Humans of SparkLab – Alli

Alli is a science communicator with a Masters of Science Communication Outreach, a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Graduate Diploma in Communication. More recently, she finished a Certificate II in Auslan and is enjoying learning this beautiful language and being involved in the Deaf community.

Alli ‘touching the lightning’ with visitors in SparkLab.

What first sparked your interest in science?

My year three teacher had our class play with cornflour slime! I remember being fascinated with the way it could be formed into a hard lump when moved but a puddle when still. This is one of my first memories getting hands-on with science.

In high school I enjoyed pairing my understanding and knowledge with conducting experiments and seeing phenomena in action. I made milk curdle, measured the swing of pendulums, played with lenses and light, and made colour changing chemical reactions.

At university, this trend continued. As part of the physics club we regularly got hands on—making ice cream with liquid nitrogen, exploring microwaves and stargazing on camps. I even discovered that with enough corn flour slime you can run on top of it!

What’s the most interesting science communication/educational project/program that you’ve been involved in?

A highlight of studying my Masters of Science Communication Outreach was touring and presenting science shows as part of the Questacon Science Circus.  We were empowered to hone our presenting skills and make our own equipment. I spent ages perfecting how to effectively make bubbles float on a bed of carbon dioxide, make race tracks for small robots and how to use a basketball to make a toy pig fly (hint: it’s all about transfer of momentum!). We even built a rainbow LED light board and investigated a unique way of turning– by placing the batteries in liquid nitrogen!

I loved that I could create tools to use in science shows to get people excited about science and develop their understanding of science concepts.

Alli at Flight Test in SparkLab.

What’s your favourite space/exhibit in SparkLab and why?

I have many favourite exhibits in SparkLab, but if I had to pick one it would be Flight test. At Flight test you can design and test your own paper creations in an upwards stream of air.

It’s simple to get started, but there are endless surprising ways to craft a piece of paper! Do you want something to fly speedily upwards, glide slowly, tumble around? How will you change your paper—will you rip it, fold it, scrunch it or bend it? Once you’ve made your design, you can refine it or modify how it moves.

I love that this exhibit can hook in anybody. Curious adults can explore the intricacies of aerodynamics, toddlers get a nice surprise with a flying creation, and school kids can test out their design ideas.

Alli Ryan with young visitors to the Makers Space in SparkLab.

As you develop new programs and experiences in SparkLab, what is one of the most interesting concepts or discoveries/experiments you have come across?

I developed a Maker Space program called Spin cycle where participants constructed a machine that used spinning parts.  While developing this activity I tinkered with different methods to use rotational motion to create various useful machines. This included using cardboard and wheels to make pulleys and conveyer belts, and gears to make something spin at a particular speed or in a desired direction. A real challenge was figuring out the right materials and shaping the challenge.

As part of this development process, we invited Annual Pass holders to co-creation workshops where they tested the materials, contributed ideas and provided feedback on the program. I loved seeing the fantastic designs and machines that participants came up with.

Which scientist/engineer/ designer (living or deceased) would you most like to have dinner with and why?

I would like the chance to share a meal with Mike Gore and hear more about his experiences starting up Australia’s first science centre, Questacon. In 2018, I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly and was treated to a memorable science show. He was a vibrant man, full of wit and wonder, and I aspire to inspire people with science, like him.

His passion and innovation has changed the landscape of Australia, without him, and others like him, we might not have places like SparkLab at Queensland Museum.

Find out more about SparkLab and book tickets here.