More glowing fun…

I told you we were a little “glow crazy” in our house this Halloween season and I promised you one more glowing blog post, so here it is… we decided to give an old favourite… “rainbow explosions” a new twist and made them glow in the dark. This one was so much fun!

You will need:

Small plastic pots or cups
Bread soda
A number of different fluorescent paints (or glow in the dark paints*)
A plate or tray to contain the experiment
A UV light*

What to do:

This is just like the original Rainbow explosion experiment except we used fluorescent paint instead of food colouring and we added the vinegar to the bread soda instead of the other way around!

  • Line up your plastic cups on your tray or plate… one cup for each colour you have.
  • Add half a teaspoon of bread soda to each cup.
  • Add half a teaspoon of your flourescent paint to each cup, a different colour per cup, and mix into the breadsoda.
  • Turn on the UV light, and turn off your main light, and add vinegar to each pot.
  • Watch the “explosion” of glowing rainbows!

*If you do not have a UV light you can try this experiment in daylight as the fluorescent paints will still give a great colour explosion, or you can use different colours of glow in the dark paint and turn off the lights!!

My three Junior Scientists really enjoyed this one!

We loved how all the colours mixed together!

Have fun and HAPPY HALLOWEEN everyone!

Anything that glows…

Anything that glows…

Halloween season is a bit mad in this science filled house as you may have guessed by now.  There have been more experiments than dinners in the kitchen the past week… we have been repeating old favourites, modifying others and trying out new ones.. and all because it is Halloween.

We love things that glitter and glow and this time of years allows us to really indulge this side of science.  I thought I would share some new favourites with you here, in case anyone wants to add some glowing fun to their Halloween parties or games!

Glowing lava lamps:

We love making lava lamps but made a few modifications to add a bit more glow to this favourite!

You will need:

An empty plastic bottle or a clear plastic cup
Vegetable oil
A funnel
Florescent paint (or glow in the dark paint*)
Alka Seltzer (or similar antacid tablets)
A UV light (also called a black light) if possible

What to do:

  1. Put a small amount of water (about an inch or two) in the bottom of the plastic bottle or cup.
  2. Add some fluorescent paint to the water and mix.
  3. Using the funnel pour the vegetable oil into the bottle, filling almost to the top.
  4. You will see that the water and oil settle into two layers, with the water at the bottom.
  5. Break up the Alka Seltzer tablets into smaller piece, and, if you have a UV light, turn it on and turn off the regular light.
  6. Add some pieces of the Alka Selzer tablet to the bottle to start off your lava lamp.
  7. Once the bubbles stop rising you can add more tablets to keep the lava lamp going.
This is what we did:
We had lots of different colours and types of fluorescent paint so, of course, we had to try them all!
We added fluorescent paint to water in each cup and then we mixed it in
Then we added a layer of vegetable oil to each
Then we turned on our UV light…
…And turned off all other lights. We added the Alka Seltzer and watched in delight!

You get a better idea from our videos…

So what is happening?

The Alka Seltzer tablets drop to the bottom of the bottle and dissolve in the water.  These tablets contain an acid (citric acid) and a base/alkali (Sodium hydrogen coarbonate) in powder form.  When these dissolve in water the acid and the alkai start to react together and form carbon dioxide gas.  This gas forms bubbles with the water.  The bubbles are lighter than the water and oil so they travel up the bottle to the top.  Once they reach the air they burst and the water droplet is now heavier than the oil and drops back down to the bottom of the bottle again.


We tried both flourescent and glow in the dark paints for this experiment.  We found the flourescent paint worked best, but if you have a good glow in the dark paint feel free to try this out with the lights off!

This is our fluorescent lava lamp in daylight…
still pretty cool we think!

If you do not have a UV light then try this experiment in the daytime with plenty of sunlight. 

The fluorescent paint is still very bright and gives a pretty cool effect.

More glow in the dark experiments tomorrow so remember to check back! 
Fun Friday – Carve a Heart of Hope Pumpkins

Fun Friday – Carve a Heart of Hope Pumpkins

Continuing on with the Halloween theme we are talking PUMPKINS today; Of course in this house we don’t just carve them… Oooh Noooh… we like to see what else we can do with them… exploding, glowing, oozing… all in the name of SCIENCE!

But first…

But before we all don the lab coats and goggles I wanted to draw your attention to the Carve a Heart of Hope for Halloween Campaign, run by World Vision Ireland.

