Wow!How? Family Science Fair, Oxford

Last weekend we visited the Wow!How? science fair at the Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. This is the 10th year of the event, which forms part of the Oxfordshire Science Festival. We’ve been a couple of times before but this year it seemed bigger and better than ever!

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

There were over 30 stalls spread throughout the museums, each offering the opportunity to carry out scientific investigations. Most were aimed at the 8+ age group but many were still suitable for younger children. We spent the afternoon in the museum and still didn’t manage to visit all of them!

One of the most popular stalls was ‘Murder mystery at the museum’. A murder had been committed and 5 suspects identified. Using a variety of techniques and evidence the kids had to solve the case.

Finger printing, murder mystery at the museum

Finger printing, murder mystery at the museum

The first step was taking fingerprints. The scientist helpers explained the different types of fingerprint, and then the kids had to eliminate some of the suspects whose fingerprints didn’t match. This was followed by matching hair samples and looking at them under the microscope.

Maggots! Murder mystery at the museum

Maggots! Murder mystery at the museum

The kids were equally revolted and impressed by the next step which was to use maggots (and their life cycle) to determine how long the body had lain for. This helped exclude more suspects. The final step was comparing DNA found at the crime scene and then working out who the killer was.

Leaf insect, bug handling

Leaf insect, bug handling

We moved on to look at several other stalls, before stopping for a while at the bug handling stand. Visitors were able to hold a stick insect, giant cockroaches (not many takers) a tarantula, giant millepede and my favourite, the leaf insect shown above. I learnt that, as part of its camouflage, the leaf insect can mimic being blown around in the wind, in the same way that a leaf on a tree does!

Happy hearts

Happy hearts

On another stall the kids found out how hearts work, and had their heart rate and blood oxygen levels measured. They then had to do 30 seconds of star jumps to see how much their heart rate increased. At the end they were rewarded with a Skittle sweet, along with the information that this is how much exercise it takes to burn off one Skittle.

Snazzy Sellotape

Snazzy Sellotape

At the next stand the kids made snazzy Sellotape. This very simple experiment involved sticking pieces of Sellotape at angles across each other onto a clear plastic film. When viewed under a light source lots of different colours were visible.

Fossil casting

Fossil casting

Another popular stall was fossil casting. After mixing water and plaster together it was poured into a variety of moulds. My daughter made a cast of a Megalosaurus footprint but there were lots of others to choose from. They were left to dry for around 15 minutes before the helpers extracted them from the moulds. Despite such a short drying time ours still arrived home in one piece.

Darwin's finches experiment

Darwin’s finches experiment

The kids also learnt about Darwin’s finches and how beaks evolved to be different shapes based on the food that was available. They had to match the various implements available (stand in beaks) to the different foods on offer. I never realised there was such a thing as a blood sucking bird, but I know now there is an aptly named vampire finch!

There were many other stands that we only managed a quick look at. These included building a Lego dinosaur, Crazy Custard, Disaster Zone and Cambrian Explosion. Add to that some stands that we didn’t manage to see at all; we really should have got there when it opened.

The day finished with the Super Cool Show which was all about changes of state. We missed part of this, but did manage to see the end. The kids got to sample instant ice cream made with the help of nitrogen, and to run around outside (I’m guessing) in ‘nitrogen fog’. A great end to the afternoon.

More info

  • The event is held yearly in March at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
  • Full details are available on the website, look out in due course for information on the 2015 event.
  • Entrance is free.

46 thoughts on “Wow!How? Family Science Fair, Oxford

  1. That leaf insect looks exactly like a leaf. I have only seen them in science books from the school. Looks like you all had fun exploring and learning.

    #letkidsbekids

  2. Wow, that looks like an amazing fair! My son would really love this, I hope I remember to check it out in a couple of years time when he’s old enough. So much to see with hands on experimenting is exactly what kids love.
    Thanks for sharing #LetKidsBeKids

    • Thanks Kate. Yes, I think there are quite a few events to coincide with the National Science and Engineering week.

    • Great museums. They’ve only just re-opened the Natural History Museum as they’ve been cleaning and repairing the glass tiles on the roof; it seems so light now.

  3. Hands on events like that are great – children have fun and don’t even realise they are learning loads at the same time! French school trip to “boring” museums have rather put the boys off – I need something like this to rekindle their interest!

    • Thank you. I think the kids are at a good age right now, I’m trying to squeeze as much in before they become teenagers and don’t want to go out!

    • Thank you. It was right up my daughters street too as she wants to be a biologist when she’s older (although I’m sure that might change).

    • Thanks, the leaf insect was pretty impressive but you’re right, I’m not sure it would stand up to toddler handling!

  4. We’re glad you enjoyed it and hope to see you back again next year! PS It was all delivered by our super volunteers, who were also really chuffed to have such a nice write-up!

    • Hi Caroline, it was a great science fair, many thanks for organising it! Glad you liked the write up, and yes, we’ll be back next year.

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