A day in the life of a Science Brainwaves volunteer!

A few weeks ago I jumped in at the deep end with my first science outreach volunteering event. I found out about the opportunity via an email sent out by Science Brainwaves – the task: a *whole day* of helping to run science themed activities for 0-6 year olds at the CBeebies Christmas Carol Event in Sheffield! It started with a briefing at 9am, so I was pretty proud that I managed to get there on the bus not just on time, but 15 minutes early. They obviously didn’t expect everyone to be as organised as I was, so it was actually around 9.30 when we were briefed and told a bit more about the event. I bumped into a few other people I recognised from Science Brainwaves then we were sent off to our different stalls to do science!

The stall I was helping to run was about energy and circuits, which is not entirely my area of expertise as a biologist! Thankfully I was paired with a guy who turned out to be not only a researcher in my own department at uni, but also a very experienced science communicator. He’d done loads of science demos before so I was glad that he was around to learn from. Talking to him over the day (when the stall wasn’t too busy!) was also immensely helpful to find out more about science demonstrating and busking.

cbeebies stall
Our experimental materials for the day – lots of spoons!


Anyway, back to the stall! We were supplied with ‘energy balls’ which have two metal strips that make a circuit if you join them with a conducting material (see this video to see how it works!). We also had lots of things to experiment with to see if they conduct – like lemons, plasticine and a variety of spoons! The morning was very busy with school groups coming to visit, and we had great fun making huge circuits with 7 or 8 kids in a circle, then adding the other objects in. I’m pretty sure at one point we had a circuit made of about 5 people, 2 teaspoons and a lemon! The highlight had to be the kid who tried to make a circuit out of 2 energy balls, then came to me to explain that they had to be the right way round so the positive went to negative otherwise it wouldn’t work. Pretty good for a 6/7 year old, and he was obviously very enthusiastic about science!

After lunch it got quite a bit quieter, and as the school groups had come and gone so the kids were a lot younger. That made the explanation bit of our task a fair bit harder, but they still loved seeing the ball light up when we made a circuit! We even managed to impress some of the parents with our demonstrations. After a long, cold, but thoroughly enjoyable day I had to hotfoot it over to the university to help out with Science Brainwaves’ ‘Looking for Aliens’ lecture (see my last blog!), which ended up being great finish to the day! When else do you get to stand in the foyer of the physics building asking passers-by “Are you looking for aliens?” – “just down in the lecture theatre at the bottom of the stairs”…Isn’t that where all universities keep their aliens!

I’m not sure if this can be counted as a typical day of volunteering – doing two events in one day was a bit keen! However, it gave me a good taste of what it’s like to be in the world of science communication, and I thoroughly enjoyed it as well! I’ll definitely be signing up for more events in the fun world of science outreach…


(This blog was also posted on the blog of MindSET Magazine)