World Vision Heart of HopeWorld Vision Ireland is a small part of the global World Vision organization, providing long term support to children in six African countries; Mauritania, Kenya, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Sierra Leone.  They also provide emergency support where needed and are actively supporting the Syrian crisis at the moment.

This Halloween World Vision Ireland are running a campaign to raise awareness of the work that they do.  They are asking people all over Ireland to carve a heart of hope into a pumpkin and place it in their window as a sign of support of their Survive to 5 campaign.

(Click on the links above if you want to find out more about this campaign).

Back to Pumpkins…

So what did we do with our pumpkins? Well first we carved them…
Then we added a bit of glow in the dark paint… because we are just loving anything that glows at the moment!


Then we turned our attention to the oozy, exploding bit…

If you want to try this at home you will need…

What you need:
A carved pumpkin (use a small one)
250 mls 6% Hydrogen Peroxide
2 teaspoons (or 2 sachets) dried yeast
2 Tablespoons warm water
Washing up liquid
Food colouring (optional)

What to do:
Place a small plastic container inside your pumpkin (large enough to contain 300 mls but small enough to leave plenty of room between the container and pumpkin lid). Carefully pour in the 250 mls hydrogen peroxide.  Add a BIG squirt on washing up liquid. A about 5 drops of food colouring if using.

In a separate bowl mix the 2 teaspoons of dried yeast into the warm water. Carfeully add this to the hydrogen peroxide mixture inside the pumpkin, replace the lid and then stand back and enjoy!

What is happening:
This is an example of a catalytic reaction which really just means that something is added to the reaction to make it happen a lot faster, but that it is not chemically changed by the reaction. The something added is called a catalyst.  The yeast is the catalyst it this reaction… it splits the hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen without getting chemically changed itself.  The oxygen produced then combines with the washing up liquid to produce a LOT of foam!

What to do with the bits you don’t use for Science?… Eat them!

Don’t forget about the lovely fleshy parts of the pumpkin, you did keep them before you started experimenting, right?  Here are some links to some great recipes, from some of my favourite bloggers, to put that pumpkin to good use…

  • Pumpkin Bread… a yummy alternative to Banana Bread; this one is by fellow Irish Parenting Blogger, Christine, more often found blogging at Awfully Chipper.
  • Or you could just download the lovely Pumpkin Pack as part of the Carve a Heart of Hope Campaign for a great Pumpkin soup recipe from Donal Skehan.

Happy Halloween… and stay tuned for more Halloween fun… lots of glowing, bubbling, exploding experiments coming up in the next few days!

Interview Series – Science Wows talks to Michael Bell of Nature Learn

This post is the third in a new interview series looking at Science and Nature communication through different media in Ireland

This week I talk with Michael Bell, owner of Nature Learn, to find out about his life as a nature educator in Ireland and his path into such a career.

Image credit: Michael Bell of Nature Learn

Michael Bell is an experienced wildlife educator with a background in conservation research and education.   In 2009 Michael set up his own business, Nature Learn, to bring toschool children and adults alike the wonder of nature, using a combination of interactive presentations, field study and hands-on activities, to foster an awareness and appreciation of the environment that exists around them.  Michael is a listed specialist with the Heritage in Schools Scheme, a member and local treasurer of BirdWatch Ireland, exercises a keen interest in Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), and enjoys the outdoors with his wife Kate and eco-friendly daughter Molly, in Ballymote, Co. Sligo.

Hi Michael and thank you so much for agreeing to take part in this interview series.
Before I get into the details of your business Nature Learn I would like to find out a little more about you and what led you to a career in nature education;

Is this something you always wanted to do?

I have always been interested in nature, from as early as I can remember really.  Growing up in Belfast my father would take me and my brother out on walks and carried binoculars and a bird guide and I developed a keen interest in bird watching.  I remember joining the Young Ornithologists’ Club (the junior wing of the RSPB) when still in primary school and doing monthly surveys along Millisle Beach looking for washed up sea birds.  

How did you start off this career …what path did you take? What training was required?

Bird watching was always a hobby for me and I never realised you could get a job involved with nature.  I ended up getting a degree in economics from the New University of Ulster, Coleraine though I have never looked at an economics book since the day I left!  

After university I worked in London for a year before heading off travelling and settling in Georgia, USA for 24 years.  I did all kinds of jobs in America but ended up working in ecological research for several years as a field technician doing everything from collecting soil and leaf samples to catching and releasing snakes.  As I didn’t have a biology degree I was always on temporary contracts and on the bottom rung.  Nevertheless, I really did enjoy my time at this sort of work.  I was also involved with the Georgia Ornithological Society as a volunteer and kept the Field Notes of all the relevant bird reports for a few years as well as leading walks for a local nature centre.  I also published a book ‘The Breeding Birds of Haralson County’ about the birds in the locality where I was living.  

