Example: Edinburgh International Science Festival

A good example of Public Engagement activity created and delivered by the ECFP is the "Smart Soft Stuff" workshop developed for the Edinburgh International Science Festival. It ran twice daily (at noon and 2pm), the 6th and 7th April 2017, in Studio 1 at the Level 4 of the National Museum of Scotland.

Workshop Content: Storyline

The workshop was aimed at children between 7 and 11 years old. It used the storyline method to try and engage with them effectively, and for the workshop to be memorable while having an evaluation process smoothly included in the storyline. Once the children were sat in the centre of the room, the King and Queen of Discovery would be announced and enter the room. They gave a formal introduction to the workshop, and acted an argument between them. The King believed something could either be a solid or a liquid, but not both at the same time. In addition, he could not see anything smart about soft things ("smart" was loosely defined as reacting unusually to heat, touch, etc,). The Queen would disagree with him. After being asked for their opinion on this, the children would then be tasked to solve the argument on behalf of the Queen and King. They would split themselves into four groups, escorted by Physics Knights, to visit four Wizard Physicists, which were covering one specific topic of soft-matter physics. These were Foams, Liquid Crystals, Polymers and Colloids. The visit at each table was 10 min-long. The King was doing the time-keeping, giving timing signs regularly to the Wizard Physicists, while the Queen was observing some of the workshops, and collected feedback (from parents and children) before and after the workshops, for impact assessment. At the end, within their group, the children were given a card where they had stickers to put down. The stickers were linked to each of the tables, and they had to find the description of the corresponding material on the card. This was used to evaluate impact.The children could take this card home, along with a card suggesting an experiment (with the possibility to send and an experimental report back to us) and the slime they made during the workshop. Last, the Knight would ask them to use this new knowledge to solve the argument between the Queen and the King.

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                  The sticker designs, as given to the children                                  Front and back pages of the card given to the children

We were dressed up for this workshop. The King and Queen has simple but effective costumes. The Wizard Physicists had a lab coat with a necklace and staff clearly related to the activity (pasta for liquid crystals, paper clips for polymers, marshmallows for foam and small blue balls for colloids). The Physics Knights had the official University T-shirts, with a simple but effective cape.


The Wizard Physicists: John (Colloids), Alys (Liquid Crystals),     The Knights and Royals: Ellen, Rebecca, Tiffany, JC, Andrew, Chris

Marieke (Polymers), Elena (Foam)

Workshop Content: Activities

The activities at each table were the following:

  • Liquid Crystals: focused on heat-light properties, using "mood card" and showing the colours observed of the cards came from the skin temperature. Heat sensitive crystal sheet were also available. Pasta and pig pong balls were used to explain the different state of matters and the structure of a liquid crystal. A giant model was graciously lent to us by Phil Hands.
                                          Alys explaining all about how some liquid crystals react to heat.
  • Foam: using Tupperwares with a vacuum pump, the children could inflate marshmallows. Similarly, we would make a foam from washing-up liquid and water, and inflate it in the vacuum boxes. This was a good introduction to what a foam is, and to the existence of liquid and solid foams.
                           A fun foam pumping session
  • Colloids: a suspension of hydro-gel balls was used as a model system. Then a jug containing sand was used; if we put a stick inside, we can remove it easily, unless we hit the jug a few times on the table; then the stick is stuck with the sand. Last, we had a mix of cornstarch and water (also known as gloop).
     Playing with hydro-gel balls
  • Polymers: After having introduced polymers and cross-linking using paper clips, the kids could make their own slime (out of PVA and Borax solutions), including choosing its colour. This activity has proven to be most popular.


                                 Marieke explaining what polymers are, before a focused slime making session

Impact assessment

The workshops were sold-out a few days before they happened. The maximum capacity was 24 children per session. Most ticket-holders came, so we reached out to above 90 children. Parents were welcome in the sessions, and would sit on the side. Tiffany Wood also talked to the parents during, after and before the workshop and managed to create a connection with potential for industrial-academic work.

At the end of the workshop, pretty much all children were able to stick the stickers in the right order on the card we gave them, demonstrating good understanding of the activities. The Queen was recognised as being right in by the very vast majority of children, even when she was not recognised as right at the start of the workshop, demonstrating an increased awareness of soft matter physics concepts.

We had the chance to meet one of the parents a couple of weeks after the came to the workshop; they told us that their daughter went to 9 activities during EISF, but the one she kept talking about at home was Smart Soft Stuff!

The researchers involved in this workshop enjoyed their time, both the delivery and the preparation, and felt happy with the "smooth organisation" which meant they "didn't have to worry much about anything".


The workshop was led, designed and co-ordinated by J [dot] C [dot] Denis [at] ed [dot] ac [dot] uk (JC Denis) (Ogden-ECFP outreach officer), with significant help from academic staff, Post-Docs and PhD students, regarding activities design, delivery and logistics. Elena Blanco, Alys Jepson, Marieke Schor and John Royer (and Chris Brackley who replaced John for one workshop) were in charge of one table each (Wizard Physicists), respectively about Foams, Liquid Crystals, Polymers and Colloids. The children were split into groups; they had one Physics Knight each at all time. Over these four workshops, these were Chris Brackley, Rebecca Brouwers, Eoin Ó Laighléis, Andrew Matheson, Anne Pawsey, Tiffany Wood and Ellen Young. Tiffany Wood and JC Denis were the Queen and King of Discovery.