Over 4 days in March, the National Exhibition Centre at Birmingham played host to the 'Big Bang Fair', the UK's largest science, engineering and technology fair. The fair was visited by more than 75,000 people, with predominantly school groups visiting on the first two days, and family groups on the last two days which fell over a weekend. The aim of the fair is to promote science and engineering, and also to judge student projects put forward from local Big Bang fairs held in all regions of the country, awarding prizes for the best. This is undoubtedly the most significant outreach opportunity of the year for the Cockcroft Institute (link opens in a new window) (CI).
The CI had their stand in a prime location within the ‘Out Of This World’ zone, close to the STFC (link opens in a new window) stand, and the highly-complementary Higgs-Boson discovery stand. There were a myriad of other exhibitors such as Rolls Royce, British Aerospace, The Kennedy Space Centre, and many very high-quality exhibits which were entered in the student competition vying to win the overall prize. Staff from ASTeC and the Cockcroft Institute partner universities demonstrated key aspects of particle accelerator science from vacuum technology to electrostatic acceleration in cyclotrons, and talked about their scientific use and the societal impact of research carried out and discoveries made with these machines.
The CI stand featured a number of new demonstrations this year which captivated the visitors, such as a demonstration of superconductivity using the Meisner effect (link opens in a new window) in which a piece of high-temperature superconductor is seen both to levitate above a magnetic track, and also hang beneath it. The event was also the first outing for LINDA, a 6-stage electromagnetic induction accelerator which demonstrates the importance of timing in a linear accelerator by allowing visitors to adjust the relative timing of the magnetic pulse generated by each coil, which in turn governs how high a small magnetic ‘particle’ can be driven in a vertical tube positioned on the axis of the 6 coils.
ASTeC's Vacuum Group gave a series of hugely successful vacuum demonstrations showing Boyle's law (link opens in a new window), the triple-point (link opens in a new window) of water, Magdeburg hemispheres (link opens in a new window) and several other interesting aspects of vacuum technology. The exhibit stand included two Van de Graaff (link opens in a new window) generators and a Wimshurst (link opens in a new window) generator. One of the Van de Graaff generators provided the high voltage needed to drive the electrostatic cyclotron model, and the other generally had a queue of children (and some parents) waiting to have their hair raised by placing a hand on the dome and allowing themselves to be charged to high voltage. The key scientific message communicated in both of these Van de Graaff applications is that ‘like charges repel’, and this is an underpinning principle of particle accelerators.
Another extremely popular demonstration was the permanent magnet accelerator (link opens in a new window) – a simple device whose operation surprised and delighted everyone (including teachers) and elegantly demonstrated several basic and very important aspects of physics. A promotional video for the highly-complex ALICE particle accelerator located at the Daresbury Laboratory completed the range of informative demonstrations presented by the CI.
The Cockcroft Institute stand proved very popular, and the constant flow of children kept the staff extremely busy, especially on the Saturday and Sunday which saw a level of attendance far beyond that of the two previous days.
The exhibit was coordinated by the Head of Outreach at the Cockcroft and ASTeC, Dr. Lee Jones. Lee commented that “this is a great opportunity for ASTeC and the CI to communicate the cutting-edge work we undertake in the field of particle accelerators, and the visitors are always surprised to hear that this is going on in the UK. The fair is also a great opportunity for the Ph.D. students based at the Cockcroft Institute to tell the public about science and their work, and is itself a great learning and confidence-building for them.”
The next Big Bang event will be the regional fair (link opens in a new window) to be held in Liverpool on Tuesday July 8th at the Aintree Racecourse. The 2015 national Big Bang fair will again be held at the Birmingham NEC, and is expected to take place during the week of March 9th.
Dr. Lee Jones, ASTeC Accelerator Physics Group
Last updated: 14 March 2016