All posts by Harriet

#WorldWildlifeDay – Big Cats: predators under threat

World Wildlife day aims to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild plants and animals. The theme for this year is Big Cats: predators under threat and aims to highlight the ecological importance of charismatic creatures such as cheetahs, jaguars, leopards and lions and promote their conservation and survival in the wild.

Humans have always been fascinated by these animals as is made clear by their influence on high fashion, fast cars and sports teams the world over. However they are becoming increasingly rare due to human-led activity such as poaching and deforestation. Conflict often occurs between humans and big cats due to lack of prey such as deer for the animals. This can cause the big cats, such as tigers, to predate on livestock, causing humans to poach in retaliation to protect their livelihoods.

Collectively, big cats are under threat and many species are classified on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as being endangered or critically endangered, meaning the range they inhabit in the wild is getting smaller and their population sizes are rapidly declining.

Many efforts exist for conserving these animals, including breeding programmes in captivity, maintaining protected areas to prevent poaching, and projects such as World Wildlife Day increasing awareness of the threats to populations.

For more information, check out the World Wildlife Day website!

#TryThisTuesday Crystal Christmas Decorations!

Crystal Christmas Decorations

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… and for this #TryThisTuesday Christmas Special, we’re making beautiful decorations for your Christmas tree using science!

Step 1

Mould your pipe cleaners into the desired shape, we chose to make a Christmas tree out of green pipe-cleaners, and a snowflake out of white pipe-cleaners

Step 2

Carefully fill a large container with boiling water then add the salt bit by bit, stirring continuously, until the water is saturated.

This means that the salt stops dissolving and instead sits at the bottom of the water, as the water can no longer hold any more salt crystals.

Step 3

Tie one long piece of string around your decorations in a row

Step 4

Dip the decorations in the water, and suspend over the container (as shown in the picture)

 

Step 5

This next part will take some patience!

Over the next 24 to 48 hours, watch as the crystals develop around the fibres of the pipe-cleaners, and see your beautifully festive decorations develop!

Step 6

Tie a piece of string around the top of your decoration and hang on your tree!

The Science

Salt crystals are formed due to ionic bonding, meaning they form a specific pattern which is always a square shape. When salt is dissolved into water, the water molecules separate the salt molecules. This means that even when it looks like the salt has disappeared in the water, it is actually there all along.  This happens especially well in hot water, as the heat means the water can hold many more salt molecules than cold water. As the water cools and evaporates, the salt crystals bond again as the water can no longer hold all the salt. The crystals stick to the pipe-cleaners because as the water evaporates, it takes some of the salt with it which clings to our suspended decorations, leaving beautiful crystal ornaments!

Mini-Medical School at the Faculty of Medical Sciences

Our friends over at the Faculty of Medical Sciences hold an annual series of interactive lectures and practical sessions over six weeks, open to anyone aged 15+ known as Mini Medical School. The aim of the programme is to offer the public an opportunity to find out about current research developments at the university and to learn more about clinical approaches and practices. We asked Heworth Grange student Kate Gordon, 16 to give us her account of the sessions:

I recently attended Newcastle University’s Mini Medical School of 2017. I was overjoyed when I received the confirmation email to say I had a place, however, I didn’t realise just how interesting and beneficial it would be.

“One of the best experiences I’ve had”

When I first arrived I was met by a member of the university team. They were so lovely and pleasant which made my friend and me feel comfortable and welcomed there in their facilities. Not to mention, the great variation of snacks that they provided each week!

On the first week we had Forensic Psychologist, Dr Gavin Oxburgh, speak to us about his part in helping the police with their enquiries. This was the best week for me, as I am very interested in Psychology and it offered insights into a new career path for me later in life. Gavin taught us about offender profiles and how to detect if a person is being deceitful. He also made us think of the circumstances of why people would lie. I really loved this session and even though it was quite a serious topic he made it light-hearted and engaging throughout.

On the second week of my visit Professor Louise Robinson taught us about dementia. This was very interesting for me as quite a lot of my family members suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. We learnt about the 3 different stages and how to prevent memory disorders.

On week 3 we learnt about prescribing drugs and how it’s revolutionised over the years. Dr Adam Todd presented this amazingly and made the topic very humorous. He taught us about opioids and how dangerous they can be. I really loved this session.

During week 4 of mini medical school we were presented with a session about kidney transplantation. As I had already learnt about this topic in biology it really helped as I was able to understand more. We discovered how dialysis has changed throughout the past 50 years and the newer alternatives. This helped me learn a lot more than I already knew.

