Gilded Balloon at the Museum (Venue 64), Edinburgh
Until 26 August 2018
Mark Thompson fell in love with science when he was 10 years old and he saw Saturn through a telescope. Now he wants to help the next generation of young minds discover their own fascination with the subject, as he brings his Spectacular Science Show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Running at Gilded Balloon at the Museum for one more week, this is science like you’ve never seen it before.
If you’re expecting a science lesson then think again. “If you don’t understand science it can seem magical,” says Thompson – and he’s absolutely right. Even when you’ve been to university and studied it at that level it can still seem like magic, as there are often an incredible amount of coincidences that are required for, say, evolution by natural selection to take place, or for terrific lightning shows to light up the sky. And beginning his hour-long show by demonstrating how he can safely set his hand on fire means the bar is set very high.
An astonishing amount from the realms of physics and chemistry is crammed in (sadly for me, the geneticist, biology would only be called upon if things were to go “horribly wrong”!) – and if you’re a fan of fireballs and explosions then you’re in the right place. From demonstrating the difference in reactivity between hydrogen and helium by using fire to pop balloons filled with each gas, to warning us against lighting candles on a cake topped with icing sugar, each spectacle efficiently teaches you a little snippet of science as you go along.
A particular highlight for me was getting to ‘see’ a soundwave by combining a Rubens’ tube with a stylophone; each note played is visualised with flames, and you can see the change in wavelength between higher and lower notes (appropriately shown by playing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’).
But it isn’t just Thompson who gets to have all the fun onstage, as there are a few opportunities for budding young scientists to come and assist! Seven-year-old Rose seemed a bit nervy when she learnt the voltage of the Van de Graaff generator that she was to put her hand on, but forgot all that when its hair-raising effect started to kick in. And I think everyone’s hearts melted when five-year-old Jessica eagerly stepped up to help with an air vortex demo – by standing very still and balancing a paper cup on her head!
Obviously the great thing about this kind of show is getting to see some rockstar science that you won’t get to see anywhere else – but there are also a few that can be safely tried at home (such as film cannister rockets: a perennial classic), and a list of other experiments can be found on the Spectacular Science Show website. With a presenter as engaging and passionate about science as Mark Thompson, this is an hour of science that you’ll never forget.
My verdict? Science as you’ve never seen it before, and sure to inspire the next generation of scientists – Mark Thompson’s engaging presenting style had the audience in the palm of his hand.