Connecting with Gravity and Air

Project aims:

Our aim was to engage families visiting the Rhyl Air Show in North Wales with the physics involved in things relating to air and motion. This project was supported by an IOP public engagement grant.


The projects objectives were to highlight the physics involved in the forces of gravity and traveling through air.

Our goal was to do this through various practical activities exploring the concepts of speed, acceleration, deceleration, gravity, air-resistance, momentum and friction. We also wanted to create a deeper appreciation of the physics involved in the activities and events that were on show throughout the week-end, for both the visitors and our volunteer students.

Summary of activity:

We provided hands-on activities for families attending the Rhyl Air Show such as making balloon rocket cars, hovercrafts, parachutes, K’Nex amusement park rides, cars and dragsters aimed at children, as well as alka-seltzer fizz rockets and air pressure tests aimed at teenagers, while highlighting the physics involved.

Evaluation approach:

We used a number of evaluation techniques including age specific questionnaires, observation, a graffiti board, and sticky notes on a specially erected podium.

What went well:

1. We were particularly pleased to discover that many participants mentioned learning about kinetic energy, air and gravity as well as learning about chemical reactions, while a few families were so enthusiastic about the ideas presented that they plan to go home and try some experiments themselves!

2. The amazingly positive reception we received from all of our target audience; adults and children alike, as well as the positive attitude and enthusiasm of our volunteers.

3. The success of most of our experiments and activities, and the feedback and comments we received from the participants.

What was learned:

1. More is not necessarily better. We had many more activities planned for this weekend, but at a drop-in, drop-out event such as this the turnover is constant and at times fast flowing, therefore, it is better to have a few quick, simple experiments and activities that the audience can do and move on, rather than many complicated activities. However, it is a good idea on a week-end event to have a few different activities for each day, as some visitors attended both days.

2. We were originally going to man the marquee with just 4 people, but fortunately we were able to rope in a couple more volunteers to help, and still we were all going non-stop the whole weekend. My point here is that you need more people than you think to present an event such as this.

3. Plenty of planning and practice beforehand is essential.

Top tips and advice for others

1. Make sure you have enough people to help and space to work in.

2. Plenty of planning and practice beforehand. In putting on a drop-in hands-on event it is essential that you are well organized before the rush starts. Although the organizer will usually do most of the planning, everybody involved needs to practice their part in the event.

3. At an outdoor event be sure to plan for all eventualities – including inclement weather!

About the contributor

Patricia Turner

We provide science based hands-on activities and workshops for school-age children in rural communities.…

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