Investigating the Carbon Cycle at the Big Bang Fair
The Big Bang Fair UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair is the largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for young people in the UK.
An award-winning combination of exciting theatre shows, interactive workshops and exhibits and careers information the fair has grown from 6,500 visitors in its first year (2009) to over 70,000 in 2016.
The 1851 Trust joined IET on their stand, running a chemistry experiment with groups of young people, to demonstrate the Carbon Cycle and link this to sustainability.
Students learned how carbon in the atmosphere dating back to pre-historic times, would have been exhaled by animals of that era, for example dinosaurs, as carbon dioxide.
This carbon dioxide gas would have been processed by plants and dissolved in the oceans. Sea crustaceans would then have used the carbon in order to form their calcium carbonate shells, which eventually die and fall to the ocean floor and become compressed over time into chalk.
Applying a weak acid (vinegar) to the chalk releases the carbon dioxide ‘Dinosaur Breath’ back to the atmosphere! This experiment is used to demonstrate to students how essential carbon compounds are never destroyed, but are a part of an essential cycle.
In today’s world, fossil fuels are burned releasing more carbon into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, but deforestation is reducing the planet’s natural ability to process this carbon, which results in an imbalance which affects the atmosphere and the quality of the air we breathe.
Students were asked to think about how they could impact this and reduce their carbon footprint (such as walking to school, sharing lifts, recycling more).
Land Rover BAR use carbon in the form of carbon fibre in the construction of their ultra-fast racing boats, and an organisation like this needs to understand the carbon cycle and the importance of this natural balance so that they can eventually recycle the race boats with minimum impact on the environment.
Education Manager Beverley Smith commented “I passionately believe science should be messy and fun! Students love the hands-on experiment, it’s the best way to learn. It is important that the students understand how this curriculum based activity links to real world problems that their generation will face. Hopefully the 600 or so children who will join us during this fair will all have a better understanding of the challenges an organisation such as Land Rover BAR faces, and how they could grow up to be the person who solves them.”
To find out more register with our online learning resource, BT STEM Crew, where you can learn more about the carbon cycle using our Sport and Sustainability module sponsored by the IET.