During this time I met my wife Kate, a native Floridian, and our daughter Molly was born in 2002.  We decided to make the move back (for me) to Ireland in 2005 and settled in Co. Sligo (just because I thought it was the nicest looking part of the country) where I was able to find temporary work with the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) as an Education Officer.  This was my first experience working with children and I admit I was terrified at the prospect when I started but soon learned to love it.  I, along with a couple of colleagues, developed a nature programme for schools from scratch.  I did this job for two or three years, again on temporary contracts, and while I loved working in the schools I found some of the mindless red tape involved in working in NPWS very frustrating. 
You now run your own business Nature Learn…..

Why did you decide to set up Nature Learn and when?
By the time my job with NPWS ended I realised nature education was something I wanted to continue to do and I felt I had acquired the skills to deliver it and also saw a great need for it in Ireland, so I set up my own business, Nature Learn, in 2009.  It was tough going at first as I am not very good at getting out and self-promoting but I did manage to get a few schools booked.  Soon the word spread from school to school and the amount of bookings slowly increased.  After about a year of working on my own I became a listed expert with the Heritage in Schools Scheme and have found that to be very beneficial.  The scheme, which is run by the Heritage Council, is popular with schools and they partially fund the visits which is a great help.

What is Nature Learn all about?

Nature Learn brings to school children and adults alike the wonder of nature using a combination of educational materials, interactive presentations, field studies and hands-on activities to foster an appreciation and awareness of the environment that exists around them. 
Your work brings you into schools and the local community;

What are your favourite aspects of each of these sides to your business?
I love getting to visit schools and getting to meet the teachers and children.  Every school is different.  Some might have less than 10 kids in the whole school, or I might be in a class of 35 junior infants, so I have to adapt to each situation which is part of the fun.  Since working in schools I have developed a greater appreciation for teachers and find the vast majority to be highly dedicated professionals.  I also visit a few secondary schools, though not as many as I would like.  I mostly get to deal with transition year students and they are always very polite.  By that age, they are not as keen to get their hands dirty when working outside and a bit of rain will have them running for cover!  However, I feel it is particularly important to target this age group with nature education as I feel the vast majority of teenagers have lost contact with the natural world and spend too much time in front of computers and the TV   I also give talks on a variety of wildlife subjects and lead nature walks for adult groups which I enjoy as well. 

As well as the face to face element of your work you also prepare visual elements such as posters, signage and pamphlets:

Can you tell us a little about this side of the business?

Image credit: Michael Bell of Nature Learn

This is something I have been doing more of recently.  Several Tidy Towns groups have asked me to design nature signs.  As I like my signs to depict flora and fauna that is of particular interest in a certain area, it can often involve quite a bit of research.  I also like to use my own photographs where possible, though I do have some friends that are good enough to provide excellent images when required.  I do take a lot of care in designing the signs as it really bugs me to see nature signs that have incorrect information or feature wildlife that has nothing to do with the area in question.  I have also to date produced three nature education booklets (Minibeasts, Irish Birdsand Biodiversity) that are aimed at school children.  As I have been fortunate enough to get funding to cover printing costs to date, I always give a free copy of one of my booklets to all the children that I teach.  Just recently I got the children at Summerhill College in Athlone to provide art material and text for a pamphlet on local wildlife and this is something I would like to repeat with other schools in the future.


You cover a wide area of Irish wildlife…..flora and fauna;

Do you have a favourite plant? Animal? Species?

As I mentioned I have always had a particular interest in birds and I guess my favourite Irish species would be the Twite.  They are one of those birds that often appear dull at first glance but if you get to see one well in the field (not easy to do!) the subtle beauty of it shows through.  In recent years I have become more interested in insects and in moths in particular.  It’s tough to pick my favourite moth but the elephant hawkmoth is hard to beat.  I think my favourite flower would be Grass of Parnassus though that is always changing.

The beautiful Elephant Hawkmoth
Image credit: Michael Bell of Nature Learn

Your daughter Molly is often one of the first people to identify my “mystery creature” of the week…

It is obvious that she follows in your footsteps, has Molly always been interested in?
Did you introduce Molly to the wonders of the natural world around her or did she just gravitate towards it automatically?

