Archive for March, 2016

Throwing light on the rocks at Berwick Museum for British Science Week

This year for British Science week we thought we would celebrate the work of Sir David Brewster. Born in Jedburgh and educated to be a Church of Scotland minister, he was a self taught astronomer, mathematician and scientist. He sepcialised in optics and found that polarised light could be used to look at the crystal structure of minerals. This paved the way for Optical Mineralogy where thin sections of rock are viewed under a microscope using a polarizing filter. Under normal light, these thin sections appear to be shades of brown and grey but under polarised light they come alive with colour! A trained eye can then distinguish the different kinds of mineral in the rock. The rest of us can just enjoy the beautiful colour and patterns.

no polarising filter

A thin section of rock under normal light


Sir David was also one of the founding members of the British Science Association and  famous for inventing a famous toy, the kaleidoscope! We decided that we would celebrate in style. Borrowing some thin sections and microscopes from Newcastle University, geologist friend Toni Hamill showed our visitors the wonders of optical mineralogy. We took these photos on the day using a camera attached to the microscopes.

polarising filter

The same thin section under polarised light

Our participants also had the opportunity to make a kaleidoscope. I love kaleidoscopes and had spent a little time working on a kaleidoscope kit made from laser cut parts. I wanted to make something quite sturdy as there is nothing more upsetting than to make something and it falling to bits.

kaleidoscopic image

An image through one of the kaleidoscopes we made for British Science Week

We had a great day, lots of kaleidoscopes were made and our participants really enjoyed using the microscopes. Thank you Sir David Brewster for the inspiration.