Wow!How? Family Science Fair

Wow!How? is an annual volunteer-run family science fair held at the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum. Attracting thousands of visitors each year, the one-day event takes place during National Science & Engineering Week. It is also part of the annual Oxfordshire Science Festival.

Returning for its ninth year, Wow!How? 2012 featured over 30 stalls and the contributions of more than 150 volunteers, nearly all either practicing scientists (students or professionals) or amateur enthusiasts.

Although targeted at families with children aged 8+, the day nonetheless has something to offer visitors of all ages and attracts a wide spectrum of people.


‘A treasure trove of information...’

A number of favourites returned in 2012, including The Cold Show’s display of liquid nitrogen and dry ice, the Mass Extinction board game, Custard and Slime, and an ever larger and more dramatic Disaster Zone, where volcanoes and plate tectonics come to life. New stalls included Smell Quest (follow your nose to complete the trail...), a glimpse into the world of molecular motors at the Mini-Motors stand, and the dispersal of more than 200 mosquitoes (not real ones!) around the museums as part of the Mosquito Challenge. Another new stall, The World Beneath Your Feet, used working sand and water models to demonstrate stratigraphy, archaeology, and erosion, while Murder Mystery at the Museum challenged visitors to use forensic techniques to incriminate a fictional murderer from a line-up of suspects.

Younger children enjoyed making paper insects, chromatography badges, and paper aeroplanes, while outside there were eruption demonstrations, giant bubbles, and our very own special event amateur radio station, call sign GB4WOW.

Museum Collections were represented too: the Museum of Natural History offered Bug Handling, Fossil Handling, and Fossil Casting; the Museum of the History of Science hosted the Electrostatics and Send a Message SOS Morse code stalls; and the Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum added plant specimens and craft activities to the mix.

Promoting Science

Wow!How? aims to publicly promote science as an exciting, relevant, and worthwhile endeavour. Although lots of our visitors are already interested in science, for many it provides an unusual positive interaction with scientific ideas and experiments.

For visitors: "Has this event changed your views on science?"

“It is much more applicable to children than I thought.” – Visitor aged 19-29
“It gave my son insights into how science can lead to different careers.” – Visitor aged 40-49, with child aged 12-18
“Made it so interesting.” – Visitor aged 50-59, with child aged 6-11
“I now realise that science can be interactive.” – Visitor aged 12-18
“Made me realise how many aspects it covers.” – Visitor aged 19-29
“I thought science was boring but now I think it’s fun.” – Visitor aged 6-11

However, it's not just the visitors who benefit. Wow!How? offers volunteers valuable experience in science communication and museum-based education.

For volunteers: "What, if anything, have you gained from volunteering at Wow! How??"

“Feel involved with the community, not just the University. A boost to team skills, which don't often get used in my research!”
“Experience in explaining natural history to small children and sceptical adults!”
“Satisfaction at doing something that pays off, and seeing people enjoying and learning at my stall. Definitely worth it.”
“Gained huge insight into the power of communicating science to museum-goers [and] valuable experience into what works and what doesn't [when] engaging public in a science fair setting.”
“A very intense day [...] constantly talking to members of the public and making sure your information was correct - as such it was an excellent confidence [builder] in public engagement.”
“A reminder of how an early interest in science is sparked.”

For  more detailed analysis please read the Wow!How? 2012 Evaluation Report; plus, see more photographs of the event in recent years on Flickr.

You might also be interested in our other science communication opportunities.