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Light fantastic

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Information retrieval
Topic: Magnetism

An eerie glow under pylons near Bristol has been mistaken as an alien invasion. Actually, it is an exciting demonstration of the otherwise invisible emissions from high voltage power lines - an interactive sculpture \'FIELD\' by Richard Box, artist-in-residence in the Department of Physics at the University of Bristol. The phenomenon of glowing, yet unconnected fluorescent tubes, is used to reinforce understanding of the connection between electricity and magnetism.

Published: 22nd January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 1

Learning objectives

Students will explain an unusual physical phenomenon using secondary source material.

Try the activity

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11 - 14 (KS3)
energy and electricity QCA 9i - electricity can be made to flow by causing movement in an electrical generator; in energy transfers energy may go to waste
magnets and electromagnets QCA 8j - wires carrying an electric current produce a magnetic field; using electromagnets to generate electricity
14 - 16 (KS4)
electromagnetism; the national grid

Running the activity

Time: about 20 minutes as a follow-up to energy transfer or a whole lesson if students answer all the questions from visitors on page 3.

Starter activity: Tell students this is an artistic work. It features more than 1000 glass fluorescent tubes "planted" in the ground - not connected to any wires whatsoever. Ask students 'Why are they glowing?' - pupils can answer individually or in groups.

Page 1 is a drawing of FIELD. It can be projected or printed onto transparency.

Page 2 explains the phenomenon. It is presented as a dialogue between two investigators. It can be projected, printed onto transparency or photocopied for students.

Page 3 sets the task. Students are employed to explain FIELD to visitors; they have some awkward questions to answer! The questions from people A and C can be answered directly from page 2; the others require more thought (or, in the case of questioner E, further research).
Person B asks why a tube stops glowing when she stands next to it - the reason is that a person is a much better conductor than the fluorescent tube. Person D would expect to hear a noise from a generator - and see cables connected to the top of each fluorescent tube to form complete circuits - if the sculpture relied on underground cables. Some scientists agree with person E - that living near power lines can increase your risk of getting cancer. More information is available on the website given.

Plenary suggestion: Draw flow diagrams for the energy transfer in this phenomenon. - students say which possible causes they have decided to fund, and why. Class could vote on this.

News links

How Stuff Works
Electromagnets - good animated simple diagram.
How Stuff Works
Fluorescent tubes explained - teacher reference
Richard Box
Richard Box (the artist)s site, including a photo.
BBC News
A report of the exhibition, including a photo.
BBC Science News
A report on possible links between power lines and cancer

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Sep 18th, 2013

5 Star

Students enjoyed this activity

Reviewer: Charlene Gayle