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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Science outreach: building a theremin [20090506|14:53]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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I've been invited to run two physics projects at a summer school for Year 11 students (15-16 year olds). I have one project planned already: building a magnetometer and mapping magnetic fields around objects with it. As it is directly related to my work and I've used it before, I feel fairly comfortable with it.

The second project, building a theremin, is new to me. I found a company (Harrison Instruments) that produces a rather nice theremin kit within my budget of £70. Since the summer school only runs for a week, of which the students really only have three full days for the practical, I discarded the idea of having them build the circuit from a breadboard. I think they'd probably spend all their time learning about electronics and soldering if I did that, and there wouldn't be much time for them to learn any physics. The students will also have to give a presentation on the last day of the school. I thought it would be fun to have them learn to play the Doctor Who theme on it.

I'm planning to use the two oscillators in the circuit to help them learn about harmonics and beat frequencies. As I normally do my teaching at university level with people who have self-selected into science degrees, I'm having trouble assessing whether or not I should try to add any other conceptual illustrations to the project. This is where I'd like to hear the input of non-specialists. Answering the questions below, or any other remarks, would be most helpful. Please don't be afraid to fill out just a part of the poll if that's all you feel comfortable with.

Poll #1395736 Building a theremin

Does this experiment appeal to you?

Yes, I would like to build a theremin with you, Mad Scientess Nanila.
No, but maybe you could make it more exciting.

How can I make it more exciting?

Should I keep this a single-concept project?

Given their age group & time constraints, yes.
Don't underestimate them! Add something.

What conceptual illustration could I add?


[User Picture]From: chickenfeet2003
2009-05-06 14:19 (UTC)
I'm assuming that, as it's summer school, the students have chosen to come and therefore have some science knowledge intent. Also, is it the summer after Year 11 or the summer before year 11? If you could assume that all/most were half way through 'A' level maths and physics that would be very different from a bunch of randoms who had just finished GCSE.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-05-07 09:38 (UTC)
You're right, they should be fairly keen students. It's the summer after Year 11, too. I think it's probably best to plan on conveying one primary concept and having a second as backup if they turn out to be exceptional.
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[User Picture]From: chickenfeet2003
2009-05-07 10:10 (UTC)
I think you can probably expect quite a lot. It's a prestigious school and the kids will be at least half way through 'A' level. I'd already got an 'A' grade maths 'A' level after one year in the Sixth Form. I'd not be surprised if some of them did too.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-05-07 15:36 (UTC)
Oh dear, I think my tendency to post about things in Twitter before writing them up properly in LJ has caused confusion. This is not the summer school at W. College. It's one that a spin-off company from Imperial is running. I'm not actually sure what W. College want me to do yet. However, you're still right about the quality of the students. They're doing this summer school voluntarily, and they're projected to get A grade A-levels.
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[User Picture]From: wiggyfish
2009-05-06 21:48 (UTC)
I'm not filling out the survey because I'm drawing total blanks on the "what else?" questions, BUT:

- Heck yes it sounds like a fun project. I, uh, well, I bookmarked the page. Plus, nobody that age has even heard of a Theremin, so it might be extra-fun to go straight from never having heard of it to making and using it.

- One possible extra, which it sounds like you might already be thinking about, is doing something with macro-scale circuits, especially if no one has even made them connect a lightbulb to a doorbell switch. The Theremin kit is based on a PCB, and I'm not sure whether people understand -- really understand -- that a PCB is a miniaturized version of something you could actually make if you had the materials and patience.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-05-07 09:47 (UTC)
I figured I'd collect some MP3s too, so if they want to learn to play a tune, they can. Or if any of them are musically inclined, they can compose something.

I'll bring in a breadboard as well, and show them how a section of the circuit would look if they weren't working from a PCB. Thanks!
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From: tdj
2009-05-06 21:57 (UTC)
Bread boards are definitely not my bag, but how about noise and (possibly) feedback? Those wouldn't be hard to tack on if they take to your current plan and are hungry for more.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-05-07 09:36 (UTC)
Ooh, excellent suggestion, thank you. Noise and feedback pervade science & engineering experiments so they'll be useful no matter which area of science specialization they prefer.
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[User Picture]From: wiggyfish
2009-05-07 21:40 (UTC)
OT -- one of my friends is considering grad school, and he's looking for info/opinions/gut reactions to a few English schools that have programs in his field. (Okay, that's vague -- he's looking at cognitive science programs, which are in the CS/Informatics department at some schools, and in Social Sciences elsewhere.)

Mind if I point him at you?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-05-08 05:57 (UTC)
No, I don't mind. I'll do my best. My LJ e-mail redirects to an account I check daily.
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[User Picture]From: behsharam
2009-05-08 11:33 (UTC)
I wish I could be involved. This looks like a fun project. I'm with those who are suggesting that you prepare part two and bring it out only if it looks like they're ready for more. I could probably spend the week playing with harmonics.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-05-08 14:12 (UTC)
I'll have to give it a title that indicates it's a project for the musically inclined.
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