I would really like to take credit for “The Alom Shaha Motor” and “Alom Shaha’s jellybaby wave machine” because they’re two of my favorite demonstrations to use in class, but I can only wish that I had had the ingenuity to devise either of them. I’ve put my own spin on a few demos but the only thing I think I’ve invented from scratch was something to illustrate how the Mercator map projection works for an Adam Hart-Davis TV programme.
I’ve no idea who invented the simple electric motor demo, so that person is not credited in the film Jonathan and I made for our series of physics demonstration films for the National STEM Centre and IOP. But we do know who invented the jelly babywave machine… well, kind-of.
The first jellybaby wave machine was built for the Children’s ITV series The Big Bang, produced by Jonathan back in 2004. Whilst working at the Royal Institution years earlier, he’d seen a wave machine made of wood and metal. He’d wanted to recreate it in a way that children watching the show could build, and with his colleagues David Pitt and Luke Donnellan, came up with the now-famous jellybaby version. 150,000 or so young TV viewers would have seen it when that particular episode of The Big Bang was broadcast.
Surprisingly – perhaps because it was only shown on children’s TV in the days before YouTube – it didn’t become widely used by science teachers, even though it really is a fantastic way of introducing wave phenomena in the classroom. So Jonathan and I are delighted that the more recent film we made seems to have taken it into classrooms all over the world. Videos are a great way of sharing science demonstrations and it’s wonderful that the internet allows teachers and science communicators to find ones that are new to them, but I think it’s a bit of a shame that we rarely acknowledge the originators of these wonderful things we call demos. So, two questions to you, dear reader:
- Can you name any classic demonstrations for which you know the inventor?
- Do you claim to have invented any demo yourself?