Three days of adventures

It’s been a week since I updated this, which may not seem like very long, but it’s actually quite a long time in Jess world. I started Tuesday with a few of inspiring meetings in central London stations, discussing the future (and expansion!) of the Hackney University Extension, the exciting physics tuition I did in E5 last Winter. We’re doing it again this year, but basically because I’m super competitive and Oxford and Cambridge offered summer schools and fancy lectures and they’re Oxford and Cambridge I’m going to try harder. I went on to make some plans for Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) with their partnership manager before heading to Wimbledon for an afternoon of teaching.

At Wimbledon I worked with Aabidah in year 9 on her Shell Bright Idea’s Challenge: redesigning waste management for the cities of the future. Aabidah had some pretty good ideas and some pretty strong opinions- she wasn’t going to leave the food and sewage dilemma to the government. Year 13 have their A-Levels imminently, so we can’t just have fun but we did cover circular and simple harmonic motion. I made some revision slides that you can download here, and we did heaps of AQA past papers.

IMG_6114After eating take-away sushi for dinner in Waterloo station my Tuesday ended in a very civilised manner at the Italian Cultural Institute. The Institute has recently appointed a scientific ambasador, who joined forces with Science London (of the British Science Association) to talk about the poetry of Gravitational Waves. There were two talks, one by Dr Ben Still and one by Prof. Lucio Piccirillo.

Ben’s talk took us from Galileo to Einstein through ethers, equations and huge emotions. The formalism started with Hooke in 1674 and was developed by Christopher Wren, finally being written up by Isaac Newton. The tale of gravity is a colourful one, featuring physics legends like Rieman, Newton, Bernoilli and Einstein.

Prof. Piccirillo runs Jodrell Bank observatory in Manchester, where they study galaxies, pulsars and cosmology. To the unknowing, largely Italian audience, Piccirillo covers an undergraduate particle physics course. He describes Feynman diagrams in a totally casual way which makes them seem both palatable and ridiculous: “look at proton going along and minding its own business, comes close to a neutron- exchange a particle”. He’s loaded his slides with equations, to ‘satisfy the physicists in the audience’, and explains a real-world use for their mathematical skills … “after so many years, someone is finally telling you how to use the concavity”- which I think means second derivative. On finding the constants in Einstein’s equation of general relativity, Piccirillo says “you have to compares apples with apples and pears with pears”. He even talks us through the LIGO detector, relating the huge mirrors measuring the ripples in space time to school-level physics courses: “the so called A-level interference of light”. The Q&A is alive with Italian academics who are also researching gravitational waves, using the VIRGO interferometer near Pisa. VIRGO and LIGO actually share data and results, because to confirm the detection of weak gravitational waves will take quite a lot of collaboration. There’s lots of things I like about VIRGO, including this incredibly knowledgeable audience member, who is in town visiting is daughter. It feels like the underdog to America’s LIGO detectors who receive billions of dollars in funding compared to their European counterparts. VIRGO even has a slogan: “listening to the cosmic whisper”.

IMG_6122 (1)The next morning was spent in yet more meetings (I’m reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that this is growing up) and then building balloon powered cars with Westminster Academy. The car components were pretty high tech; from pipe cleaners to paper straws, old cardboard boxes and bottle tops. IMG_6127 (1)The year 10 class split in to four teams; two all-boys and two all-girls, which I hadn’t noticed until it was too late to shake them up. The girls’ teams set to task quickly; drawing diagrams and discussing their plans, whilst the boys raided the kit list and just started building cars. It was one of these all girl teams who heroically triumphed, using straws for axels, a bottle as the body and blue tac as hub caps.

Thursday saw me boarding a train to Peterborough, which is a comfortable Virgin East Coast away from King’s X and a world away from London. The drive from the station to Oundle is about 20 minutes, during which cities and restaurants slip away and elegant, red brick houses and pubs start to take their place. Oundle’s building’s date back to the 17th century and take over most of the sleepy market town of Oundle. Oundle has over 1,000 students, around 80 % of which board. The fees are pretty excessive, but you get what you pay for: the grounds are beautiful and the teachers are inventive and switched on. Their new RIBA award winning ‘Sci Tec’ centre is incredibly well equipped; with labs better looking than any university and unlimited sources of dry ice and liquid nitrogen. Their teaching labs have enough board pens to survive a brief war and subsequent rationing of board pens.

Watch my video of the Oundle Space Race here:

Oundle are running a Space Race for local state secondary schools, who have spent weeks designing rockets that will accommodate and product an eggy astronaut on their ascent from the sports’ fields. They’ve also designed posters to present and discuss their designs.  We fill their ancient hall with an inflatable planetarium, shut off their historic smoke detectors for science demos and shoot three different types of rocket into the skies. The physics cupboards were sensational, alphabetical and inspirational- probably the best room I’ve ever been in. It genuinely felt like I was in Harry Potter. If you want to do an experiment, Oundle is probably the place to do it. Unsurprisingly, Oundle put on a pretty good show when it comes to catering: mini sausages (with ample condiments), perfect triangle sandwiches and baskets of Kit Kats.

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