The Physics of Sandcastles and Ladders

We invite any aspiring physicists to try their hand at these physics problems dealing with light, atoms and force: Estimate the number of visible photons leaving a 60W light bulb per second. How big would a sandcastle be if you made it from the same number of grains of sand as there are atoms in…

LINGO: Where words are a matter of life and death

Learning a language is very much like playing a game: you need to be strategic, know how to identify what’s important and what’s not so essential. You must assess probability and take risks. Sometimes you must make do with little (your word bank, your range of structures) but you must also try to be accurate….

How to earn billions by giving something away for free

Few people can have escaped the phenomenal success of Fortnite: Battle Royale in the last year. Launched in late 2017, the game had achieved 125 million players by June 2018 and is expected to make over $3 billion in sales this year alone.  While creativity and technology are essential to the success of a video…

Energy Recovery from the Tides

Test your engineering knowledge with these questions from Professor Ian Sobey, Engineering tutor at St John’s. Energy Recovery from the Tides Click here for the answer sheet.   Teachers, we want to hear from you too – if you want to get involved and set some questions of your own, email inspire@sjc.ox.ac.uk.  

Momentum and Energy

We invite any aspiring physicists to try their hand at these physics problems dealing with the concepts of momentum and energy: Martial arts such as Judo, Aikido and Japanese Jiu Jitsu teach dynamic throws. These are explained to students as redirecting their attacker’s momentum. Can you explain this by separately considering the linear motion of…

Crime Scene Investigation

Test out your Chemistry (and detective) skills with this conundrum from St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. Q: In some movies, the crime scene investigators spray chemicals to find traces of blood even if most of them have been cleaned or removed. Fluorescent blue light is normally shown in the place with…

Chemistry through time

Put your knowledge of Chemistry to the test with these history-themed questions from St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. Q: The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is one of the renowned museums owned by Oxford University. Here you can see galleries full of paintings and sculptures made of white marble or blackened bronze, from…

Kitchen Chemistry

Test your chemistry knowledge with these kitchen-themed questions from St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. Q: How radioactive is a banana? Click here for the answer. Q: What is the main process happening when cooking or frying fish? And what other method, without applying heat, would give a decent meal? Click…

Using Language to Build Characters and Worlds

Designing an immersive world is all about getting the details right. In a video game, the world consists of a number of elements, including the visual space, the characters that navigate it and the soundscape (music, sound effects and speech). It is in the finer details of these elements that the most immersive and fascinating…

Human powered helicopter

Try your hand at some physics problems based on gravity set by St John’s Physics tutor Professor Tony Weidberg… Q: Many proposals have been made for a human powered helicopter. Consider the case of such a machine with a rotor 10 metres in diameter. Could a human create enough power to overcome gravity? The density…

Heating and cooling

Try your hand at some physics problems based on heating and cooling set by St John’s Physics tutor Professor Tony Weidberg… Q: You want to heat a cold room using a simple electric bar heater. This consists of one conducting wire connected to the mains via a plug. In order to maximise the power, should you…

The physics of making a cup of tea

St John’s Physics Tutor Professor Tony Weidberg loves a good cup of tea, so why not make yourself a brew and have a go at his physics brainteasers… Q: At the interval during a football world cup game, some people watching at home make a cup of tea using electric kettles. Make a reasoned order of…

Thick and sticky fluids

Viscosity is a property of a fluid on the molecular scale and is a measure of the strength of the internal friction between fluid particles. What this means in practice is that the thicker and stickier the fluid, the higher its viscosity. The task that you have been set by St John’s Maths Tutor Dr…

Chemistry Brainteasers

Test your chemistry knowledge with these brainteasers from St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. Q: How could you charge your phone using lemons as the energy source? Click here for the answer. Q: How can you measure the size of a molecule? Click here for the answer. Q: Can you estimate the minimum mass of…

Fun with Bubbles

Bubbles are undoubtedly great fun, but do you know the chemistry behind some of their most famous behaviours? See if you can answer the questions below from St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. Q: There are plenty of videos online where people trigger explosions by adding Mentos to Coke. How…

Through the looking glass

Have a go at the questions below relating to glass courtesy of St John’s Chemistry Tutor Professor Richard Compton and his research group. Q: How long does it take for glass to flow appreciably? Click here for the answer. Q: Linking science and art, how could people many years ago create the stained glass windows seen in cathedrals and churches?…

Spot the odd one out

In order to predict how chemicals might interact with each other, chemists must get a good understanding of the 3D shapes of molecules.  A great way to do this is to study their symmetry. If you can imagine rotating a molecule (or any 3D object) without changing the way it looks, you have identified some…

Learn to programme

Turtle Academy is a simple-to-use website providing free lessons in basic computer programming. Using the LOGO language you can create amazing shapes and patterns in next to no time – give it a try and see what you can come up with!  

Fun and games at the circus

See if you can outrun the lions and solve this puzzle from St John’s Maths Tutor Dr David Seifert… Imagine the following two-player video game. One player takes the role of a moody circus lion, the other plays its nimble tamer. Both players are confined to the circus arena, which has unit radius, and we…

A Tetris puzzle

If you fancy yourself as a Tetris whizz, try your hand at this puzzle set by St John’s Maths Tutor Dr David Seifert… One of the most successful video games of all time is Tetris. There are seven different Tetris pieces: the long piece, the square, the T-piece, two L-pieces and two Z-pieces. Each piece…

Donkey Kong or King Kong?

One of the most famous legal battles involving video games took place in 1982 when a lawsuit was filed by Universal Studios against Nintendo for their portrayal of the giant ape Donkey Kong, which they believed was a copyright infringement over movie star King Kong. Ultimately, Nintendo held on and were awarded $1.8 million in…

A good story is key

The most successful kind of plot for computer games – and indeed for all kinds of other stories, from international folk-tale, to medieval romance, to the great fantasy works of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries, is the quest. The hero sets out from home on a quest to find something or with a mission to…

Make your own video game

YOUR TASK Using the free website https://flowlab.io/ we want you to create your very own video game! It’s simple to use and doesn’t require any coding, simply drag and drop the game pieces into position and build your own virtual world. The tutorial is a great place to start.    

Why are some games more successful than others?

It is quite literally the million dollar question: how to make a video game that outcompetes all of your rivals? There are of course several factors that determine the success of a game, from build quality and storyline, to pop culture and marketing… YOUR TASK Below is a table containing the sales figures for the…

Why are video games addictive?

At the beginning of 2018 it was announced that gaming addiction is to be listed as a mental health condition for the first time by the World Health Organization, but what constitutes gaming addiction? And should it in fact be considered a mental disorder? Psychologist Amy Orben isn’t convinced as she explains below… If you regularly play…

Physics Brainteasers

Try your hand at some fun Physics brainteasers set by St John’s Physics Tutor Professor Tony Weidberg… Q: Explain how many high tides would be observed per day at a given point on the Earth. Click here for the answer. Q: In a popular science article on nuclear fusion it was claimed that two parallel…

Magic money tree

See if you can answer the question below set by St John’s Economics Tutor Dr Kate Doornik… You have been given some magic money.  If you plant the money then it will grow into a magic money tree, which will grow more money for you to pick the following year. To be precise, if you…

Mathematicians through history

Try out these fun puzzles on the topic of maths history set by St John’s Maths Tutor Dr Tom Crawford… Puzzle 1 Can you place the (extremely) famous mathematicians below in order of the year that they were born, earliest first? Bonus points for telling me what they studied. Puzzle 1 Answer Puzzle 2 Below…