Sarah Baker and Mark Grosvenor took a little bit of the PalaeoFire Lab to the Super Science Saturday event at the Sidmouth Science Festival in October.
What would be the most obvious aspect of a fire research lab to show off to the general public? Something on fire of course? Sadly, health and safety probably wouldn’t have been too happy if we had tried to set fire to something inside the Masonic Hall on Sidmouth High Street. The next best thing to a real fire, had to be our new thermal cameras.
We will be using the thermal cameras in our lab to record the temperature of different part of our experiments (whether it is the flame temperature, ignition temperature, how hot a smouldering piece of wood is, etc). They work by analysing the infrared spectrum, rather than visible light, and a piece of software false colours the image depending on the intensity of the infrared radiation (i.e. heat) of an object. It also allows us to pinpoint the temperature of any pixel within the image.
At the science festival, it was the public themselves who decided to be the test subjects. Without really planning for it, the most interesting thing the public seemed to want to see, was themselves. Soon after, the ‘thermal selfie’ trend was quickly catching on.
We did take a few video clips and images of our cameras working on an actual fire to show how we use them for proper science. The smaller end of the general public (i.e. children) were simply fascinated by the hidden world of heat, but we hopefully managed to shed a bit of light on how we can study fire and learn about the past and present natural environments.