Hand me down physics

2nd February 2001 at 00:00
Believe it or not, I once toyed with the idea of studying chemistry rather than physics. I know that to some of you this will be as shocking as hearing a concert violinist announce that he'd once fancied fronting a boy band, but it's true.

It was only early in S6 that I began to gravitate towards my final calling. Until then I found a lot of physics frustrating, especially the experimental work. Electroscopes and ticker-timers had a lot to answer for.

The electroscopes refused to work if as much as a solitary water molecule should drift by. As to the ticker-timers, imagine half a dozen sources of rasping electrical flatulence noise surrounded by rolls of tape cascading across work benches as if dragged by miniature Andrex puppies. Entertaining though this could be, the point of a lesson was often obscured by the rigmarole.

Results tended to be less than convincing, too. Meanwhile the neds up the back would have used the gummed ticker ribbon to make a Grand Prix circuit on their desk.

Thank goodness for modern electronic measuring equipment. It is easy to use, tidy, quiet and accurate. Unfortunately, it isn't cheap. As a consequence, for years I have been carrying out certain experiments as whole-class demonstrations, albeit with substantial audience participation A recently successful development bid will bring back hands-on physics for the masses at my place and the future is bright. (And tinged with orange, because some of the equipment's from Unilab. Just a little science teacher in-joke there.) So what of surplus apparatus? While I would not wish ticker-timers on anyone, I have felt bad about decommissioning (ie throwing away) old but serviceable stock in the past.

Now I may have a solution to this dilemma. A charity called Lab Aid takes unwanted science equipment and passes it on to schools in Third World countries. Low technology "obsolete" equipment is often more appropriate than the latest mains-operated piece of wizardry. I'm told they are particularly short of gold-leaf electroscopes and optical equipment - lenses, prisms and the like.

If you want more details about Lab Aid I will be more than happy to pass contact numbers on. Get me on gregor@steele3.freeserve.co.uk. Other organisations will take surplus computers (486 onwards) and hand tools from technical departments.

But I'd suggest no ticker-timers. We wouldn't want to cause an international incident now, would we?

Gregor Steele recalls the old adage: "If it moves, it's biology, if it smells it's chemistry and if it doesn't work, it's physics."


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