Science London at the Green Man Festival 2012

Volunteering with Science London, the local branch of the British Science Association, is something that I have been doing over the last few months. When I moved to London at the start of May, and was looking to re-establish my scientifico-educational foundations in a new city, their work seemed like interesting stuff. And so I clambered on board, and here I am, three months later, Volunteer Coordinator and Secretary for the branch, and helping with the execution of fun public science events!

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The activities that I have been a part of over the last few months have spanned an interesting range; the Dating Games, an assortment of SciBars (talks by experts at a pub), Dinosaur Origami (which was both exciting and hilarious, seeing as I made a Dino with no front legs, and got very polite stink-eyes from people on account of not being able to help, AT ALL). But the highlight of my summer was getting to be at the Green Man Festival in Wales.

Science London was invited by the people at Green Man, to be a part of the Scientists’ Crafternoon Tea Party, a part of their Einstein’s Garden section, where science-types could use two hour slots over 3 days to engage people with a variety of arts and craft, with some underlying science to take home too. When we were brainstorming for ideas for this festival, I was minty-fresh new to the branch and had no inkling of the fact that I would actually get to go to the festival as part of a team of 4.

End up there I did though, and we spent 3 amusing afternoons, getting people to make Binary Bead bracelets and necklaces, mess around with fractal patterns on various surfaces, and make felt Organ Badges, all of which are elaborated upon at some length below. (Photos here!)

I developed the Fractal block-printing/painting activity, spawned from Sarah and Manisha‘s initial ideas, because the art-maths connection had me instantly hooked. Something about basic fractal patterns in bright colours is infinitely pleasing, or maybe that’s just to my ‘enthusiastic about anything vaguely science and colourful’ mind. Day 1 at Green Man saw children and families using copious amounts of screen printing inks to ink fractal blocks onto tote bags, while Day 2 saw much of the same but on a large white sheet instead. Ample opportunity for a somewhat collaborative work of art! We brought out face paints on day 2, and there is a strangely satisfying joy to be found in painting Sierpinski Sieves and Vicsek Snowflakes in Mondrian-esque colours onto people’s eager faces. I even managed to sneak a rudimentary Julia Set on to the Fairy Wings that a little girl insisted she wanted. With glitter and everything! Smooth eh?

On Day 3, we retired the printing sheet to a decorative spot on one side of the tent, and brought out Organ Badges instead. Lots of colourful felt, anatomical drawings, strong-in-credentials glue, string, confusion and laughter later, some people did wander away with brains and hearts on badge-backs, which was excellent.

Us, the presenting team, immensely enjoyed putting all these activities together for the visitors. Put glue, paint, paper, beads and felt together and there is no way that fun will not be had. But there was a slight sense of an audience and science mismatch that we had not predicted would happen. Having gone prepared for an audience of teenagers and adults, as you do at a festival in the summer, we realised very quickly that our primary audience was actually children, accompanied by parents that were actively trying to find ways to keep these children occupied and happy. And these children did get very immersed in the activities too! But trying to explain Fractals and the concept of Binary to 6-10 year olds is a difficult task, much more so when they are at a festival on holiday.

For me personally, there were a few learning lessons I came away with, from having been there and done this:

a. You can actually get the handful of teenagers that turn up, interested in the concept of numbers generating art, if you talk to them while painting triangles onto their faces in various shades of glitter.

b. Binary Beads might work wonderfully in a setting all of its own too, where like minded geeky people can come together to ooh and aah over initials in code. Or maybe this is just me being stereotypical and the truth is somewhere out there.

c. Organ Badges can be taken one organ at a time, and turned into a constructive lesson on Anatomy. People might well enjoy looking for the missing cerebellum, if they were focussing on just that, while deciding what colour of felt they wanted it to be.

But all in, we all did enjoy being at Green Man!; sloshing around in shin-deep mud, choosing from a range of food stuffs to gorge on, listening to the delightful Benjamin Francis Leftwich (3 out of 4 of us thought they were great!), finding ticks in/on our tents, enjoying the relatively sparsely populated artists’ camping area, and enjoying a 1 in 4 head-scratch at Josie Long’s comedy set, and James Blake’s DJ set ( the former of which I thought hilarious, and the latter, slightly ‘eclectic’ in polite terms; or slightly odd, depending on your world-view).

p.s. And spending unhealthy amounts of time at the Chaiwallahs’ tent, drinking entirely sinful things like Hot Toddies and Irish Hot Chocolates.

And of course, the science craft!

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