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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Kids Science Fest!

The Kids Science Fest! event is part of the science.08 festival and is held at the Annexe Hall 2 of the Singapore Science Centre.

Admission to this carnival is free, so if you have kids who are interested, you can still head there for a fun time tomorrow.

What do they have in store for you? Fresh Brainz visited the Science Fest today and uncovered a flurry of activity!

Here, a cheerful demonstrator shows some children how to prepare mini-rockets using fizzy Redoxon tablets, water and empty film containers.

I tried to catch a photo of a rocket in flight, but they pop up really fast and I could only capture a faint spray of water and the foam they leave behind.

Rocket fuel - now in delicious blackcurrant flavour!

There are a few workshops for kids to do some hands-on experiments. This young man is playing with a bowl of cornstarch mixture, which is a type of non-Newtonian fluid.

Really odd stuff - if you treat it gently, it will flow like a liquid, but if you strike it hard, it will react like a solid.

Just like human beings!

Cornstarch can behave in bizarre ways when put under constant vibration. Check out this video that shows you how it can transform into a teeming mass of disgusting "alien fingers".

If you are not into wet stuff, here's a dry workshop for learning about electrical circuits and electronic components.

The theme of the carnival is about speed and reaction time, so here's a game to see how fast you can shoot hoops.

This slope lets children try out different combinations of weight and wheel size for the toy car to roll down at maximum speed.

The "Save the Marbles" game also uses an inclined plane - colourful marbles roll through a regular array of plastic pins randomly, and the player tries to catch as many falling marbles as possible using a sliding bucket.

Any player who manages to catch more than 30 marbles gets to sign her/his name on a "Board of Fame".


Here they come!

*tik tik tik...*

In addition to workshops, there are also stage games - for the kids to participate in quizzes and maybe win a prize or two.

Looking a bit out of place is this small, dark alcove featuring some medical imaging panels.

There seems to be many MRI scans of brainz in here.

Which reminds me: it's time to catch the science show!

The "Think Quick!" science show is presented by Alan Gill and Bron Veale from Scitech in Perth, Australia.

Here's a huge brain prop sitting quietly in the foreground while Bron and Alan get ready for the show.

As a neurogeek, I am duty-bound to inform you that this brain is not anatomically accurate; the gyri are modelled haphazardly, it doesn't appear to have a temporal lobe and the cerebellum is too small.

I know you don't care.


Alan starts off the show with an introduction about how we are all different, but our brainz work in a similar way.

Notice those balloons in the background? To test our reaction time, the audience has to clap twice whenever a balloon gets popped.

(To find out where some additional balloons are hidden, check out the previous photo).

For a science show it certainly has many elements of drama. The two presenters adopt an "odd couple" approach and engage in bickering and one-upmanship to entertain the audience.

Here are some of the highlights:

Alan offers to help Bron relax.

"First, let's measure your blood pressure!"

"And here's a balloon for you! Close your eyes and imagine yourself on an island... in the middle of an ocean... surrounded by palm trees..."

*sneak sneak...*




As you can see, this is not a relaxing science show.

In fact I think it is the most energetic science show I've seen so far. Here's Bron running around off-stage to demonstrate that an athlete must have a quick mind as well as a nimble body.

Next up - memory test!

How many faces can you remember?

"Who is this?"

Christopher Lee!

The presenters have adapted their show for the Singapore audience by putting up ten familiar local faces.

"Have you seen this man?"

Bet you didn't see that coming.

It turns out that people can only hold a small amount of information in their short-term memory - around seven items at a time.

Most people cannot remember all ten faces. I can only recall eight names now.

So how can you memorize huge amounts of information? Take for example the exact value of Pi, which is made of decimals that don't repeat and go on forever.

How to tackle such a large task?

Break it down into many small chunks, why of course!

I should mention that when I was in secondary school, the school invited some whiz-kid from the USA to "inspire" the students.

To demonstrate his intellectual superiority over the rest of us, he recited Pi to thirty-plus decimal places and we were expected to applaud and be in awe.

