Hacking Neil Downie – Day 3

Editor’s Note: Hacking Neil Downie is a week of experiments with the ideas and designs from Neil Downie’s brilliant and playful books on Saturday Science. When the kids in the group discovered that Neil is a real person who lives and works in England (and sometimes in Pennsylvania), they wondered why they couldn’t ask him their questions directly. In this blog, they will.

All week we will forward him their thoughts and questions.


Dear Neil Downie,

Thank you for your answer and your question. My rings floated while the pencil drew.


Editor’s Note: you can see the pencil and rings and Parker in Tuesday’s blog.

Dear Neil Downie,

This morning we made Dynabrollys. We watched Whirling Dervishes in Turkey. Almost as cool as your Dynabrollys. Some kids made Dervishes. I made a tower of waves.

Remy's Tower

Remy demonstrates his tower


Have you tried a hand-powered Dynabrolly? It’s fun. Like juggling.     Remy

Dear Neil Downie,

Today my group made Electric Dice.

(It’s a very clever trick).

I had 5 girls and 2 boys in my group. But over all, the class is 3 boys per 1 girl. In England, do girls take on your challenges?

Alex L.

Dear Neil Downie,

My group made Tornado Transisters today. It’s the best demonstration of a transistor that I’ve ever seen. (Well, I’m only 15.) My group really understood it even though they had never thought about how a transistor works. How did you get so good at so many parts of science?


Dear Neil Downie,

My day of battling the Duohelicon was not pretty. Now I see why you gave it 4 stars for difficult. Just 4? I’ll be better prepared tomorrow.




Filed under General

2 responses to “Hacking Neil Downie – Day 3

  1. Neil A. Downie

    Dear Angus, Nice to hear that you and your friends managed a neat but challenging project like the Tornado Transistor. I get good at lots of parts of science by studying lots of books, talking to lots of people, working on lots of different projects, visiting places like industry and museums, and… most important – simply playing with stuff, taking things apart, building things, testing them out, getting a feel for how things behave, how they work. Best, Neil

  2. Neil A. Downie

    Dear Parker, the rings look great, flying around with the pencil spiralling around as well. Neil
    Dear Remy, the Tower of Waves is brilliant. It is almost like Tesla’s Disk Turbine (look that one up – Tesla was a genius), only with waves going around the flexible Disks. And hand power means that you easily get a good feel for how it works at different speeds. Neil

    Dear Alex L, lots of girls do take on my challenges and projects too. When boys and girls do the same challenge they make them work differently, though. We had a bunch of bamboo canes alongside cloth, string and tape. The boys’ group made a catapult, and the girls made a huge tower. Neil

    Dear Sophia, the DuoHelicon – wow, they are TRICKY ! Good luck today. And remember: when you find things difficult or if things don’t even work at all – you learn more. I never forget things that went wrong – and nor do other people ! I recently made a helicopter which flew on a set of strings, like a kite for a demonstration. After a short while working it all got tangled up and fell down on the ground. The kids watching will always remember that – and so will I – we were all laughing. Neil