Fiery insight into physics

Te Wharekura o Arowhenua pupil Kyra Batchelor-Tata (11) helps Otago Museum science engagement co-ordinator Toni Hoeta (above) with an experiment during the museum's programme to teach more about New Zealand's solar storms.

PUPILS from an Invercargill school took part in an enlightening and explosive class last week.

Te Wharekura o Arowhenua school pupils were visited by Otago Museum’s science engagement team on Thursday, to teach pupils more about the solar tsunami programme, in an interactive and fun way.

Last year, University of Otago physics department head Professor Craig Rodger received more than $15 million for a five-year research project to develop space-weather prediction and risk mitigation measures for New Zealand’s energy infrastructure.

As part of this programme, Otago Museum’s science engagement team was travelling the country to facilitate communities’ and iwi engagement with the research and results.

Co-ordinators Toni Hoeta and Jessa Barder explained to pupils how solar storms could affect Earth and its electrical grids, especially in New Zealand.

“This is really the first school we’ve done. We’ve been building a sort of repertory of experiments which could help to explain what is going on.

“It is such a complicated subject, as are the electricity, the helium, physics, geophysics aspects… so we wanted to create something which could be interesting and fun for everyone,” Ms Hoeta said.

She said the first school event was the “tip of the iceberg” and many more community engagement opportunities would be made available soon.

Kyra Batchelor-Tata was among the pupils who took part in the programme.

She helped Ms Hoeta with an experiment which simulated how hydrogen fusion generated energy in a star.

“It was really, really cool. I got a little fright, but it was so much fun.

“We do science here at school, but not like that. It is much more fun to learn like this,” Kyra said.