Learning in a playful way

Illuminating Geometry kits now available to buy online.

Platonic solids

I am delighted to say that you can now purchase illuminating geometry kits from Proto-Pic. Here is the link : https://proto-pic.co.uk/

It was hard to know what to put in the kits but this is what I went for in the end:

Icosahedron kit– enough to make one icosahedron (20 sides).

Platonic Solids kit – everything you need to make a tetrahedron (four sides), a cube (six sides), an octohedron (eight sides), a dodecaherdon, (tweleve sides), and an icosahedron (twenty sides).

Perhaps you are having a party, you might like to try my 10 icosahderon kit .

If you are looking for activities for a class we have two class size kits, octohedron class kit (makes 36 eight sided shapes)  or  icoashedron class kit (makes 36 twenty sided shapes).

The kits have everything you need except a glue stick and a battery. We haven’t  included the batteries as there are lots of regulations when it comes to shipping them however they are available at most supermarkets, look for a CR2032 coin cell battery. If you are making them with a class or group of brownies, cubs, guides, or scouts you can buy them in bulk from educational suppliers such as Hope Education.

I will be at Edinburgh Mini Maker Faire on Sunday 10th April with my Illuminating Geometry lanterns. See you there! Better get the car packed up!

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.

Orkney Science Festival 2015

Earlier this month I had the great privilege to take Illuminating Geometry to the Orkney International Science Festival.

The Orkney Islands lie just north of mainland Scotland. These flat, treeless islands seem to spend a lot of time shrouded in mist if my experience of the last few days is anything to go by. However, beneath the mist lives a creative and innovative community. For 25 years the Orkney Science festival has been held every September attracting scientists from all over the world. This year’s star attraction was the Nobel Laureate Peter Higgs (of Higgs boson fame).


St. Magnus' Cathedral Kirkwall

St. Magnus’ Cathedral Kirkwall

At the cutting edge of renewable energy, the Island of Eday is home to the European Marine Energy Centre, where wave and tidal generation devices are tested. I was surprised to find out that Orkney exports electricity produced from wave, tide and wind to mainland Scotland. They produce so much energy from renewable resources that they can’t export it all at peak generation times. Rather than let it go to waste they are about to start using this excess electricity to produce Hydrogen which they hope to use in many ways across the Islands. It may even power the ferries that are such an important part to life in the Orkney Islands.

The range of topics covered by the festival was diverse. As it is the 150th anniversary of the first presentation of Maxwells’s equations, the life and work of James Clerk Maxwell was celebrated. Maxwell’s Torch has been made to signify how Maxwell’s work on Electromagnetism underpins so much of the technology we use today. The links between Maxwell’s work and that of Peter Higgs were also discussed.  It seems that even in Neolithic times Orkney may have been a centre for innovation. By the late Neolithic mainland Orkney was running out of good clay for making pots. This was a challenge for the potters of the time but it seems they may have added duck fat to the clay to make it more malleable inorder to make their beautiful groove ware pots only three millimetres thick.

Paper bag lanterns at Firth  Primary School

Paper bag lanterns at Firth Primary School

I was delighted to bring my Illuminating Geometry workshop to the festival. This was made possible by sponsorship from Proto-pic.  I visited three primary schools on the mainland of Orkney to show the children a little about geometry and electricity. We had so much fun making paper lanterns. For the younger classes we made lanterns out of a paper bag. The children decorated the paper bags with tissue to form a wide variety of designs. My favourites included: dragons, sailing boats, flowers and butterflies.

The older children and I made octahedrons from folding circles of paper to form triangles and then gluing them together. We illuminated these paper shapes with an LED to make a lantern. We talked about where the Platonic solids are found in nature. I love the fact that the pollen grains of Heather are tiny tetrahedrons. We also discussed how to make an electric circuit and how useful and energy efficient LEDs are at making light.

Octahedrons with Primary 6 Dounby Community School taken by Alistair Forsyth

Octahedrons with Primary 6 Dounby Community School taken by Alistair Forsyth

The focus point of the festival for me was the family day. Both floors of the King Street Halls were filled with science activities for families to do. Again the topics covered were wide-ranging, from developing photos the old fashioned way, how we can achieve zero waste, a remote controlled robot, geology and all sorts of Orkney foods. I made Illuminating Geometry lanterns with 96 children and one or two adults over the day. Many of the families told me how they looked forward to the festival and come every year.

The moment of illumination at Dounby Community School taken by Alistair Forsyth

The moment of illumination at Dounby Community School taken by Alistair Forsyth

The Orkney Islands are magical, they are full of folklore and legends, and covered in ancient archaeology that gives intriguing clues to how people once lived, now they are looking to the future developing technologies that may affect the way we all live.

Here is my appearance on the Proto-pic blog: http://proto-pic.co.uk/The_Proto-PIC_Blog/

I also made an appearance in Frontiers, the OISF magazine. Follow this link to take a quick peek: http://frontiersmagazine.org/geometry-by-lamplight/


Path of the Ponies

Ernie and Jenny






Pit Pony Banner

I am very excited about a new project that will be starting next week. For the last couple of months I have been working with the National Coal mining Museum near Wakefield on a storytelling project to complement their summer exhibition the Path of the Ponies.

