‘Atoms are for grown-ups’ – Mutable Matter @ MK Science Festival

What a weekend! On Friday, Mutable Matter went to Leeds, and on Saturday and Sunday, it made a (mutated!) appearance at the Milton Keynes Science Festival. Mutated, because it was not possible to run the usual workshops at the shopping centre, but instead I got lots of spontaneous reactions to the project and had some interesting conversations with visitors to the stall!

The Saturday started very early for me: I had to get up at 5am (after getting back from Leeds after 1 am…) in order to set up for 8:30 am. I have some time to wander around the centre a bit, so I find out that my stall is just aroud the corner from the ‘Bear Workshop’: plush versus plasticine & goo. Will I be able to compete?

An answer to this question arrives with the first visitors to the stall. After explaining the project to the family, the mother tells their children that ‘atoms are something for grown-ups’. What a statement! Note to self: must experiment more with different ways of explaining the project…

Surprisingly, a lot of children who arrived at the stall (usually asking ‘what does ‘mutable’ mean?’) seemed quite keen on talking about atoms, molecules and DNA (and very confident, too!), often to the surprise of their parents and myself, so I altered the activities to suit both adults and children. The first signs I put up alongside some images of the nanoscale were an altered Captain Beefheart quote (which normally reads ‘Stars are matter, we are matter, but it doesn’t matter’, but got transformed into ‘Stars are matter, we are matter, does it matter?’) and an announcement reading:

Some discussion happened during the day, even when the the Royal British Legion band who had set up two stalls further down started blasting away with Glenn Miller’s arrangement of the St Louis Blues March (great choice of opener by the way!) and later moved on to classics such as Lily Marlene and the obligatory ‘God save the Queen’. Interestingly, the presence of war veterans triggered questions on the stall about connections between atoms and the atomic bomb. A lot of visitors also asked questions about CERN and quantum physics. Surprisingly, I could answer most of them. Not bad for an ex-fashion student turned geographer!

During my break, I nipped over to MK Gallery to leave some Mutable Matter postcards with them and to check out their new exhibition by the artist Gilberto Zorio. It fitted in very nicely with what is currently happening in the project (playing around with organic – inorganic perceptions), and I decided to sign up for the (free!) artist talk on the artist talk on 26 November. (More on the exhibition and other exhibitions to follow.) For your information, the exhibition featured some nice & intense tesla coil harmonies which delighted my musician alter ego.

On coming back, assistance arrived in the form of a very nice volunteer from the Open University Geological Society (thank you!). I had no idea that geology enthusiasts where so numerous, but thinking back to how many of my friends have an interest in geology, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise! So beware: geologists are everywhere, and they know what the earth is doing when humans are not watching! Anyway, we talked about the project, and I also asked whether I confuse people with my somewhat unusual project. My volunteer answered that that if I do, confusion is not necessarily a bad thing as it makes you think. I decided to stick with this way of thinking. Nevertheless, I had to revise the project for Sunday.

So after a 5 hours journey from south London to Milton Keynes due to overrunning engineering works (thankfully, I had a ‘full veggie’ before the start of the journey and a 900-page novel in my bag!). Apologies to everyone who arrived before 2.15 pm to find the stall empty! :( At precisely this time I arrived with the following sign in my hand:

And guess what? It worked! I got far more questions and responses, and I also managed to talk to children better. I even met somebody who knew my blog – wow!

In case you visited Mutable Matter stall in the shopping centre, please leave a comment about your experience!

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