The Royal Society

We Raided The Lost Amp!

Posted by on 1 August 2011

By Laurie Winkless, National Physical Laboratory

Achy feet. Loud buzzing in the ear. Sweaty palms. No voice. Adrenalin pumping. All symptoms of that rare tropical disease, SummerScience-itis. I know exactly when I caught it – it was 4pm on Sunday 10th July, the final hour of this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.

It all began in late 2010. Although National Physical Laboratory (NPL) have exhibited at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in previous years, it had never been on my research area. So, after a chat with my group, I spent a happy weekend writing a proposal on “Energy Harvesting”, based around our European project on the same theme. In my head, our stand would be fun, very interactive and focussed on the science…. And in reality it proved to be all that, and one that engaged and annoyed in equal measure!

I was very excited when we were selected, and got to work on the project immediately.

Step 1: Tell everyone. Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and the NPL page were awash with mentions within a week. And family members were apologised to in advance for the amount of spare time we were all destined to spend on it!

Step 2: Assemble Dream Team. 39 brave souls stepped forward to help – everyone from scientists to graphic designers, and logistics to communications. We needed each and every volunteer. We found brilliant partners from UCLan to build one demo. We also had the AMAZING team at the Royal Society on our side; they make it look SO easy!

Step 3: Turn the proposal into something REAL. After many meetings, and too-many hours spent researching, we finalised our demos and defined the key messages. We started to feel confident that our demos would work and that science would be learned!

Step 4: Pick amazing name for exhibit. We asked for ideas from across NPL, but the winner was “Raiders of the Lost Amp”. As an Indiana Jones fan, I was very happy.

Step 5: Logistics. Deadlines? People? T-shirts? Delivery? Liquid Nitrogen? Thankfully our logistics people ROCK.

Step 6: Build it… and they will come. The final few days before the exhibit were busy but fun – building the stand in an empty office space made it all very real and exciting!

Step 7: Exhibit! The six days of the exhibition were BRILLIANT. We had visitors from ALL walks of life – school students, tourists, scientists and engineers, artists, politicians, families and even a few friends. One of the highlights was meeting HRH the Duke of Kent. Despite my inability to remember royal protocol, he was a gentleman. And very interested in our research, as were so many others. Everyone embraced their inner competitor to take part in our Energy Race, sweating it out on our bike, thermoelectric generator and piezo-piano! We were lucky enough to get a lot of media interest and during the soirees, even met a few potential collaborators.

We’ve taken part in many science festivals, including the Cheltenham Science Festival, but nothing prepared us for the level of excitement around this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. Every bit of hard work was worth it. To see so many people interested in our research, to get the opportunity to engage the public, and to show off all the work we do…. It was incredible.