Fran Scott’s explosions-based computing

We were wowed by this at Bett 2015, so we were delighted when we saw that Bett had published a video of it. Top science explainer Fran Scott uses Raspberry Pis with fruity inputs and explosive outputs to introduce key computer science concepts to kids, teens, and people who love pyrotechnics (which is all of us, and especially Clive). Her show is called #Error404: The Explosions-based Computing Show.

Fancy doing something similar yourself? Fran’s a trained pyrotechnician and a member of the Association of Stage Pyrotechnicians, and even Clive admits that we should leave the explosions to her, but you can safely use your Raspberry Pi to make a balloon go bang with our Balloon Pi-tay Popper resource.


Stewart Watkiss avatar

Fran also took her #Error404 show to the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham last year. The show was a bit bigger (with a giant computer etc.) to accommodate the big stage and large theatre, and included some good audience participation. It was truly amazing to watch.
The whole audience, which was made up of children (and adults accompanied by children), left the show really buzzing about the show and I’m sure it has inspired some that were there to get excited about computing.

Clive avatar

As a member of the ASP myself I definitely think that I should get to blow lots more stuff up — it’s the only way to get better at it :D

Stage pyro is definitely accessible but you must get proper training. I did mine with Just FX, they were excellent.

The ASP has a list of recommended training providers. Get trained, be safe and have fun :)

Phil Atkin avatar

Patching a MIDI channel number to GPIO pin control would let a sequencer trigger explosions, perfectly in time with the music … nice …

paddyg avatar

It’s not blowing things up, but probably more dangerous, and raises lots of interesting questions: Connecting 240V across gurkins. To make it more scientific use a selection of types (brine, vinegar etc) Enquiring youngsters will want to know why it always arcs only at one end if it’s the live, neutral or either.

Liz Upton avatar

Ah, the gherkin experiment. Always best done in the dark. Smells terrible, looks incredible.

See also hot dogs.

Winkleink avatar

Combine balloon popping with Martin O’Hanlons Minecraft hide and seek game and you have a fun interactive game with an explosive ending.

I use this for a school assembly and the kids were hooked. Walking in and seeing Minecraft on the big screen was a good start.

Jim Manley avatar

When I show kids how to build a 10x10x10 (or larger, if they can count that high) stack of TNT blocks in an instant in MindCrack Pi Edition using the Python API, they stare incredulously at the resulting giant crater and shredded what’s left of the surrounding vegetation (after the better part of a minute it takes to detonate, the dust to settle, and the smoke to clear) and they ask, “How did you do THAT?” Learning software development is all downhill from there … it’s not too long before you’d swear they were born coding … after doing it for most of nine months before then!

It seems that I need to come up with parallel physical lab lessons on how to _really_ create craters and shred shrubbery (in the finest Monty Python sense, since we _are_ developing software in Python, after all), without the students shredding themselves in the process, of course. I _hate_ when that happens, but I’ve developed software to automate the inevitable paperwork process – including the question: “How much did you make last year?”, and the standard input response, “Send it in.” :D

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