Magnetic Fields

In the Wonderlab, a lady dipped an egg in liquid nitrogen and froze it solid. It looked completely cooked. She told us the egg would go back to its uncooked, runny state after it thawed, then grinned at our reaction. Lightning simulated by a Tesla coil generated a million watts of electricity. The demonstrator told everyone to put our hands over our ears – as it made an enormous buzzing sound. 

Chloe and Delph made their own fun too. There’s a revolving floor in the middle of the room designed to mimic the rotation of Earth around the Sun. You may wonder – did this spark Delph and Chloe’s interest in planetary orbits? Did they figure out that one, full rotation of the Earth around the Sun was equal to a solar year? It’s hard to say… as they were too busy doing splits with one leg on the stationary floor and the other on the revolving part.

Chloe worked out that if she held onto a well-placed bar to help those with mobility problems, she’d get to play tug-of-war with the Earth’s rotation. She’d only let go when her arms couldn’t hold out anymore. Yep, this was high-quality science learning. Force and resistance. She laughed like a hyena too which was nice. Delph didn’t go so rough and tumble, but she enjoyed spinning the model of Earth to give it the fastest night and day cycle it had probably experienced to date. She’d periodically slow it down, until another kid came up. She’d narrow her eyes and violently spin it until the other kid carefully departed. Oh yeah. 

I did what any self-respecting parent would do in this moment – I got the hell outta there. I noticed a quiet exhibit and went towards it. There was only person looking at it; a fellow, mellow-looking grown-up. He smiled as I approached. I smiled back. 

The exhibit was made of a large glass tube, with colours on each end. One end glowed orange while the other emitted a green light. The man was holding a magnet. He pushed the button underneath the tube and we watched the lights get brighter in the tube. He then applied the magnet to the surface. The lights inside the glass tube flickered and pulsed. Huh.

The man smiled. ‘It’s simulating the Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis.’

I nodded confidently. ‘Right.’ 

Quick look back at the explanation board. Charged particles inside the tube. If you added a magnet, the particles would begin to dance around. Turn on the opposing lights and watch the particles bounce around through the wavelengths of light. 

My heart surged a little. I got it! This exhibit was replicating the Earth’s ionised atmosphere at its magnetic poles. The Earth’s magnetic field is strongest at its North and South Poles. This is also where the Aurora Borealis (in the north) and Aurora Australis (in the south) occurs. I sighed. The Northern (and less observed Southern lights) are completely beautiful. A light show more spectacular than anything man-made. Now from this exhibit, I understood how the charged particles, magnetic fields and wavelengths of light were interacting together.

The guy turned to me. ‘Cool, hey? Would you like a go with the magnet?’ 

My arm hair positively tingled. I’m pretty sure we had the same look on our faces. And the same sense of relief that we didn’t have to explain it to anyone else.

He opened up his hand. I took out the magnet. ‘Sure.’

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