This month, a group of research students and postdocs developed an interactive workshop exploring the world of plants. This workshop was taken to two events: one with a local Brownie troop and then to a Meet the Scientists event at the World Museum in Liverpool. We came up with the activities by first identifying interesting facts about plants that we wanted to communicate, and built the activities up from there. The three key things that we highlighted were circadian rhythms, leaf adaptations, and the importance of soil pH.
Circadian rhythms are an internal mechanism that acts like a body clock, which plants use to survive. To introduce this complex concept to a young audience, we created a card pinwheel that showed the times at which different flowers open. This idea was based on the concept garden designed by Carolus Linnaeus in 1751. The pinwheel contained outlined drawings of flowers that could be coloured in by visitors whilst the demonstrator chatted to them about circadian rhythms. Our card Linnaeus clock is available to download here.
To demonstrate that plants can recognise the pH of the soil that they are in, we brought some pH indicator that had been made using red cabbages. Red cabbage indicator is purple at a neutral pH, but can change to bright yellows and pinks on the addition of household substances such at lemon juice or washing powder. Visitors were encouraged to test the pH of a selection of different items, as well as testing soil samples. Photographs of hydrangeas were on display to show how drastic an effect soil pH can have on plants.
To demonstrate leaf adaptations, we took a two pronged approach. For older children and adults, a microscope was available to look at details such as veins and stomata on leaves from a variety of plants including local deciduous trees, an ornamental conifer, and a Christmas cactus. While some of the visitors enjoyed looking at the leaf structures, it became clear that some aphid eggs found on a sycamore leaf was more interesting! For the younger visitors, materials for making leaf rubbings were provided. By making leaf rubbings, we were able to encourage the younger children to look at the leaves more closely and to examine their different shapes. We then cut their leaf rubbings out and attached them to headbands, something which helped draw more people to our table.