Issue date: 04 August 2004

Question: When is a banana not a banana?
Answer: When it’s a hammer of course!

Turning bananas into hammers and demonstrating self-inflating balloons are just two of the scientific experiments which Dr Karen Bultitude from the University of the West of England uses to engage school children with science.

Karen, a Research Associate with UWE’s Graphic Science Unit, has been asked to take her ‘Cool Science’ show into schools in the South West as a Royal Institution lecturer for the region.*

Karen is very experienced at creating events which interest and engage people with important science principles in a fun and interactive way. ‘Cool Science’ uses liquid nitrogen to demonstrate temperature and how it affects different materials. This is the latest in a series of projects which she has taken around the country engaging the public with scientific ideas.

In Cool Science Karen is able to demonstrate that liquid nitrogen at -196º C is able to inflate a balloon, turn a banana into a hammer which will bang in a nail, remove chewing gum from carpets and fire a ‘Pringles’ tube like a rocket!

Karen says that although the show is fun there is also a very serious point to what she does, “Our shows work within the National Curriculum to engage children with important scientific principles such as temperature and the way it changes different materials – solids, liquids and gases. As well as educating children about scientific principles we want them to see that science can be fun and exciting. There is a shortage of well trained scientists in the country and by engaging their interest at a young age, we hope to encourage more young people to continue with their scientific studies.”

Karen, originally from Australia, studied for her PhD in Atomic and Laser Physics at Oxford University and joined the Graphic Science Unit at UWE in April this year. She says she has always been drawn to communicating science to a wider audience. “I have been studying laser physics for years but the work I do now means I am still learning about new and exciting areas of scientific knowledge – such as robotics, genetics and climate change. I really enjoy communicating science to children and I get a kick out of seeing their interest and understanding develop through watching my shows. We are also carrying out research into which methods work best in engaging young people with science”

Karen will perform the first Cool Science show in Plymouth in October and is hoping to organize dates for the Bristol area early in the New Year.


Editor’s notes

Jpeg image attached: Dr Karen Bultitude

1. *The Royal Institution regularly organizes prestigious science-related events all over the country, in particular their Christmas Lectures which are televised annually on Channel Four.

2. Dr Karen Bultitude is a Research Associate in the Graphic Science Unit at the University of the West of England, one of the most innovative and original science communication teams in the UK. Graphic Science specialises in taking science directly to the public, running a large number of projects both within the UK and internationally. The Unit is well known within the UK science communication community for its advocacy of greater audience research and targeting, and a long-standing commitment to audience and context sensitive communications projects.

3. With colleague Dr Ilya Eigenbrot, Dr Bultitude will present their “Lasers - Light Up Your Life” show at Imperial College, London and at The Life Science Centre in Newcastle towards the end of the year.

4. With Visiting Fellow Laura Grant (from Liverpool University) Karen will also be delivering the Institute of Physics Schools Lectures in 2005 to commemorate the 100th anniversary since Einstein published his ground breaking research – 2005 will be known as Einstein Year. These lectures will take place around the country between February and December 2005.

5. Dr Bultitude is also a role model for young people through NOISE – New Outlooks In Science and Engineering campaign – sponsored by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council).

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