My fellow classmate snickered: "He could be making it all up. Who would know?"

Besides, what is the purpose of memorizing Pi? A party trick?

If you really want to impress - make a bizarre discovery, cure a disease or invent a longer lasting light bulb.

Now that we know the usefulness of chunking data, let's try the memory test again...

"Who is this?"

Brad Pitt!

Angelina Jolie!

Technically, Brangelina should be regarded as one functional unit.

Darth Vader!

Surprisingly there are many kids who are familiar with Star Wars characters - looks like the prequels have exacted a severe toll on the younger generation.

Larkin: "I look forward to working with you, Lord Vader".

Vader: "You're beautiful..."

Admiral: "Vader?"

Vader: "What?!?? Erm... I mean erm... destroying the rebel base will be a beautiful victory!"

Admiral: "Quite, Lord Vader. Please continue."

Vader: "What?!??"

Star Wars has been spoofed to death a thousand times over.

By chunking the faces into groups it becomes easier to remember them.

This kid in orange could recall eight names: "... plus that guy who looks like you."

Alan: "You mean Brad Pitt?"

Bron: "You don't look like Brad Pitt!"

More odd couple moments...

The presenters asked for two volunteers to help with their demonstrations.

Here, the children clap their hands once and Bron has to point towards the direction of the sound with her eyes closed.

So far so good.

Then Alan makes Bron wear this ridiculous looking rig that switches over the left and right direction of hearing.

Quite a struggle now...

It's time for Alan to perform his demonstration!

The young volunteer throws a tennis ball at Alan and he catches it with no difficulty.

In retaliation, Bron gets Alan to wear inverting glasses while trying to catch tennis balls.

Oops... it's impossible!

During one of the throws, the volunteer actually managed to hit Alan on the face with the ball.



Finally, one more demonstration - the ability to read jumbled words, an observation that is often attributed to research conducted at Cambridge University.

A simple statement of truth?...

...of course they waste no time in resuming their fight...

And thus ends the show. I was ready to do some calping but I noticed that people were clapping, so I clapped instead.

Whew... luckily I was thinking fast!

After the show, Alan and Bron let some curious kids and parents try out their bizarre switcheroo gadgets.

Aside from the Kids Science Fest, I should also mention that there is a "Science of F1" exhibition in the Science Centre main building now. You'll need to pay the admission fee to enter the main building but if you haven't been inside for a while it's worth a visit (since the Dinosaurs are still around).

Here's an actual F1 racing car, on display for a limited time only. I like the speckled appearance of the carbon fibre wheel struts.

From behind you can see that the part of the car behind the driver tapers into a thin knife-edge.

Aerodynamics is critical when you are roaring along at over 300 km/h.

In keeping with the racing theme, a couple of FSAE racing cars from NUS are featured here.

Also on display is this fiery red Ferrari. Not sure why this is here, since it is a luxury sports car and not really a race car. Maybe it shares some technology with Ferrari F1 cars.

At around US$1,000,000 each it's not surprising that there are only two of them in Singapore.

I can never afford to buy one of these, nor do I want to.

Hmm... that suddenly reminds me of something!

A "vehicle" that I have which is also very rare and valuable.

The TIE/sa bomber.

Well, we were talking about Star Wars just now.

It's a vintage 1980 Kenner die-cast metal toy - apparently only 10,000 of these were ever made.

A mint-condition TIE bomber in its original packaging can fetch over US$1,000 in auctions. Well, I didn't buy this toy at age five just to NOT open the pack, so it won't be worth that much.

Still, it's a beauty.

Very few toys nowadays are made so detailed that they resemble movie props. Maybe that's a reason why these are so coveted.

As a parting shot, here's a close-up of the engines behind the bomber: not a 651-horse Berlinetta V12, but a pair of 125-KTU Sienar P-s4.


Would you like to know more?

About a previous science.08 event:
Science in the Gardens
X-periment! 2008


jo said...

the former pope owned an enzo???

Lim Leng Hiong said...

Yes, according to the sign, it was a gift. He auctioned it off for charity.