Step Out for Science!

By Sanjali Jain and Dr Sharon Chang

Science experiments have been conducted city-wide in many countries! For example, daylight studies have been performed in London (UK), a temperature measure was taken in New York (USA), and noise data was taken in Edinburgh (UK).

What is the National Science Experiment?

National Science Experiment_poster_NED

The National Science Experiment (NSE) is a project launched by the National Research Foundation to develop Singapore’s Research and Development potential, contribute to Singapore’s economy and to make it a hub of scientific and innovative excellence. This is the first time such a project is launched at a national scale. This is a 3-year project that is opened to all schools (Primary, Secondary and Junior College).

Dr Sharon Chang, wearing the sensor.

How will it be carried out?

Themed “Step out for Science”, over 250,000 students will be given the SENSg sensor , which is designed by the Singapore University of Technology & Design (SUTD). These sensors are able to capture certain measurements from their daily environment such as pressure, temperature, humidity, altitude, and sound levels.

For the first year of this project, the objective will be to obtain data on the number of steps taken and the time spent outdoors, the transportation patterns, and the favourite hangout spots of youths.

How does this benefit schools and students?

Through the NSE, students develop a better understanding of the roles and functions of sensors in providing vital information about our environment, and the use of science and technology in understanding lifestyle patterns. Students will also be able to explore ubiquitous sensing and big data technologies in easy-to-grasp visualization.

Beyond the NSE phase, participating schools may use the SENSg sensor to augment their classroom curriculum through stimulating and relatable experiments. The compact and portable nature of the multi-parameter sensors allows students to carry a “lab in your pocket”. This encourages students to immerse themselves in the scientific inquiry process at their own pace, space and time.

Classroom Experiments

A presentation on the NSE was given to school teachers at Science Centre on 10 April 2015. During the talk, Dr. Sharon Chang, one of the curriculum specialists from STEM Inc at Science Centre Singapore currently working on the NSE, explains the many ways you can use these sensors to conduct simple and relatable experiments with your students.

One of the experiments that she presented  allows students to learn about humidity (a common topic of discussion in Singapore), by studying how the high relative humidity in Singapore can affect the drying of our clothing, or even the evaporation of our perspiration. The experiment is summarized here.

Experiment

How it works: Cobalt (II) Chloride, CoCl2, is a fascinating compound that changes colour in response to the presence of water or humidity. The hexahydrated, or ‘wet’, form of CoCl2 is pale pink; when water is removed from the compound, it turns blue. Therefore, when a piece of paper is coated with a solution of CoCl2, the paper immediately turns pale pink as shown in the leftmost diagram above.

When the coated piece of paper is placed on a hotplate to dry in an enclosed environment for a certain length of time, the chemical (paper) gradually turns blue as water is removed in the drying process (top right image). To visualize the impact on humidity on drying, the humidity in the closed environment is raised using a humidifier, and the experiment is repeated. Now, the same coated piece of paper is unable to be fully dried over the same duration as shown by the mixed patches of pink (wet) and blue (dry) areas on the paper (bottom right image).  By attaching the SENSg to the inner diameter of enclosure – in this case a glass jar – the humidity of the respective experiments can be determined to correlate the rate of drying with humidity.

This experiment can then be extended to the problem of the moisture level in the air that affects the drying of our clothes. Solutions could then be searched for from that point onwards; the sensor can be used to determine the optimal level of humidity to dry clothes in the fastest possible way, or to determine the highest level of humidity acceptable to effectively dry clothes.

Has the NSE inspired you yet? Find out more about it at: www.nse.sg

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