The big experiment - study guide

Sky Learning – "The Big Experiment" Series

Image:sky_logo.jpg Study Guide

Sky Learning has teamed up with Graham Warren, Science teacher at Woodchurch High School Specialist Engineering College and author of Woodchurch Science to create a GCSE Science study aid to accompany the Discovery Channel’s, “ The Big Experiment” a six part series which is about the explosive, mind blowing power of Science and how it can change lives.

“The Big Experiment” series begins on Discovery Channel, Sky Channel 520 on Thursday 6th March at 9pm and each episode will also be repeated on Sundays at 6pm.

The series consists of six one hour shows with three top scientists working with a GCSE class to help them pass their GCSE Science exams. Each week, Sky Learning will produce a study guide for each episode highlighting key points from the show, providing hints and tips, as well as practice exam questions all of which will help you in your studies.

This week’s guide accompanies the first programme in the series, “Shocking Science” which will take you through the absolute basics of atomic structure and the elements right through the Big Bang theory. Visit Sky Learning for the final section of this guide and clips from this episode.

'Episode 1 – Shocking Science'

Science IS exciting, all the experiments featured in the series are on a large scale with big explosions really bringing Science to life for the first time. Science can be challenging at times to learn but it can also be fun too! If you are enthusiastic and enjoy it you are more likely to be equipped with all the information you need to help you in your revision and tackle those tricky exam questions.

The Periodic Table.

All elements are made of atoms and everything (including you and me) is made from atoms. Each atom is made from protons, neutrons and electrons in different combinations. The students in the video are taking part in a fun experiment weighing differing numbers of blue and red balls showing that protons and neutrons make up the mass of the atom and are found in the nucleus. The more red and blue balls, the heavier the element.

Exam Tip: There are always questions related to numbers of protons and neutrons and electrons in elements. Now challenge yourself to calculate the numbers of all three subatomic particles (especially neutrons!) from the mass numbers and atomic numbers that you are given.

Exam Questions:

  • How many protons, electrons and neutrons are in Helium He atomic number 2, mass number 4?
  • How many protons, electrons and neutrons are in Lead Pb atomic number 82, mass number 207?

Watch the periodic table experiment

The scientists use hairy bikers to demonstrate what an atom looks like. When the bikers arrive, note how the rings that they form with their motorbikes show how the electrons orbit the nucleus and gradually fill up each shell around that nucleus until they finish with Neon as a full shell.

Exam tips: Learn how to represent all the partially filled shells up to Calcium and the maximum number of electrons that can occupy each shell.

Exam Questions:

  • Draw the electron arrangement for the following elements. Example Sodium atomic number 11 has an arrangement of 2,8,1
  • Draw the electron arrangement for Beryllium atomic number 4, Aluminium atomic number 13 and Potassium atomic number 19.

Watch the hairy bikers example


By setting fire to balloons filled with Hydrogen and Helium, the students show how just one single electron can make a lot of difference to the reactivity. Hydrogen has 1 electron, Helium 2 in their outer shells. Helium’s shell is complete and so very unreactive. Hydrogen’s outer shell is incomplete and very violently reactive.

Exam tip: Learn how to relate reactivity to the numbers of electrons in outer shells. This is made more obvious when the scientists show the students the Alkali Metals; Lithium, Sodium and Potassium, reacting with water.

Exam Questions:

  • Explain with reference to the number of electrons in the outer shell and the increasing size of the atoms why Potassium is more reactive than Sodium.

Watch the balloon experiment


The students are shown what happens when different metals are reacted with water. This experiment is shown in classrooms up and down the country but never on such a large scale as this!. Note the trend as you go from Li to Na to K. All three of these elements have 1 electron in their outer shell (so they're in the Group 1 of the Periodic Table) but they get more much reactive as they get bigger.

Visit Sky Learning for the rest of the experiments and study tips to accompany them.