It has given me the opportunity to write four short stories about the lives of pit ponies and the miners that worked with them. It has been great to hear so many stories about working in the mines  from Chris and the other miners at NCM and from friends nearer to home too including Harry Robinson who told me lots of stories about his first job in the mines some of which become incorporated into the stories I will tell as part of the project.  My Aunty Janet also reminded me of my own family history and part of that has been woven into the stories I will tell too.

Starting next week we have a number of workshops with key stage 2 classes. I’ll tell them my stories in different parts of the museum and encourage them to soak up the atmosphere. As well as meeting Eric, Ernie and Finn, the horses in the NCM stable, they will also get to go in the mine. I wasn’t sure I’d like the mine as I am a bit claustrophobic, I thought I would feel the weight of all the tonnes of Earth above pressing down on me, but actually it was fine. I soon forgot we were so deep underground. After we have explored the museum we will go back to the museum’s classroom and the children will have the opportunity to write their own pit pony story. I have laser cut some story telling tokens to help them a little. Each one has a sentence that could be the turning point of a story , for example “he felt a searing pain in his…” or “The harness broke.” and “They saw a light coming towards them.”.

In the summer holidays we have seven days of workshops with families. We will let them explore the museum on their own and then they can book into workshop to make their own story booklet. I’ll tell one or two of my stories and have some artefacts from the museum collection to get their creative juices flowing and then they can fill the pages of their booklet with pictures, drawing and words to make their own pit pony story.

For more information see the NCM web pages https://www.ncm.org.uk/whats-on/summer-family-story-writing-workshops

Most Irregular with Ben Craven

I love the way new ideas can spring from conversations , how one project can be the spring board for a new one. Here are a few words from Ben Craven about how Illuminating Geometry gave him a new idea that has kept him busy for months!

Ben's irregular polyhedron.

Ben’s irregular polyhedron.

One day last year I spent a few hours talking to Jenny about the Platonic solids that she’s been working with, and it made me wonder: what do irregular solids look like? Would they be ugly, beautiful, disturbing, interesting, boring, or what?  And how would you set about making them?


The thought nagged away at me, until eventually over the Christmas break I sat down and started writing computer code to generate irregular polyhedra. The starting point is a sphere: each face of the polyhedron is part of a plane tangent to the sphere. All of these planes intersect each other, and the lines of intersection form the edges of the polyhedron (and hence the boundaries of the faces).


By varying how the tangent points of the planes are distributed over the sphere, and also by having each face tangent to a sphere of slightly different radius, I can vary how irregular each polyhedron is. I don’t place the faces by hand – I set up a process and see what it comes up with.


Here are pictures of a 10-hedron made out of card, and an 83-hedron made out of thin layout paper. (Yes, the 83-hedron was difficult to glue together, and yes, it did take many hours!)  They have quite different characters: the 10-hedron feels like a wonky polyhedron, but the 83-hedron is well on the way to looking like an irregularly tiled sphere.


I rather like them, which is just as well given how much time they’ve taken.  What about you?


Ben Craven

Getting ready for Maker Faires

Elsie Kemp

Thank you to everyone who came along to the Illuminating Geometry workshops at the Scottish Parliament. We had a great time.Here is a photo of  Elsie Kemp with a beautiful dodecahedron that she made in comitee room three with us. I really liked the fact that we held the workshops in the commitee rooms. It made it feel that the building really belonged to the people.  Thanks to Toni Hamill and Hannah Ayre who helped me run the workshops too. I couldn’t have done it without you.

The next event for Illuminating Geometry is Edinburgh Mini Maker Faire. It is on Sunday the 19th of April starting at 10 am. Have a look at their website http://makerfaireedinburgh.com/ to buy tickets and  find out more. On Saturday the 18th, I’ll be at the National Museum of Scotland from 11-2.30 with some other makers to promote Maker Faire.

The following weekend is Maker Faire UK at the Centre for Life in Newcastle. It is two days the 25th and 26th of April. Here is their website to find out more http://www.makerfaireuk.com.

We have changed the design of the mini lanterns this year, they a re larger than last year and the participant can chose different colours of tissue paper to put in the lantern.

Well best stop chatting and better start counting LEDs to make sure we have enough for all these events.


Illuminating Geometry at the Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh Mini Maker FaireAs part of Edinburgh Science Festival the Scottish Parliament is hosting an exhibition on Lasers by the STFC.

They are also going to have some family science activities too including Illuminating Geometry.

I’ll be there on Saturday the 4th of April, Easter Monday and Wednesday the 8th of April. The events runs from 10 am to 4pm each day so drop in and make a mini illuminating geometry lantern.

Berwick Rocks for British Science Week

BSA_BSWNODATEB_RGBHILast year I had a look in the store room of Berwick Museum and Art Gallery. While I was there I saw a few natural history specimens that intrigued me. There is nothing like a Narwhal tusk to fire the imagination or a Sawfish rostrum to peak your interest. Using these items as our inspiration we put on an event for British Science Week (formerly National Science and Engineering week).