Molly studying a Pale Tussock;
Image credit: Michael Bell of Nature Learn

Molly’s first word was “bird” so I like to think I haven’t totally brain-washed her and that she was born with a love of animals!  From the age of five or six she has watched David Attenborough programmes over and over and takes it all in.  Most of her friends last about 30 seconds before getting bored.  I hope she keeps up her interest in nature as she will have a fantastic knowledge of wildlife as an adult.  To study wildlife really enhances one’s life.  I guess that will be up to her though.  Like many teenagers, I did become less interested in nature at that stage but it did come back to me in later years.

And the final word….

What are your most favourite elements about what you do?
I do love everything about my job though I admit it is hard to make a living at it as there are times when no income is coming in (school holidays, winter etc.) and I couldn’t do it without a very supportive wife and family.  Education, whether as a teacher or a specialist educator should be a passion.  I certainly don’t consider myself a wildlife expert but I do love the subject and this is what I hope comes across when talking to children or adults. 

And what are you hopes for the future of Nature Learn?

 I just hope I am able to continue doing what I do in the future and I hope Nature Learn can inspire others to gain an awareness, appreciation and concern for the natural world.


Michael can be contacted at (085) 1751000 or (071) 9197926 for school visits, talks, signs or other wildlife related matters.  Or you can e-mail Michael at . 

Nature Learn’s Facebook page is a favourite of mine, you can check it out at: .



This week’s Mystery Creature…

Week 21st to 27th October 2013

Plenty of correct answers for last week’s Mystery Creature… it was the Patagonian Mara (Dolichotis patagonum).

photo credit: Joachim S. Müller via photopin cc

The Patagonian Mara (also known as the Patagonian Hare or Cavy) are only found in certain areas of Argentina and are classified as a near threatened species. They look like a cross between a rabbit and a small deer but are in fact large rodents, more closely related to the guinea pig. An adult will grow to approximately 70 to 80 cm in length. Their bodies have long powerful hind limbs and they can reach speeds of up to 45 kilometres an hour.

These animals are diurnal herbivores, feeding mainly on grasses.  They prefer shrubby habitats for their provision of shelter from prey but are also found in flat, barren, sometimes sandy plains.  Although they are monogamous they will usually share a communal burrow with other pairs, providing more safety and security for their young.  In the wild the female will usually only have one litter a year, of about two young.  The young are born mobile and with their eyes open.  The young stay in the communal burrow while the parents remain outside.  There is usually at least one adult pair outside the burrow and the female will approach regularly and seek out her own young through calls and smell and lead them to shelter near the burrow for feeding.  Other pairs must wait for feeding to finish and the young to be returned to the burrow before they can approach and feed their own offspring.

Fun Friday -making spooky sounds!

Keeping with the Halloween Science theme, this week I share a cool experiment perfect for the spooky season!

Make a Spooky Sound Cup!


All you need is...
All you need is…




All you need is ….

a plastic cup
a paper clip
some twine or string
a knife or scissors
a piece of kitchen paper




What to do...
What to do…

What to do

  1. Tie the paperclip to one end of the twine.
  2. Ask an adult to make a small hole in the base of the cup, using the knife or scissors.
  3. Hold the cup upside down and thread the twine through the hole. The paperclip will stop the twine from coming all the way through.
  4. Fold the kitchen paper in half and then quarter and then dip it in water. You want it wet but not dripping.
  5. Holding the cup in one hand, fold the wet kitchen paper over the twine with the other hand and hold between your thumb and first finger.
  6. Pull the wet kitchen towel down along the twine, pinching between your fingers all the time.
  7. You should notice it makes a really spooky sound.






You can try this experiment without the wet kitchen paper, just wet your thumb and finger instead; Does it make a different sound?

You could also see what happens if you use a different type of twine, or some ribbon, or use a larger cup!


So what is happening?

As you pull the kitchen paper down along the twine the friction between the two makes the twine vibrate.  These vibrations travel through the air and  bounced around the walls of the upturned cup – amplifying the vibrations so we get to hear the spooky, screechy sound!


Hope you have some Spooky Fun with this experiment.  Stay tuned for lots more over the Halloween Season!

Interview Series: Science Wows talks to Dee Sewell of Greenside Up

This post is the second in a new interview series looking at Science and Nature communication through different media in Ireland

This week I talk with Dee Sewell, owner and manager of Greenside Up, to find out about the various aspects of her business, the elements she enjoys most and what led her to this career.

