BoomTown Fair, August 2017
BoomTown Fair is an annual music and arts festival held in Winchester. It attracts up to 60,000 people a year. The festival hosts a wide range of performances across its many stages, providing visually impressive themed areas on-site.
This is also the case with Kidztown, the diverse and interactive family area. OpenPlant and the SAW Trust were key contributors to the Kidztown science tent. Children here were introduced to different natural plant-based products in a fun and engaging way. This included a carefully devised potion-making, craft and spell-writing stand.
The stand, titled "Marvellous Medicines," revolved around our periodic table of natural products. The children were tasked with making a magical potion, picking just one component from each block of the periodic table for their ingredients. The blue block contributed a plant material that would provide the colour pigmentation for the potion, including the magical element of colour change in different pH solutions. The red block contained plants with appealing scents, extracted as essential oils, to give the potion a delightful smell. Finally, the yellow block contained citrus fruit. The citric acid in this can be used to observe the colour change.
Making the Potions
Once the children had selected their ingredients, they ground up the blue item (either red cabbage, berries, turmeric or selected flowers) using a pestle and mortar. They then practised using pipettes, adding 75 percent ethanol to extract the pigment. This was transferred to their potion flask. They next added the essential oil corresponding to their red item and 1 millilitre of bicarbonate of soda solution to observe the first colour change. Last of all, 35 millilitres of citric acid solution was added to create the final colour of their potion. It was explained that citric acid was the compound in citrus fruit that made it taste so sharp.
Whilst a slight fizz was observed upon adding the citric acid, due to it reacting with the bicarbonate of soda, only a very small amount of the bicarb was present. The final step involved adding a green slime of more bicarb mixed with washing up liquid, which caused the potions to fizz over and release the essential oil smell. If the kids wanted an extra colourful potion they also added food colouring gel.
Marvellous Medicine's Art and Writing
Artist Molly Barrett helped the children create their own artistic potion bottle, cutting out bottle shapes from cardboard and sticking dried plant products to them. Our writer Ali Pritchard asked the children to think about what they wanted their potion to do, and they wrote a spell to cast over their potion for it to work. This was written on acetate and stuck to their art creation.
Throughout, the children learned about a plant’s ability to make different compounds that define their features such as colour, scent and taste. They extracted the colour pigment themselves and used other natural extracts to complete their potions, observing how we can use things that plants make for our own products. The older children also learned about pH and colour indicators, a classic chemistry practical they will no doubt carry out in secondary school. A further use for plants was discovered in the art stand: the plant materials could be used as 3D elements to decorate the potion bottles.
The children let their creativity run wild by imagining what their natural product potion could achieve. Whilst compounds produced by plants may not be able to turn glitter into gold or the sea into Ribena, hopefully the children took away the idea that many of the compounds produced within plants can be used in ways they previously hadn't thought about. Not least, the children had lots of fun exploring ideas around magical plant extracts and many of the children returned to the stand later on.
Marvellous Medicines couldn’t have been a success without the hard-working team, who over three days helped the children through all the tasks. A big thank you goes to the team and to BoomTown for having us!