Anne Moore and Jim Herbert at the Museum took the specimens and made them in to a wonderful display.

fossil collectionDr Tom Challands came down from Edinburgh University to talk about the fossil collection and I was on hand to talk about the recent animal specimens. Tom brought with him a fossil preparation kit and got the visiting children to prepare some dinosaur bones he had brought with him.

narwhal tusk and carpenter sharks rostrum


I brought along some shells and encouraged the children to draw them, using their

observational skills to get all the details. We had a great day, I think that families that came along had a really great time to.  Thanks to Anne and Jim for all their hard work and thanks to Bristish Science Week for supporting the event.

The natural history exhibition will be open from Easter until September when the museum closes for the winter and it will be accompanied by a temporary exhibition of posters from the first World War.

Berwick Museum also houses part of the Burrell collection of art and antiquities. Part of the collection has been restored and hung to great effect at the Granary Art Gallery in Berwick until the 4th of May.


Abu Dhabi Science Festival 13-22 November 2014



What an adventure! I was delighted when I was asked to take Illuminating Geometry to the Abu Dhabi Science Festival. There is so much to tell you that I don’t know where to start.

Abu Dhabi is an amazing place, a city of shiny skyscrapers and a white sandy beach. The science festival was at three sites this year, Al Ain, Sharjah and the Corniche. We were at he Corniche and our workshop was in a tent structure on the beach. At the Corniche a village of these tents ( a bit like a giant marquee with solid sides), serviced with electricity and water, was built for the Science Festival.  Here is a picture of it from an island facing the Science Festival.

Abu Dhabi Science Festival on the Corniche

Abu Dhabi Science Festival on the Corniche


The first job was to set up our workshop, we spent all day sewing large Illuminating Geometry lanterns together. I was very impressed with the graphics on the walls and and tables. Here are the techs hanging up the lanterns.


The following days were spent meeting our teams of Science Communicators, students from Abu Dhabi who were going to run the workshops. We only had a day to train each group of Science Communicators but they did very well and as the festival went on Lizzie and I were able to hand over more and more of the running of the workshops over to the Science Communicators.


SAM_1795SAM_1776SAM_1772We tried to have a little fun along the way too. Here is Aisha practising using the microphone, some times we just had a little sing song to warm up our vocal cords before the evening session.

SAM_1793We had school groups in the morning and were open to the public in the evenings. The school groups were great and Sumeya, Zainab, Nadia, Shamma, Sheika, Mozuyna (please forgive any spelling mistakes) were a great team, introducing and running the workshops. Each session started with a short introduction and then the children made a lantern and did a worksheet or two. I had prepared a series of worksheets so that we would be prepared for any class that might visit us from primary school to A level. The Science Communicators took it all in their stride.

Like all festivals it was incredibly busy at times and our evening teams worked really hard to engage as many customers as possible and to make each one feel special. There is nothing like watching a child’s face light up when the take an LED and a battery and make light!

The lanterns were also a starting point for deeper discussions on mathematics and geometry. Adult participants reached back in their memories to their school days as we discussed how to inscribe regular polygons in a circle to make the templates we use to fold the papers to make the lanterns. Many participants told us they would make their own versions when they got home. I hope some of them send me a photo so I can see how they got on.

We made 3500 lanterns over the ten day period. I don’t think the final visitor numbers had been calculated by the time we left but I heard it was the busiest one yet.


We tried to make the most of our time off during the festival and ate a lot of ice creams from Cold Stones, as well as more active pursuits including swimming in the incredibly salty sea. We visited the Grand Mosque one morning and it is stunningly beautiful. The interior is decorated with lots of intricate geometric patterns, which I found very intriguing. We have no photos of our kayaking adventure through the mangroves at sunrise. I think it made a lasting impression on all of those there and was definitely the highlight of Lizzie’s trip. We packed up our stuff on the last night of the festival and got a flight home early next morning. Here is a big thank you to Lizzie and all our Science Communicators for making it all work.- Jenny

SAM_1804Chandelier at Grand MosqueSAM_1817

Creative Laser

snowflake redMy big shiny new laser cutter arrived yesterday and with bit of pushing and shoving it made it through the window and into the studio. There is something very exciting when someone says “we are going to fire up the laser now”. I would love to have a photo to put up, but in all the excitement of the install I didn’t manage to take a single one!

I have really enjoyed using the laser cutters at Edinburgh Hack Lab and Newcastle Maker Space but there is something special about knowing that my own laser cutter is in the studio just waiting for me.

Having greater access to a laser cutter will give me the opportunity to do more with the Illuminating Geometry lanterns and who knows what other projects I can dream up. I have to say that laser cutting ideas are keeping me awake at night!

I am hoping that through collaborating with other artists, we can really push the laser cutter to the limits, mixing traditional techniques and new technology.

The laser will also be available to hire along with a knowledgeable technician (that would be me) to help customers get the most out of their laser cutting time. I am calling this service “Creative Laser” and it will be launched on the 1 st of November. A new website is under construction and all the details will be there. In the meantime if you have any questions just leave a comment here and I will get back to you.

So far I have made a lot of paper snowflakes…