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Electricity: A Volunteer’s Point Of View

As we bid farewell to Electricity: The spark of life, Charlotte Cantwell tells us about her experience as one of our fantastic exhibition volunteers.

The electricity gallery takes you on a journey through what has become the lifeblood of modern human existence. From discovery to distribution, to demand, the exhibition serves to inform and entertain visitors on the subject of electricity.

My time volunteering on the exhibition has been a great one, and I have been lucky enough to witness some fantastic learning experiences and take part in fascinating conversations.

The exhibition has many interesting artifacts within it, including instruments used in Galvani’s famous frog experiment, Sebastian Ziani de Ferrari’s alternator and even a repurposed telephone box. However, in my humble opinion, there is an exhibit which steals the show. In order to start a video about electric eels, visitors must complete an electrical circuit – only with the power of their body.

By placing each hand on a metal conductor, visitors complete the loop and start the film. I’ve had many fun experiences showing visitors how to do so, informing them that they have become part of their own individual circuit! One particular afternoon we managed to add 4 children to the loop, the current passing through each of them. They whooped in delight when they started with film. It is moments like this when visitors can really connect and immerse themselves in science, and one which I enjoy very much!

A more recent development of the electricity gallery has been object handling. Each Tuesday my colleague Colin and I settle down with some fascinating objects for our visitors to hold, examine and ask as many questions as they can think of. Colin and I tend to have our favourites to present each week, which include: a computer memory core from the 1970s, a car phone from the late 1980s and a handheld trouser press from the 1960s.

I have been lucky enough to have fascinating discussions with older visitors who remember owning some of the particular objects, particularly the car phone. While our younger visitors find the objects rather alien, we have had the pleasure of some excellent conversations. My favourite might include a young boy who said he would like the car phone for himself, and many children who were shocked at my admission of once owning a Nokia brick phone. I imagine they all think I’m ancient!

As electricity draws to a close, I have had a brilliant and unforgettable time volunteering, and slightly wish it could continue forever. However, the science and industry museum has a bright future ahead of it, one which I can’t wait to be a part of. Next time I see the exhibition space it will have transformed, and new knowledge of ‘The Sun’ awaiting me.

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