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WOW!! Science at Zernike

Zernike Science Campus (University of Groningen) opened its doors on 21 October: an afternoon packed full of hands-on activities, lectures and demonstrations for young and old. Yes, science still has the wow factor!

Do you remember learning topology at school? Folding bits of paper into pyramids, cubes and a myriad of other shapes? Simple old-fashioned paper folding but my son Luc and his friend Devon still really enjoyed it. Next, my idea of seventh heaven: a precision laser cutter used to cut out an intricate construction kit from cardboard. No more blunt scissors that refuse to negotiate those tricky corners. This was “Blue Peter” 21st century style!

For the boys the highlight of the day was the robot lab. Unfortunately not quite as exciting as Star Wars or those nifty spy flies the Pentagon are using. Instead a remote-controlled helicopter device and two droids dancing to Michael Jackson. But the lads were excited and full of questions. And RTV Noord filmed them for the local news that evening

Over at the space research lab things didn’t quite go as Houston had planned. Devon launched a water rocket that abruptly took a nose dive and just missed Luc’s head! Inside you could see the test prototypes of various satellites such as the Herschel telescope and how they test such equipment to make sure it survives the traumas of being launched. And there were some smart demonstrations like a device that lets you hear how much electrical noise everyday devices like a smartphone make (bad news for sensitive satellites) and what happens to an LED lamp when you put it in liquid nitrogen.

Perhaps at this point little sisters should stop reading – the lads loved this. A science day would not be complete without the wonders of the Van der Graaf generator – you know that metal dome full of charge that gives you an electric shock if you touch it or can be used to make impressive sparks. The best trick, of course, is when it makes your hair stick up on end. Yet unfortunately we live in the age of health & safety inspectors and so no kids allowed. Instead a cute little Barbie doll was the victim. Stuck unceremoniously on top of the dome with a few thousand volts discharged across her body her hair assumed a style that would put your average punk to shame.

The open day in Groningen was part of oktober kennismaand (October Knowledge Month). when many Dutch universities and research institutes open their doors to the general public. In Amsterdam, Science Park Amsterdam and the AMC and VU medical centers hold open days in October.


Yet if next October sounds too far away then in the meantime you can try:


Science museum Nemo : next door to Central Station with loads to do and lots of regular special activities and talks.


Ontdekhoek Amsterdam : a great day out for the family where you can do more than 30 different experiments. It is also a good alternative venue for a children’s party.


Ontdekplek : based in Haarlem but also a location in Amsterdam (Buurthuis de Waterval (020 6841262). A weekly technology club for kids aged 4 to 12. (site in Dutch only)