4D science to give inside view of volcanoes, batteries and ice cream at Manchester festival


The insides of volcanoes, batteries and even ice cream will be demonstrated to visitors attending the Manchester Science Festival by ‘4D scientists’ from The University of Manchester.

The exciting interactive exhibition will focus on a technique called tomography, drawing together research by scientists from the universities of Manchester and Liverpool, plus Unilever.

The 4D science event will take over one of the main gallery spaces at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester from October 24 to 28. More than 30,000 people are set to visit the gallery during this busy half-term period – and they be able to engage with this fascinating area of science by:

• seeing inside a volcano to understand how it erupts 
• handling 3D prints of ice-cream magnified a hundred times to see what makes it taste so good
• running an experiment to simulate a synchrotron that generates incredibly bright light beams

Tomography - used in many fields, from archaeology to medical research - allows scientists to build up a 3D picture of an object’s internal structure using a series of X-rays (similar to medical CT scanning). The University of Manchester is running a number of tomography projects at the UK’s Diamond Light Source, which supports academic and industrial research.

The facility enables electrons to be accelerated to near light speed, generating brilliant light beams to allow scientists to take a full 3D picture about once a second, creating a ‘movie’ depicting how the inside of materials change with time - it is this process that is known as ‘4D science’.

Scientists at Diamond are exploring the link between battery failure and the gradual growth of lithium deposits. By seeing how these develop deep inside an otherwise opaque battery, researchers hope to learn how to prevent the process and improve battery life and safety in consumer technology.

Tomography is also helping us to investigate the physical processes behind volcanic eruptions. Over 700 million people live within the eruption range of an active volcano, and scientists at Manchester have used Diamond to replicate conditions found 2km below the earth’s surface to study gas bubbles and fractures inside magma as it rises. This could help us to better forecast volcanic eruptions, which will save lives by providing people with more time to get to safety.
Dr Sarah-Jane Clelland, co-organiser of the exhibition

“Tomography could also help us to enjoy better ice cream – we have teamed up with Unilever and Diamond to investigate the formation of microscopic ice crystals that grow inside ice cream over time.”

4D Science takes place from October 24 to 28 in the Textiles Gallery on the ground floor of the Museum of Science and Industry, and entry is free of charge. For more about the University's involvement in the Science Festival, visit

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