The Big Bang Science Fair
06 May 2015




The national Big Bang Science Fair took place over 4 days during March at the Birmingham NEC, and attracted a record-breaking 68,000 visitors.


The national Big Bang (link opens in a new window) Science Fair took place over 4 days during March at the Birmingham NEC, and attracted a record-breaking 68,000 visitors. ASTeC and the Cockcroft Institute featured in this event which is the largest science and technology fair in the UK, and the organisers now seem to expect our participation at this high-profile event.

Our exhibit stand included two Van de Graff generators, one of which provided the high voltage needed to drive a model cyclotron accelerator, and the other generally had a queue of children (and some parents) waiting to have their hair raised by placing a hand on the dome and allowing themselves to be charged to high voltage.The principle that like-charges repel causes peoples’ hair to stand up, and also underpins the operation of particle accelerators, so these activities neatly demonstrate the fundamentals of particle acceleration.

The concept of a ‘real’ particle accelerator was taken a step further using the LINDA 6-stage linear induction accelerator which allows visitors to independently control the timing (‘phasing’) of 6 sequential electromagnets in a vertical column which force a magnet to move on the axis of the vertical column.Only by getting the phasing correct can the visitor give the magnet sufficient energy to reach the top of the vertical column, thereby demonstrating the principle of a multi-stage linear accelerator.


Hair-raising using a Van de Graaff generator (Credit: STFC)

Other extremely popular demonstrations included the permanent magnetic accelerator and the Meisner effect.The magnetic accelerator is a simple device whose operation both surprises and delights everyone who sees it (including teachers), and it elegantly demonstrates several basic and very important aspects of physics. The Meisner effect (link opens in a new window) demonstration combines the phenomena of superconductivity and magnetism such that a magnet is seen to ‘float’ above a superconductor, and vice-versa.The vacuum science group were also on-hand to deliver their ever-popular demonstrations.

The multitude of demonstrations, real accelerator hardware, fact cards and giveaways packed into the 5m × 3m stand ensured that we were constantly busy during the event, and the sheer number of visitors to the stand made this the most significant and successful outreach opportunity of the year.

“The stand was run by Ph.D. students from ASTeC and the Cockcroft Institute partner universities, and they did a great job!It was clear to me that they also got something from the experience of interacting with the public and explaining some of the science they do, and its importance to society.They did a great job on behalf of the UK accelerator science community.”

Lee Jones, ASTeC & Cockcroft Institute Outreach Coordinator.


Lee Jones
Accelerator Physics Group

Images and captions

  • Image 1 - Storm Mathieson (ASTeC) in a hair-raising encounter
    Credit: STFC

  • Image 2 - Mike Jones (UoM) demonstrates the Meisner effect to a group of students.
    Credit: STFC

  • Image 3 - Lydia Rudge (ASTeC) demonstrates the magnetic accelerator with a simulation (Radiation 2D) running on the display to show the effects of applying a magnetic force to a relativistic charged particle.
    Credit: STFC