Image credit: Foxglove Lane

Dee Sewell is a qualified horticulturist and trainer with a passion for the environment and growing vegetables. She founded Greenside Up is 2009 as a way to shows people how to grow their own vegetables without chemicals and to lead more sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyles, causing as little impact to the environment as possible. The aim of Greenside Up is to teach as many people as possible this basic life skill, either through workshops or community gardening, virtually through social media and more recently in the form of the Greenside Up Seed Gift Collections.

Hi Dee and thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview.  Since I joined the social media and blogging realm I have got to know some really interesting people in various walks of life.  You are definitely one of those people… I really love your blog and have already got some great and practical tips from you as you frequently use social media to share your knowledge and answer any questions posed.  This interview series is all about how people communicate their area of Science or Nature to the general public and I think you are a great example of how this is done successfully.
Firstly, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to set up your business “Greenside Up”? Was this something you always wanted to do?

No, not at all. For around twenty years I was working as a PA in London then moved to Ireland to live a simple life, rearing our children and living off the land. Life doesn’t always work out as we plan however and the reality of bringing up children is that we need an income! I wasn’t keen on returning to an office based job working for someone else after being ‘my own boss’ working as a full time mother, so when our youngest started school I went back to full time education myself and studied Horticulture. It was during that time that I had the idea for my business and set it up immediately upon finishing my course.

In retrospect, were there any elements of your life as a child that lead to your current choice of lifestyle and career?


I always loved nature, animals and the environment living on the coast as we did. Weekends and evenings were almost always spent outside, walking across fields or heathland or swimming in nearby creeks. My summer jobs were spent working in a greengrocers and a tomato farm though I only realised the significance of that recently! As a late teen onwards I was a member of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and given that it was in the eighties with no internet, I would often be firing off handwritten or typed letters to my local and parliamentary MPs about saving whales, the rainforest or the ozone layer. Nowadays it’s much easier to express our concerns with online global petitions and social media.

You work with children, the community and people on a one to one basis…
Can you tell us a little bit about each of these aspects of your work? Do you find it easier to communicate with people individually or as a group? Or are there different aspects of both that you like?

I enjoy them both but most of my work now is with groups. I primarily work with adults but have worked with children from 4 to 12 at an after schools club and teenage boys from a village youth project. The after schools project took place during the winter months so was mostly indoors but we looked at everything from nutrition to bulb planting and wildlife. I enjoyed my work with the teens immensely as to watch them show a marginal amount of interest in seed sowing then to see their expressions when the plants actually grew was so rewarding! (Read Dee’s blog about this project here).

You also added your lovely seed gift collections as a more recent aspect to your business.  I love the idea of each collection having a theme.
Where did the idea for the seed collections come from? How did you decide on the themes for each collection?
Are you involved in all aspects of the seed collections… from sourcing, packaging, design and distribution?

Thank you! I have to confess to getting a lot of help from friends. My husband was working in the US when I had the idea so friends were vital in seeing the project through in the tight two month deadline I gave myself! Initially a friend in the UK who worked as a seed manager advised me with regard to the seed collections then close friends nearby became my marketing and design advisor’s and critiques!

The Secret Garden centre in Cork were a real help in terms of retail advice at the beginning of the project and were the first online business to sell them for me. I designed and developed the seed cards myself, from printing, ordering, packaging and distribution. Keeping the products as environmentally friendly as possible has been very important and all seeds are guaranteed GMO free and untreated, with as much of the packaging sourced from recycled materials as possible.

You definitely have an Eco friendly ethos to your business…
What little things have you changed in your business and personal life to contribute more positively to the environment in which we live?
Do you have any tips or advice of some small changes that others can make?

We’ve always been environmentally aware, recycling and reusing for many years now. One of the changes I made after the initial launch of my business was to become paperless as much as I can. I used to print out reams and reams of notes but realised that on the most part they would be thrown into a drawer and not looked at again. I now email notes whenever I can and use my blog/website to create new content for customers. I can include topical recipes or pest control – people will always know where to look and not lose the notes!

I am a really big fan of your blog*, I love the diversity of subjects, the knowledge and honesty and the companionable style of your writing.
How long have you been blogging and why did you start? How do you feel it compliments your work?

Thank you again! It’s lovely to hear that people are enjoying the content as I sometimes worry that my content is too varied!

I started blogging in 2009 not long after I launched my business. Lorna from We teach Social suggested I start blogging as a way of advertising my business, keeping my website on google’s radar in terms of SEO and as a new business showing people that I know what I’m talking about. It took me a while to feel comfortable in my content but I kept going and attend the monthly KLCK bloggers network whenever I can to meet other bloggers, talk and pick up tips which has helped a lot.
I primarily blog for my customers now and the groups and gardens I work with are my blogging inspiration. Often my posts will have been as a result of conversations or questions asked during the gardening sessions. I love writing and ‘think blog’ all the time. I tell my husband when I’m tapping away at the keyboard that it’s work but the reality is that my blog is a working hobby.

