The small auditorium at the Science Centre Heureka is almost
completely silent, even though there is a school class of under 10s present.
Everyone watches intently as a man with a serious face and a white coat lifts a
large jug into the air and carefully pours its contents into a transparent box
on the table.
The place looks like a theatre or circus with its spotlights, and
the performance is also a bit like a pantomime, a silent theatre. Even the jug
There are tiny steps inside
the box, of a capacity of a few litres, and on them, seven lit candles. As the
man pours the invisible contents of the jug into the box, the top candle goes
out. And then the next one. Whispers are heard in the audience. Another candle
goes out. Only slightly louder than a whisper, a girl’s voice from the audience
The rest of the candles go out one by one. The man in the white
coat straightens his back, smiles, and spreads his hands to receive the cheers
of the audience.
The silence is gone. The carbon dioxide trick has left the
Established in 1989, Heureka is a science centre where visitors
can learn about science and technology by engaging in practical experiments.
Heureka allows people to experience the joy of discovery through interactive
exhibitions, a planetarium, and different events.
The physicist in the white coat is Mika Mäkelä, whose job title
must be one of the greatest that exist. He is an Inspirer, and based on his
performance in the Heureka auditorium, he certainly seems to live up to his
The 20-minute-long performance was called Joy of Air and it is
part of the Science Show programme, sponsored by Linde, which runs in Heureka a
few times a day. Currently, the audience is made up of the third grade of
Viikinmäki school, in other words, students slightly under 10 years of age and
A large proportion of the performances are held for groups,
including school classes. Earlier that day, the show was seen by a group of
people participating in gas safety training, whose reactions were actually quite
similar to those of the school class.
‘We try to take advantage of Heureka and their science shows
whenever we hold trainings in the Greater Helsinki area at Linde. The science
shows are very good at illustrating the attributes of the gases we deal with in
our trainings, and they are a well-liked part of our trainings’, says Minna
Herrala, Weldonova expert at Linde.
According to Mäkelä, the show is always slightly adjusted to the
needs of the audience, but without compromising on facts or scientific
accuracy. The audience always learns something new even if they have not come
to the show specifically to learn. Theatre and the circus are used as a means
to charm and distract the audience. However, the main aim is to concretise and
popularise science and to inspire the audience.
Visitors at Heureka can also go on guided lab tours. In the labs,
you can learn science experiments that can be repeated at home. Baking soda and
citric acid can be used to make carbon dioxide, and red cabbage can be used as
an acidity indicator. The aim is to show how chemistry, physics and biology are
all around us all the time, and that science can also be used to explain
At the science shows, however, the aim is to show what astonishing
phenomena chemists, for example, can create. ‘The presentations introduce
science phenomena and perspectives that are very tangible, yet too difficult to
carry out at home. Just like the trick with carbon dioxide.’
The materials used in the science shows are not quite available at
your local shop or pharmacy. The carbon dioxide used for extinguishing the
candles comes from dry ice, and liquid nitrogen is used to show what extreme
cold can do to a balloon, for example. Linde, who is one of the sponsors of the
show, delivers the necessary gases to Heureka.
According to Mika Mäkelä,
you can only fit a few topics into the 20-minute show. The audience can enjoy a
flying device propelled by balloon air, homemade instruments, carbon dioxide,
and the coldness of liquid nitrogen.
Mäkelä struggles to convince the third graders that this is
science and not magic tricks. Even though it looks like the jug is empty, it
actually has something invisible in it.
However, it does not take
much to get a third-grader excited. When Mäkelä mentions that the temperature
of dry ice is 78 degrees, the audience
is completely amazed. According to Mäkelä, it is much harder to impress older
children, but at some point, when you manage to do it, the feeling is even more
The tricks involving liquid nitrogen have been saved for the end
of the show. Let’s see how a balloon can shrink to the size of a raisin and
then grow back to its original size when the temperature of the air inside it
As a grand finale, the Inspirer lifts the jug up high again. Now
it has boiling water inside it, which is poured onto the liquid nitrogen. The
lights on the stage change and colour the steam pouring out of the jug red. The
Inspirer Mäkelä captivates his audience as he peers from behind the steam cloud
enthusiastically, as if he were seeing the show for the first time.
The show is over and the audience rushes onto the stage. Most
likely at least one of these children has been inspired to become a scientist
when they grow up.