The University of Southampton

Tyndall experiment still draws in the crowds 144 years later

Published: 24 June 2014
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Schoolchildren at a Southampton academy have been participating in a number of science experiments today. One of which is now 144 years old and is still as exciting as ever.

During a recent year 4 project, Zofia Wrobel, eight, at the Freemantle Church of England Community Academy in Southampton, was so inspired by her investigations into sources of light, that her mother Magda, who works at the Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton, arranged for her colleagues to visit the school to demonstrate the power of light.

The Lightwave Outreach team, run by PhD student volunteers, Miguel Nunez-Velazquez, Matthew Posner and Nicholas Wong, from the University of Southampton’s Optical Society, visited the school today to engage the children in a series of hands-on demonstrations giving them a basic understanding of the power of light in everything from mirrors and lenses, to optical fibres and telecommunications.

Among a host of exciting experiments, the schoolchildren were shown a recreation of the scientifically important experiment conducted by John Tyndall in 1870 before members of the prestigious British Royal Society: guiding a light beam through a falling stream of water. This was the first recorded demonstration of the principle known as 'total internal reflection'. One hundred and forty-four years on, Tyndall's experiment is still able to stimulate curiosity in those who see it. As significant today as ever before, it provides a simple and visually accessible confirmation of the scientific principle which forms the basis of all modern fibre optic telephone communication networks today.

Zofia said: “I have had a really exciting morning. I'm so happy about the Lightwave visit and meeting the people my mum works with. I've enjoyed the experiments about light, which have been very interesting and I've learned a lot more about light too.”

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