And the final world….
What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working with three community gardens – my hours are being funded by the Kilkenny Leader project for two of them and we’re going through some very exciting times creating business linkages and products from the vegetables we’ve grown that will be launched at this years Savour Kilkenny food festival. I would love to see community gardens in every town and village across Ireland and believe this is achievable once others see and realise the many benefits.

And what are you hopes for the future of Greenside Up?
I’m not sure where the future lies at present. I’ve just started a European funded INSPIRE course through Carlow IT to help me develop some ideas surrounding social entrepreneurship – hopefully they won’t be wasting their money on me! Watch this space!

* Since this interview Dee Sewell has won four blog awards (Blog Awards Ireland) for her blog; these are …


  • Best Eco/Green Blog
  • Best Great Outdoors Blog
  • Best Lifestyle Blog
  • Best Overall Blog

Big Congratulations to Dee!!!

To find out more about Greenside Up check out ..the website, the blog the facebook page or contact Dee on twitter.

A new Mystery Creature…

Week 14th to 20th October 2013

Last week’s Mystery Creature was a… Sunda Colugo (Galeopterus varigatus)!

photo credit: Lip Kee via photopin cc

This cute little animal is often called the Sunda flying lemur… although it is not actually a lemur and it does not fly! With dense mottled fur, small faces and those large eyes, the Colugo is found in South East Asian rain forests.  It is an arboreal creature, moving with stealth and agility among the trees and gliding (rather than flying) from tree to tree with the help of some kite-like skin flaps called the patagium.  This gliding membrane extends from the animal’s neck right down to its fingers, toes and tail.

The Sunda Colugo can glide over a distance of  up to 100 metres,with little loss of elevation in travel. However it does need more open spaces for safe gliding and prefers the tree top canopies of its dense forest habitat.

Despite this agility in the trees and in the air, on land the animal is relatively helpless.

The Colugo is a solitary, nocturnal creature.  The female usually gives birth to a single offspring at a time, which she carried on her abdomen, often protected in a pouch created from her folded patagium.

They are herbivores, eating mainly leaves but also some fruit, flowers, buds, nectar and even tree sap.  They have some specially adapted comb like incisor teeth which are thought to be used for scraping sap off trees.

The mottled patches of fur on the Colugo resemble lichen and act as camouflage for the animal.  They are typically the size of a large squirrel.  

Though it may not look much like us, the Colugo has actually been shown to be a very close relative to humans – its genetic code reveals it to be the closest living relative to primates! 

Fun Friday – a Halloween Quiz!

Happy Friday everyone… I promised something “Halloweeney” for this week’s Fun Friday post so here it is…. instead of an experiment I thought I would share a Halloween Science Quiz!  Full of questions on spiders, bats, frogs, pumpkins and all things Halloween. Ideal for keeping some junior scientists entertained for a while during the mid-term break at the end of this month…. or if you are a teacher you might like this for a classroom activity!

As always, I love to hear back from you so let me know what you think!

Here is the link to a pdf copy of the quiz if you want to download or print…

Next week I will share some Halloween experiment ideas to try at home!

Enjoy your weekend!

Interview Series – Science Wows talk to Jason Tammemägi about creating and producing children’s animation

This post is the first in a new interview series looking at Science and Nature communication through different media in Ireland

I really enjoy using different media to communicate Science and Nature topics to people of all ages. I am always very interested in how others communicate in these fields and the methods they use.  I have come across many people who have really caught my interest… their subject, medium and most of all their passion for what they do.
Through this series of interviews I hope to explore how different individuals work in their specialised area, provide a sense of what a career in their chosen field is like and above all, express their passion for what they do and why!To kick off this interview series I spoke with Jason Tammemägi.

Image Credit: Jason Tammemagi

Jason is a writer, creator and director of many well known children’s television programs.  The creative mind behind such favourites as Fluffy Garden, Roobarb and Custard Too, Ballybradden and, more recently, Planet Cosmo, Jason’s work is familiar to us all.I was delighted to get an insight into the various aspects of Jason’s work and how he uses the
creative media of cartoon and animation to communicate with children.

