From mousetraps to fighting robots!

Tuesday 6 March 2007

A simulated nuclear reaction built entirely of hundreds of mousetraps and ping-pong balls will be among the variety of scientific discoveries and demonstrations on display at the University of St Andrews this weekend (Saturday 10th March 2007).

The events are part of a range of activities organised by the University to kick off National Science Week.

Scotland’s oldest university will throw open its doors on Saturday for events aimed at the whole family, ranging from a collection of demonstrations of the way science affects our lives, to hands-on time at the University’s astronomical observatory.

The School of Physics & Astronomy will host a Science Discovery Day with a variety of demonstrations and hands-on activities, including the mousetrap nuclear reactor. 200 mousetraps and ping-pong balls will be arranged in a careful, spectacular sequence to demonstrate the way a nuclear chain reaction releases a powerful amount of energy in a very brief time. Because of time involved in setting up the model, it will only be set off once, at 2 pm.

There will also be a mobile planetarium, fighting robot cars and a demonstration of 3D face- scanning technology to show you what you would look like as a member of the opposite sex.

The demonstrations at the School of Physics will run from 11 am to 4 pm.

Elsewhere in the University, the Bell Pettigrew Natural History Museum will open its collection of exhibits and specimens of rare and extinct animals from around the world. The Curator of the museum will be on hand to answer questions. This event runs 12 noon to 4 pm.

Third year psychology students meanwhile will present demonstrations and challenges ranging from how the eye-patched pirate could still hit a target, to how advertising works. Lots of hands-on activities have been arranged for the young and not so young!

And at the Astronomical Observatory, visitors will be able to see the largest working optical telescope in the UK and talk to professional astronomers, who will present simulations of stars forming. If the sky is clear, the evening will bring a chance to view interesting objects in the night sky. Afternoon presentations will be from 1 to 4 pm, and the stargazing will be from 7 to 9 pm.

The week long series of events will also include a public lecture and Q&A panel on climate change on Thursday 15 March. Dr Andy Ridgwell, from the University of Bristol, will give a lecture on what we can learn about climate change from the ancient past. Only 15 thousand years ago, great ice sheets were sculpting the landscape we see today, while 90 million years ago crocodile-like creatures inhabited the sweltering Arctic. Dr Ridgwell will examine the way these past changes in climate can inform our understanding of changes today. This will be followed by “Climate Change Question Time¿ with a panel of experts on the subject. The lecture begins at 6 pm.

For more information about National Science Week at the University of St Andrews, phone 01334 462346 / 461680 or go to


Issued by Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact 01334 467227 / 462529

Ref: NSW 060307

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