Averil Macdonald
A great teachers resource

My Grandma's an environmental scientist

Always an adventure

“Hi Grandma, We’re here!” I shout as we clamber out of the car. It’s great to be back on the island with Grandma. We don’t see her very often but it’s always an adventure when we do.

“Come in, come in. You’ll never guess what I’ve got to show you.” Grandma’s laughing face pops out of the window. And with Grandma you never can guess what she has to show you. Most Grandmas have sweets or a cake they have baked, but my Grandma is different. For example, does your grandma have a 20 metre high wind turbine in her back garden? This is what she had to show us last time.

“A wind turbine is an environmentally friendly way to generate electricity,” she told me. Environmentally friendly means that it doesn’t cause problems for nature or wild animals. And ‘generate’ here means to make electricity using a magnet and wires. “Normal power stations burn coal or oil or gas to generate electricity and this makes smoke and fumes that pollute the environment,” Grandma explained to me. “Plus the coal and oil and gas are all fossil fuels and they are running out. My wind turbine only uses the wind which will last forever.”

My grandma has always been interested in the environment so it wasn’t really surprising that she had got herself a turbine.

So now what had she got?

“Come and look at this,” Grandma rushes through the house and out into the utility room at the back with us trying to keep up. “It’s a Fuel Cell”.

“A what?” we all said in perfect harmony.

“A fuel cell” said Grandma patiently. “I can use it to heat the house AND to generate electricity when the wind turbine isn’t turning.”

“Why?” I asked, thinking all the time that I really should know the answer to this.

“Because the wind turbine only generates electricity when the wind is blowing hard enough to make the blades turn. If the blades don’t turn, it can’t generate electricity, and as you can’t store electricity, it means I can’t have the lights on or use my computer.”

“Oh, yes, I remember you told me that the people in the power stations that generate all the electricity have to keep their eyes on the television schedules so that they can start up extra turbines and generate extra electricity as soon as everyone switches their kettles on a half time in the FA cup final.”

“Exactly!” said Grandma triumphantly, “so you can see that I have to have another way to generate electricity and the fuel cell is it. Soon everyone will have fuel cells and we won’t need to have electricity pylons and huge cables stretching across the countryside. AND all our cars will be powered by fuel cells instead of petrol engines”

Grandma always gets carried away with her science. She loves new things and new ideas. And she always knows the answer to my school science homework!

After lunch I was bored. It was raining outside and I couldn’t think of anything to do.
“ Try the Smarties experiment,” said Grandma. “Get lots of different coloured Smarties and wet them and put them onto some kitchen towel and see what happens.

It was amazing. The coloured just flowed out of the smarties and then spread into lots of different colours from each smartie.

“What’s happening?” I yelled.

“The colours on smarties are made of lots of different colours so when you get them wet they separate out. You can do the same thing with felt tip pens. Put a dot of colour onto the bottom of a strip of kitchen towel (black and dark blue are good) then dangle it into a cup of water and watch.

That’s the think about my Gran, she had loads of idea of things to do. I remember when she taught me to make little explosives in the kitchen!

“Take one of those film pods and put an alka seltzer table into it. The put some water in and close the lid,” she said, and I did, not really knowing what to expect. Then suddenly the lid burst off and hit the ceiling! I jumped a mile and gran thought it was hilarious!

‘ Soon everyone will have fuel cells and we won’t need to have electricity pylons and huge cables stretching across the countryside.’

My Mum's a Scientist

A series of stories for primary age pupils to show mums can be scientists and scientists can be mums.

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