mind) involved the spreading of Marmite over a white paper plate ( both of which she needless to say, retrieved from her copious rucksack) as she talked about the merits of reflection, refraction and absorption of light. Again, the technicalities of what this is and why it happens was completely lost on me but definitely not on many members of the audience who were quick to answer her questions about these three different aspects of light and marvel at the consequences.

With the image of a paper plate smeared in Marmite still in my mind, Vicki is waving her arms about again and now talking about the Venturi effect. She asked the audience whether they were au fait with this and to my amazement, several members were nodding their heads. Sadly for me, her scientific explanation was incomprehensible however, when it was likened to the method used by a Dyson hoover I was almost on her wavelength again. To explain it visually, Vicki had a super long plastic bag which somehow filled with air even though she wasn’t really blowing in it??? However that happened, it was pretty impressive and another perfect example of the magic of science.

Dr D’s penultimate experiment/trick involved a plastic pipe and a copper pipe (both retrieved from her rucksack of course) and some very strong magnets which she found in one of her white-coat pockets. Now even I knew that the magnets would not ‘stick’ to the outside of either of these two types of pipes as she duly demonstrated however, when she dropped the magnets into each pipe, they did not fall to the bottom !! Needless to say, this phenomenom drew the odd gasp from members of the audience as Vicki then went on to explain that as the magnets were dropping, they were generating an electrical current thus making them ‘stick’ to the pipes. She likened this action to a similar one used in a lift and, whilst the technicalities went over my head once again, there were many nodding heads and grunts of understanding by audience members.

With time running out, Dr D’s final experiment/trick involved the use of something known as D30. Whilst Vicki likened it to playdough in constitution, it actually offers the thinnest and most advanced protection yet against impact. Its chemical composition is completely secret but its use in sports and motorcycle gear and protective cases for consumer electronics including phones, industrial workwear and military protection is very well recognised and highly sought after. To prove just how effective it is, Vicki asked a member of the audience to put her hand on the table; when the fingers had been covered in D30, Dr D took a mallet and hit the fingers very hard. While the audience winced at the impact, the lady didn’t because her fingers had been completely protected by the D30. Just to prove the point, Vicki then repeated it with her own fingers covered in this flexible material which then again totally absorbed the shock of the mallet hitting her fingers.

Without a doubt, Dr D did exactly what the title of her presentation said it would and made us all experience the magic of science in a very lively and entertaining way.The variety of the experiments or tricks she demonstrated definitely brought the wow factor to us all regardless of our scientific knowledge or understanding and made for a very fun and interesting morning.

About Nadia Dawson

Retired primary headteacher now working at Lincoln University
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