The Creative Science Centre - by Dr Jonathan P. Hare


The CSC (Jonathan Hare) and the VEGA Science Trust (Harry Kroto and Gill Watson) are exploring ways of using the internet for advancing science learning and experience of science. Harry Kroto is exploring what might be called the 'high-tech' approach, using Mediasite Presentation equipment. At Sussex we are focusing on the 'low-tech' end i.e. exploring the ways in which we can use free, readily available software and inexpensive hardware to run simple video conferencing activities via the web: e-w/s. This has employed standard domestic broadband connections together with cheap webcams. This has been done specifically to explore what can be achieved with a typical home (i.e. school) computer equipment available at minimal expense. We also wanted to use techniques that require virtually no need for technical computer know-how by the participants.

Workshops have been established between the relatively high network speeds of Sussex university into homes using domestic broadband services (such as ADSL and NTL cable for example) using speeds between 250kb/s to 1Mb/s. So far only UK workshops have taken place and so long-haul, long-delay workshops over the internet have not been observed. Connections at peak times such as in the morning (ca. 9am) and afternoon (ca. 5pm) where there is a lot of internet traffic have not seriously impaired the workshops, although bottlenecks along the internet sometimes means the picture can temporarily (ca. 1-2 seconds) freeze or brake up.

I am receiving an ever expanding flow of serious enquiries from children (and adults) of all ages throughout the world. These have been initiated by the TV series (eg. Hollywood Science (2 series) and Rough Science (6 series)) as well as from this website ( Enquiries range from requests for information about the TV programs to quite detailed technical information about experiments (from all ages).

E-mails provide the simplest way of replying to requests but the added possibilities of a 'live' video link to see equipment and swap diagrams for example, obviously makes video conferencing techniques very attractive. Netmeeting was the first free video conferencing software we used (supplied free with Win95 and above). It works fairly well though computer crashes occurred a little too regularly (!) requiring time consuming re-booting and some technical experience to check discs corruption problems etc. The recent MSN Messenger (version 7.0) upgraded with free internet text messaging, audio and video system and Scype are more robust. This new software also overcomes many of the firewall issues surrounding Netmeeting and is considered hack-proof and generally to have superior security.

Most recently (since Feb 2005) we have started to distribute Science Packs (eg. Rough Science, C60, The Transistor) to children (and via science educators) so that they can undertake experiments for themselves. The kits contain all the necessary experimental components (except for ingenuity which the kids must provide). After giving them time to experiment themselves we 'meet' on-line to discuss progress, advise on possible further experiments and share the disappointment, excitement and joy of science discovery.

Recent results from Sussex using MSN messenger and Skype are extremely promising. It not only provides a free way of using the internets growing range of AV facilities but can be used to swap almost any digital file format - including scanned in lab notebooks, photos, video clips etc. Considering the simplicity of use, the fact that it is free and that it overcomes many of the technical problems (ports, CGI, Internet protocols etc) means it's a great way of keeping in contact as well as swapping expertise to an ever growing enthusiastic on-line science audience - be they computer expert or not.

We have also been involved with seeting up and running e-w/s's with schools on the West Sussex Grid for Learning. These workshops have been with Midhurst Grammar School and a company called First Connections (employed by West Sussex County Council to connect schools to the Grid). The company supply an internet video conferencing software called e-Conf. A unique number (rather like a telephone number) is given to each school for security and we are very fortunate to be able to contribute to this scheme from outside West Sussex via our Sussex University CSC lab (Pevensey Building).

So we now have MSN, Skype and e-Conf software with which to explore our e-w/s's.

Through my work with the Creative Science Centre and Vega we are looking to extend these on-line activities (e-w/s) responding to the many requests from school children, schools/colleges, inventors and artists.

This work is supported by the Physics Department at Sussex University and also via a Leverhulme grant (HWK).

Summary of e-w/s projects
1) explore on-line talks and workshops via the internet - e/w's
2) to provide after workshop 'up-dates' with school and colleges that have already been visited
3) provide mentoring; swapping of expertise and experience

Jonathan Hare and the Vega Science Trust
back to e-w/s page


Dr Jonathan Hare, The University of Sussex
Brighton, East Sussex. BN1 9QJ.

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