Hi Jason and thank you so much for agreeing to take part in this interview series.  I have always believed that you can communicate any topic to children if you just present it in the right way and that is why Planet Cosmo really caught my eye.  Moreover it caught the eye of my three year old son, Rohan and when he started to remember and repeat the information he learned from each episode I realised how well it appealed to his young mind.

Before I get into the details of what makes such a program so successful I would love to learn a little more about you and what lead you to this career;

How did you start off on a career as a writer and cartoonist…what path did you take? What training was required?
I actually arrived at cartoons via science. I was studying physics, chemistry and maths but, while I have always loved physics, things just didn’t click for me at university level and then someone told me about an animation course. Well, I didn’t even know animation was something you could do for living – nobody had told me! I had been drawing all my life and loved stories so I applied and I got in. Within a week or two I knew this was what I wanted to do.
I studied animation for three years and that’s how I got into cartoons. From there, I worked my way up and moved to directing, designing, writing and creating. With most of those, it was just a case of trying them and then doing everything I could to get better. The initial animation training was the beginning of that journey.
Is this something you always wanted to do?
I had never decided to be an animator as a child. I really didn’t know what I wanted to be.
If you look back to your childhood, is it obvious to you now that this career was a likely path for you?
Yes, it makes so much sense now. As a child, I loved to draw, I loved to tell stories, to create and that’s exactly what I get to do now. I just didn’t know as a child that it was real job.
As I mentioned, Planet Cosmo is a big hit in this family, not only for my three year old; his older siblings (nine and seven) really enjoyed it as well.
Where did you get the idea for Planet Cosmo?
I was looking for good ways to teach my daughter about space. She was about three and was really taking an interest but I just couldn’t find the right book or show aimed at her level. I know how important it is to feed interests in children or they quickly move on. So I decided to make a show for children about space. A way to entertain them, make them laugh and sing along while also giving them real facts about the planets because, for me, that’s what’s amazing: these are real!
Which do you create first… the characters or the theme?
The theme came first. I had the mission. From there, it took quite some time to find just what the show would be and who the characters would be. Early on, it was about a little robot boy, his sister and their dog and it evolved from there. Cosmo became a girl, the sidekick became her Dad and a family was created around them.
How many people are involved in a project like Planet Cosmo?
It takes quite a few people to make a show like Planet Cosmo but maybe not as many as you might think. We had a core team of around ten people I think but then there were many others who made important contributions along the way. Everyone who touched the project added something of their own and it would never quite be the same without them.
From the first idea to seeing the final product on screen, how long does a project like Planet Cosmo take?
With Planet Cosmo, I think it took over three years and that wouldn’t be unusual. It can take a long time to pull a television show together and then get it made. There are highs and lows in there and the certainty of the show is never guaranteed. So it’s always a special feeling when the show finally hits the screens. It’s a real success to even get a show made at all and even better when you find out afterwards that children love it and it’s really helping bring space to a lot of households.


I really liked how Planet Cosmo managed to engage and capture the imagination of its audience while teaching quite a complex material in a very simple way. 
How did you manage to target the program to the preschool audience so well?
Well preschool is really my area. I love how open to ideas preschool children are and I love what entertains them and what they find amazing so I have done a huge amount of work and research into that area. Before making Planet Cosmo, I made 80 episodes of Fluffy Gardens among other things so, when it came to making this show, I had an idea what I doing. But I’m also fortunate enough to have two young daughters. When I began creating the show, my eldest daughter was right in the middle of my target age group. By the time the show was finished, my youngest daughter was there so I always had a preschool child to test ideas on.
Do you test your ideas on your intended audience at different stages of production?
Yes, it is easy to get lost in a project and lose sight of those who matter: the audience. So I found it important all the way through to check and test and see what works and what doesn’t. The best way to do that is to show the work to children. They don’t fake their reactions and they know better than anyone when it’s right or wrong.


