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Nigel Latta puts his body on the line to test the kind of weather we usually try to avoid. Explore the science – and the ethical issues – behind his recreations of torrential rain, hurricane force winds and hypothermia.

Listen to your mum and put on a hat.

Nigel Latta

Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up
Watch Series 1/Episode 3: Weather

Science ideas and concepts in Episode 3: Weather

In between the drama and humour, Nigel introduces a number of important science concepts. This episode explores:

  • rainfall, whether torrential or gentle, is driven by the water cycle
  • insulators keep things warm by stopping the flow of energy through them
  • the empirical nature of science: scientific explanations are based on observation and are testable
  • ethical decision making in scientific and technological research.

Nature of science

Nigel does not have time to wait for a hurricane, so he tests his ideas using models. It is easier and safer to place a human in a controlled model like a wind tunnel rather than in a real hurricane.

Resources on the Science Learning Hub provide an in-depth – and safer – means to further explore these concepts.

Rainfall and the water cycle

Rainfall, whether a gentle drizzle or Nigel’s torrential flow, is driven by the water cycle. Rising water vapour cools and condenses into droplets, which become suspended on dust and accumulate in clouds – as demonstrated by Nigel in his cloud tank. When the droplets get too heavy, they fall to Earth as precipitation.

Rainfall and the water cycle

The resources we have on H₂O on the go, the water cycle – introduction follows water’s journey through the hydrological cycle. Water, in all its forms, is continually exchanged between the Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere and geosphere.
Water and weather
Global water cycle interactive

Sometimes rainfall becomes a bit intense. These resources explain the causes and some of the terminology associated with heavy rainfall events.
Extreme weather
Cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes

Activity ideas

Nigel uses models to help explain extreme weather events. The following activities use models to aid students with their understanding of aspects of weather and the water cycle. They are suitable for mid and upper primary levels.
Clouds and the weather – make a cloud in a bottle
Building a water cycle

Insulation and warmth

“My mum always says, if you’re going out, wear a hat.” That’s sound advice from Nigel’s mum. Keeping warm involves stopping the transfer of heat from one object to another. This can be done by insulating the object. This works because insulators stop the flow of energy through them. Nigel found that covering his head with an insulator (a hat) reduced the flow of energy from his head.

Humans insulate themselves by wrapping up in layers of clothing. We insulate our homes with materials like fibreglass and plastic foam. Animals fluff up their feathers or fur to trap air to reduce energy loss. Divers rely on a layer of water trapped close to their skin by a wetsuit and warmed by their bodies.

Learn more about insulation and warmth

Antarctica is one of the coldest places on Earth. Scientists working there know a lot about insulation. Learn more about how they keep themselves warm in this extreme environment.
A tent in Antarctica
Staying warm in Antarctica

Activity idea

Humans can always put on an extra layer of clothing if they get cold. Animals and plants have special adaptations to help them survive. This activity uses reading skills to locate and integrate information about adaptations. Students then design their own unique animal or plant capable of living in Antarctic conditions. This is suitable for mid primary level and above.
Animal and plant adaptations

The empirical nature of science

Nigel recreates different types of extreme weather to demonstrate the effects on his body. Although his approach is often light-hearted, Nigel’s capers provide ideal opportunities to explore the New Zealand Curriculum’s Investigating in science strand. For example, Nigel uses a variety of approaches to investigate models, conduct fair tests and find evidence.

Early in the episode, Nigel comments on the importance of consistency. He also says, “I will be the first to admit that this is not a completely scientific test.”

Each weather event includes the collection of data from a testable situation. While watching this episode, it is possible to identify examples of good experimental design (for example, use of a control in the hypothermia test) and ‘not completely scientific’ design (for example, use of consistent wind speeds to test the ability to stand in hurricane-force winds).

The development of scientific knowledge also has a creative side. This episode has examples in which imagination and creativity were used to find ways to model the extreme weather events and aid in data collection (for example, using nine leafblowers to model a category 2 hurricane).

Learn more about investigating in science

The Nature of Science is the overarching and unifying strand in the New Zealand science curriculum. Hub resources help unpack the four substrands, one of which is Investigating in science.
How science works - interactive
Tenets of the nature of science
The ‘Investigating in science’ strand

Ethical decision-making in scientific research

Nigel jokes that his TV series could easily be named Trying to Kill Nigel Latta. Both the wind tunnel and hypothermia tests were stopped because of safety concerns. This raises some intriguing ethical questions:

  • Should Nigel put himself in danger to educate and entertain audiences?
  • Even though Nigel says, “Don’t try this at home,” should viewers be shown risky events they can recreate?

Learn more about ethics and ethical decision-making

Teaching students how to make ethical decisions is mandated by the New Zealand Curriculum. Ethical issues raised by advances in science and technology present important contexts for teaching. The Hub has extensive resources to guide and support ethics teaching in the classroom.
Ethics and the curriculum
Frameworks for ethical analysis

Teaching ethics

Activity ideas

After debating the ethics of Nigel putting his life on the line for science, explore one or more of the Hub’s many ethics-based activities. These are suitable for all levels.
Ethics in fire science
Ethical dilemmas in fighting infection
Ethics in conservation science
Ethics, mice and toxins
Ethics and bird conservation – case study
Tracking E7

These are suitable for upper primary and secondary levels.
Farming and environmental issue
Ethics and research animals – case study
Crime science DNA
Social issues and nanotechnology

These hands-on activities support students in collecting data about weather.
Making a weather vane and compass 
Making a barometer 
Making a rain gauge 
Making a thermometer 
Making an anemometer 

Useful links

Use literacy resources from the School Journal and Connected to support science understanding.

Insulation and warmth
Investigating insulation Connected Number 01 2010
Warming up, cooling down Connected Number 01 2010
Keeping houses warm or cool Connected Number 01 2010

Cyclones and hurricanes
Nightmare on Anchorage Island Part 4 Number 1 1999
Severe Weather School Journal School Library Number 1 2012
New Zealand’s Weather Connected Level 3 2012

The water cycle
The Water Cycle Connected Number 2 2002
What Makes the Weather? Connected Level 3 2012
Making Puddles Connected Number 1 2000
The Shapes of Water Part 1 Number 4 1995
Mist Connected Number 2 1999

Learn more about School Journal and Connected.


    Published 7 May 2015 Referencing Hub articles