How to organise an effective OutReach event

As part of my PhD programme, I have to take part in, at least, one OutReach event every year. We get paid to do that! How cool is it? Science communication is something I discovered during my PhD and I really recommend it to everyone who’s training to become a scientist. It really gives an additional value to any PhD. I am really super busy trying to get my stuff done in the lab, but I didn’t get to do any OutReach event signed in this year, so I decided to volunteer for the Festival of Science and Curiosity held in Nottingham Central Library on Feb the 16th.

52513852_2234235900223673_362800929784725504_nThe event was totally organised by some of the PhD students at the Centre of Doctorial Training in Sustainable Chemistry. It was brilliantly organised and although I was part of the organising committee, I want to take very little credit for it.  So, the event was around the chemistry of Carbon. Carbon is, without doubt, the element of life. Living organisms, including humans, and everything in nature is made out of carbon and hydrogen mainly. The reason why carbon is so widely spread is that it’s quite a versatile atom. It can make different bonds, single, double and triple, with other carbon or different atoms. They are all quite stable and strong. We hear loads of negative things about carbon dioxide or coal and charcoal. Definitely, carbon dioxide emissions and the use of coal as a fuel have a negative impact on the environment. But they also have positive and beneficial applications. And this is what we told kids and families on the day. But, how to best deliver this?

We hear loads of negative things about carbon dioxide and coal but they might have good applications too.

52005967_551008585397658_2874913690463764480_nFirst of all, we put loads of thoughts into the experiments. Some of them are pretty standard but others were newcomers. One of the classic experiments is the use of dry ice, solid carbon dioxide, in water. By using an appropriate indicator, it’s possible to tell the pH change of the water solution after the addition of dry ice. The second less common experiment is the invisible fire extinguisher, which shows how using carbon dioxide can stop fire from spreading around. The last experiment, the newcomer, was about the use of activated charcoal in water filters to clean dirty water. Nowadays, activated charcoal has many applications, in fact, it’s used in organic toothpaste and deodorants and I assume it’s due to its ability to trap organic molecules.


Why did we choose them? All these experiments are very visual, for example in the case of the dry ice in water, the solution turns from green to orange and this is how you tell that something is going on there. The activated charchoal experiments was the most striking. We used a blu solution which turned crystal clear after filtration over charcoal. Eveyone was really impressed by it and they wanted to know more about the chemistry behind the demonstation.

When choosing experiments, make sure they have a strong visual impact on attendees.

Every experiments was further explained by the use of banners. For example, why it is bad to have loads of carbon dioxide in water? If the pH of seas and oceans gets too low, marine animals die. In fact, most of the shell fish are made of carbonates, which dissolve at acidic pH. So, we provides a banner showing pictures of death fish to highlight the enviromental damages of carbon dioxide emissions. We had another banner showing how activated charcoal can be produce by food and wood waste rather than crude oil. This helped attendees to understand the sustainability behind the process. Again, loads of people got really interested and wanted to know more about these processes.

Prepare some banners to tell more about the science behind the demostration.

One of the most important bit of the day was the evaluating feedback. We wanted to know whether people changed their perception of chemistry and sustainabily and enjoyed the demonstrations. Sound straightforward but the point of science communication is teaching people about science and delivering your message in a way that it is easy for them to understand and digest. So we created a simple and colourful feedback poster and asked kids to let us know what they thought about chemistry. Sounds like they enjoyed it! And kids rarely lie!


Thanks to Sarah, Gemma, Iliana, Vera, Jack, Neelam, Lydia and Aoife. I did very little apart from showing up and taking a few pics.


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