I know that you are fond of getting involved in every step of a project from creation to development and production;
Can you give us an idea of what is involved at each step?
There are so many stages in making a television show and they’re all so different. The beginning is creation: ideas, characters, stories. It is all very free and very creative but then requires focus and hard work to bring it all together into something that can really be a show. You then have to pitch the show and convince others that it’s a good idea in order to get it made. That can be a tough process and it is always a real test of just how strong the show is.
If you’re successful and the show goes ahead, then you are into preproduction (getting everything ready for the show – designs, writing and so on) and then production (the actual animation). The writing is incredibly important because it really sets the template for everything that happens afterwards. You need a fun, strong story or the rest of it doesn’t really matter. But once you have a good story, great animation and great sound can turn it into something wonderful. And yes, I tend to be involved with every part of production and count myself fortunate that I can do that. I think it brings a real sense of identity to a show.
What is a typical day like for you…. Or is there such a thing?
How my day is depends on what stage a project is at. I write at home, for example. I need the peace and I get asked far too many questions in a studio! So writing is peaceful and quiet and I do lots of walking around to let ideas swirl in my head before getting them down on the page. Whereas in production, I’m in a studio and it’s all so busy. I usually start very early and make my to-do lists and get a head start on everything I have to do that day. Then once the studio gets going, there is so much to check – going through storyboards to make sure the story is being told well visually, timing them into videos that set up the whole episode, checking animation scenes, checking how they flow when put together and then working on effects to get the final episodes together. At any one time, there are many episodes in various stages of production so there is always a lot to do and the important thing is to keep track of the overall stories because, in production, everything is split off into smaller parts.
So a typical production day is busy!
What are you working on at the moment?
I am making an app for kids right now and that’s pretty exciting. It hasn’t been announced yet so I can’t say too much about it but it is going to be fun. I am also developing a couple of new concepts and helping some people out on their own projects. So right now, things are very busy and I will be announcing some of these new projects soon.
You have worked in this area for more than 15 years and have generated a number of other projects and programs. 
Can you tell us a little about some of your favour projects to date?
Planet Cosmo is really the show I always wanted to make. It sparks an interest in space and, with it, science and it does so with lots of humour and songs and, for a large part, it’s a science fiction show based around science fact and I love science fiction. It was so much fun to write and I couldn’t be happier with the end result. So that show will be hard to top for me! But Fluffy Gardens will always have a special place in my heart and I know each and every one of those characters so well. It’s a part of me and I still think to this day that the Fluffy Gardens Christmas Special is one of the best things I ever made. It has been shown here every Christmas Day since it was made and I love it every time. It’s just so Christmassy.
Of the other shows I have worked on, well, Roobarb and Custard would be a favourite. It was such an honour to work on that show and to work with its creator, Grange Calveley, and the late great Richard Briers.
Of all the characters you have created do you have a favourite among them and if so why?
It is so hard to pick a favourite. Cosmo’s Dad is probably the most fun to write and I really love him because he has a lot of different sides. His silly side is obvious and that makes him very funny but he’s also a good Dad and he’s a good pilot so he has strengths too. He has these little warm moments of fatherhood that I can really relate to myself no matter how silly he is. I will always have a soft spot for Mavis the Pony in Fluffy Gardens too though.
Who is your target audience or does that change for each project?
Most of my work has been for preschool children, although not all (Ballybraddan was for older kids and Managing the Universe was for teens). With preschool, which is the area I really specialise in, I tend to pick a slightly different core age group for each project because a two-year-old is very different to five-year-old even though they all come under the heading ‘preschool’. So Planet Cosmo was aimed at a slightly older preschool child than Fluffy Gardens. I love sticking with preschool but I tend to shift focus within that depending on the project.
From my viewpoint Science communication is on the rise in this Country, with children becoming more and more the target audience;
How do you see this developing in the future and would you like to be involved in another science based project for children?
I think if you’re aiming for real positive change, you start by inspiring the children. Not all children will be interested in everything and that’s perfectly okay but you have to give them the chance. Feed the interest while it’s there or they just move on and forget about it. So I love to give children something that is fun first and enjoyable while also expanding their options and introducing them to new ideas. Science is amazing and exciting and covers so many areas that there is lots to explore for children and plenty of areas of science that can make for wonderful entertainment. And for children, I see one of the main ideas behind science being so important for all aspects of their lives as they grow: ask questions, challenge and look deeper. So I see this getting bigger and more important and, yes, I have no doubt I will be involved in more science-based projects in the future.


And the final word…
What is the best thing about what you do?
I get to make children smile and laugh. And I usually get to give them something positive in the process. I’m not sure it gets better than that!
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of a career in your area?
Create. Draw or write or both and keep doing it. See the world around you, how it is and how it works and then plug that into your imagination and see what comes out the other side. From there, find out about college courses in the specific areas you would like to be involved in and try to get in and work at the things that really inspire you. And remember that there are many different paths. The one you start on doesn’t have to be the one you end up on so try to be open about how you get to where you want to be.
What would be your ideal project for the future?
I count myself fortunate enough that I have already been given the chance to make my ideal projects. So from here, I want to deliver better. More smiles and laughs and content that might just make a real positive difference not just for children, but for the adults they will one day become.