CSI: The Science of the Great War | 2015

APRIL 2015

Welcome to CSI: Stoke! Here you can learn all about our free World-War-One-inspired CSI event.

Find out what activities will be going on both inside and outside – including talks from World War I experts – as well as how you can get involved by bringing your World War I ephemera to our Ask an Expert panel.

Working with Staffordshire and Keele Universities and Stoke-on-Trent Archaeology Service the museum will explore the scientific aspects of World War One. In a series of hands-on activities visitors can learn about trench archaeology, the chemical development of poison gas and have a go at making their own periscopes used to look over the top of trenches. Children can crawl through our replica tunnel to experience what life was like for soldiers underground.

There will be a medical display with leading military historian and author Andrew Robertshaw, which will include a range of real and replica items related to the work of the Royal Army Medical Corps on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918.

Visitors are also encouraged to bring family photographs, letters and other items to our panel of experts who will help to identify them and reveal what these items say about your relative’s military history.

Activities and Talks

  • ‘Bangs and Flashes’ repeated public lecture by Dr. Richard Darton (Keele University) on how explosives played an important role in the Great War.

Richard looked at their use in grenades, torpedoes and ammunition through to excavation and mining for vital resources.   Although the chemistry of military explosives has changed somewhat since WW1 the underlying principles are very much the same.  Richard took an interactive look at the fundamental science behind the explosives of World War 1; including their development, chemistry, uses and disasters.

  • ‘The Spanish Flu’ repeated public lecture by Dr. Pauline Gowland (Staffordshire University) on the deadly pandemic that broke out in January 1918.

This flu was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic, the first of the two pandemics involving H1N1 influenza virus. It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them—three to five percent of the world’s population —making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. The close quarters and massive troop movements of World War I hastened the pandemic and probably both increased transmission and augmented mutation; the war may also have increased the lethality of the virus. Some speculate the soldiers’ immune systems were weakened by malnourishment, as well as the stresses of combat and chemical attacks, increasing their susceptibility.

  • ‘Ask the Expert’ Panel, including Andy Robertshaw (ex-Time Team) to look at artefacts brought by the public
  • Walk through WW1 trench/dugout with learners  to experience what it was like for soldiers to live in the trenches
  • WW1 indoor ‘underground offensive mining tunnel’ for learners to experience what mining under the Western Front was like, complete with short talk about how soldiers from Stoke did it.
  • Talk about explosives development and demonstration of explosives in action
  • Use of metal detectors to find remnants of WW1 battlefield artefacts for learners to use (includes take-home WW1 coins)
  • Using battlefield archaeology to uncover the past, opportunity for learners to have a go at archaeology
  • WW1 Military First Aid post to talk about how they treated injuries and getting young learners involved
  • Making various molecules of poison gases used in WW1
  • Showing how periscopes work with contemporary one and letting learners make their own to take home

Download a range of activity sheets here.


The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery has installed an outdoor replica First World War trench system next to the museum. It is being created to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the war in 1914 and will offer visitors an atmospheric, thought-provoking understanding of some of the conditions experienced by soldiers on the front line.

Engagement days are planned for both school-age young learners and adults, which will combine activities and displays with science demonstrations. Visitors will be able to learn about life in the trenches, artillery shells, how poison gas was made and even try their hand at making periscopes, which were used to spy on enemy positions.

The trench will be open daily from 11am – 3pm, weather permitting, and will be free to view.