On the fifth week the topic was named “Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll” this was a good name for the session as it was unknown to what we we’re going to talk about until we arrived. In this session we spoke about HIV and the treatment possible, along with all the other topics we looked at how it’s changed throughout the years. I really liked this evening as Dr Christopher Duncan and Dr Ewan Hunter included humour as well as knowledge.

“There was a range of subjects for everyone which was brilliant as it enabled anyone to participate”

I then attended a mini medical school practical, I chose the topic of Psychology. My day was split into two, first we looked at how the brain worked and the certain areas of it. In the second part we looked at eating disorders and the psychology behind it, for me that was so interesting as it really opened my eyes how to recognise it early, not in only myself but my peers too.

On the sixth and final week we talked about sun protection and dermatological skin problems. The speakers were amazing and worked so well as a team, they told us that even the most famous celebrities suffer from skin diseases such as acne, psoriasis, etc. We also completed a quiz on how to detect cancerous moles, a very helpful technique to use in life. I found this session very interesting and a great way to end the course.

Overall, the Mini Medical School is one of the best experiences I’ve had. I have loved every single minute of it and learnt so much from attending the sessions, it was very enjoyable and didn’t seem like a chore each week – I’m looking forward to next year!

 

To be added to the mailing list for next years Mini-Medical School, please email minimedicalschool@ncl.ac.uk

#TryThisTuesday Halloween Special!

Slime Two Ways

Happy Halloween! Here’s two of our favourite ways to make spooky slime with things you’ll find lying around the house, or in your local supermarket.

Magnetic Slime

Step 1

Ask an adult to help you remove the ink tube from the highlighter using a pair of scissors and squeeze the ink into the bowl. You might want to wear some plastic gloves to avoid getting the ink all over your hands!

Step 2

Add the liquid glucose and mix (we added Halloween confetti at this point for an extra spooky edge!)

Step 3

Gradually add cornflour and mix to get a slimy consistency, then add iron filings and mix, adding more as necessary.

Step 4

Move the magnet on the outside of the cup, and watch as the slime creeps up the side!

Step 5 (optional)

If you have access to a black light, shine this at the cup to make your slime glow in the dark!

      

The science!

The cornflour and liquid glucose mix together to create a non-Newtonian fluid, a fluid that changes in viscosity (how runny it is) with a change in pressure applied to it.

When the iron filings are added and dispersed throughout the slime this makes the mixture magnetic!

The black light emits ultraviolet light which is invisible to the naked eye, but when shone on the highlighter it emits a brilliant glow!

Reversible blood slime

Step 1

Carefully cut open the lining of the nappy and shake out the crystals from inside onto a sheet of paper. You may get some cotton coming out too so just be careful to take this out before step 2!

Step 2

Put the crystals from the nappy into the bowl or container, you’ll only need about a tablespoon full, and add about 250ml water and a splash of red food colouring

Step 3

Stir the mixture and watch closely as the water is absorbed by the crystals and begins to look like a thick slime! Again, we added Halloween confetti to ours to make it even more mysterious!

Step 4

To reverse this process, and turn the slime back into water and food colouring, all you have to do is add salt and mix and watch as the process takes place.

 

The science!

The crystals that are in the lining of nappies are known as a hydrogel. The hydrogel here is a polymer (a long chain of repeated molecules) called sodium polyacrylate and is superabsorbent, meaning it expands when it comes into contact with water and can hold a huge amount of liquid!

When the salt is added, the polymer collapses due to the a change in the ionic concentration of the solution and so the water-holding ability of the hydrogel is broken.

#TryThisTuesday: Bending Water

This week’s experiment is quick and simple but sure to amaze!

You will need:

  • A balloon
  • An indoor tap
  • Clean dry hair

Method:

  1. Turn the tap on so there is a very thin but constant stream of water flowing
  2. Rub the balloon on your hair until you form static (about 10 seconds, until your hair begins to stand on end)
  3. Slowly bring the balloon close to the flowing water while being careful not to actually touch the water
  4. Watch the water bend towards the balloon!

 

The Science

When you rub the balloon on your hair, tiny electrons are collected on the balloon. These electrons have a negative charge. This causes the balloon itself to have an overall negative charge, therefore it is attracted to things with a positive charge (opposites attract!). The flow of water has a positive charge, therefore the attraction is strong enough to pull the water towards the balloon.

This is known as static electricity!