The following post is designed by Alison Ryder and Megan Stalker to sum up Cohort 2016's three-day team building residential at Magdalen Farm where they experienced a diverse landscape, connected with nature and learnt from sustainable living.
One of the longest running and anticipated events over the holidays is the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. Last Christmas, it was the turn of University of Bath’s very own Professor Saiful Islam to step up and broadcast his scientific know-how on the topic of energy. The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have been running since 1825 and were first introduced by the influential scientist, Michael Faraday. So you can imagine our delight when Professor Islam and the Royal Institution invited the CSCT to come down to the Faraday Museum in London and take part in a family fun day!
Michael Faraday (left) and Saiful Islam (right), speakers at Royal Institution Christmas lectures - a lot has changed over the years!
So one bright and early Saturday morning we set off down to London prepared for a day packed full of science fun! We split into teams and set our sights on the busy streets of London. One group headed off to catch the train while the others chauffeured our activities in the car. As part of "team train” and as a newcomer to London, I’m not sure I could have navigated the London underground without the help of Ria Atri (cohort, 2016). Without her help, I may have found myself stuck on the Underground circle line for hours. Thankfully, we made it in plenty of time and met up with "team car” at the venue to set up our stand for the day.
With an energy theme in mind, we brought three of our themed activities. Our Energy Ballot, where participants tried to aim at their favourite form of energy on our handy dartboard. The fun and competitive Cathode Causeway solar cell game - where players aimed to get there “electron” from one side of the board to the other before their opponent! (very popular with rival siblings for some reason…). Finally we brought our Fruitbox; where we treated our audiences to a game of Pacman, but the only controls they could use were pieces of fruit. Using these demonstrations we gauged public opinion on different energy sources, demonstrated how we are improving solar cells and explained how we can replace finite materials with renewable alternatives in electrical appliances.
Excited visitors waiting patiently for doors to open while we’re busy finish setting up.
We were swept off our feet with the enthusiasm of our visitors, who were all super keen to get involved in our activities and learn more about our goals at the CSCT. We had loads of fun running our busy stand and engaging with families over the course of day.
With little time to spare, it was a busy day at the Faraday Museum for the young researchers
With things going so well, it felt like no time at all before we had to begin packing up and making our way home. It was a pleasure to take part in the exhibition. On behalf of the CSCT, I’d like to thank both Professor Saiful Islam for inviting us and the Royal Institute for hosting us on the day.
Dan is currently working on his PhD project: 'Bridging the Gap in Sustainable Continuous Chemicals Manufacture: Integrating Upstream Synthesis and Downstream Crystallisation' with Professor Chick Wilson, Dr Elias Martinez Hernandez and Professor Matthew Davidson. (more…)
Public Engagement is a vital part of the CSCT, and every year our first years go to one of the UKs leading Science festivals, Cheltenham Science Festival. This year, Cohort ’15 went with the theme of “The Energy Factory”, which included activities such as Bottle Rockets, Fruit vs Mud Batteries and making a Cloud in a Bottle. These activities aimed to engage the general public, as well as showcase some of the research we do at the CSCT.
The festival is particularly popular with families and science fans, so armed with a microphone we set out to get some ideas and thoughts from them. So what did the next generation of scientists think we should research next? Sustainability? Science in general?
What is sustainability?
"To my mind sustainability is making sure that we have energy sources for years to come, rather than rely on fossil fuels which have a finite period of time. We can only mine them whilst we have them. So, something like solar power and hydrogen is something that will pretty much always be there so I’m assuming that it will be there in perpetuity." Matthew, age 47
What do you know about energy?
"About energy? Well I was gonna go for... it can’t be created or destroyed it can only change form but, unless you count matter – depends what you count as matter I suppose." Colin, age 51
What device do you think we should come up with as scientists?
"A sewing machine. Erm…it would make clothes for people ehm…hm probably with a needle that is super powered, so you need no electricity. And ironing, you should try to do that less, for only formal occasions, so you use less power." Violet, age 10
What do you think about our activities?
"They were very interesting and I did learn quite a bit about their research from talking to them. It was very, very nice, I enjoyed it, thank you." Sarah, age 36
What do you think scientists look like? Do you think they come in all shapes and sizes?
"Yes, yes, I think they do. Unless they were mad scientists, then they have long hair and wear goggles. I would want to become a regular scientist, not a mad scientist." Freddy, aged 8
What did you enjoy the most?
"Being told I was too short for the bikes and proving them wrong!?" Kate, age 7
What is sustainability?
"It’s about not using resources that we only have a finite amount like hydrocarbons and preserving those for the future, and we don’t want to pollute the environment. Energy that comes from the sun mainly and doesn’t pollute the planet." Daim, age 13
What have you been to see today? What did you think?
"Nice." Ellie, age 4
Have you got any ideas about experiments that we should do in our labs?
"Just blowing anything up." Vicky, age 23
What do you see when you think of science and scientists?
"Different things you can experiment and different things you can make. People trying to help the world in a better way." Anni, age 9
If you saw us at Cheltenham, let us know what you thought in the comments below!
Public engagement is an essential part of the CSCT, with the first-years having a stand at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June. To test the hands-on activities our cohort jumped in at the deep end, by trying them out at the annual Bath Taps science fair. So how did we survive teaching science/ the children teaching us?!
1. Enthusiasm is key! (we were running off a potent mix of excitement and fear)
2. Prepare for sub-zero temperatures! Luckily we had the bike so we could jump on and warm up.
3. Prepare for complete chaos, crowd control is key, maybe we need bouncers? (There are 18 PhD students in there somewhere).
4. Snack constantly. As we learnt from one experiment, fruit are a great source of energy… otherwise hot cross buns will just have to do.
5. Prepare for experiments to not work and sometimes you have no idea why (kinda like real research kids).
6. Not everyone will like your activity! The ethanol rocket was very unpopular with the dog community, luckily the team were on hand to offer diplomatic duties.
7. Brush up on your geography ("You're right that is where plastic bottles are made, which is.....ermmmm....it should be….. oh…. THERE IT IS!!")
8. How many PhD students does it take to set up a tent?.... 18 (9 to put it together, 2 to direct, 3 to discuss the directing, 3 to wander off and 1 to eat hot cross buns).
9. Be prepared to answer the most unexpected curve ball questions (maybe we should add children to viva committees?) as well as have kids teach you some science (we had one very big algae fan #AlgaeIsGreat).
10. Kids have limitless energy (spoiler alert: Yes more than fruit). Also, make sure your activities don’t initiate families rivalries, many arguments insured over which sibling could light the bulb up longer.
We had a great time, and the hard work was all worth it for smiling faces, bright eyes and some very lovely comments!
We were especially pleased that our activities prepared someone for the learning curves of life.
Now the countdown to Cheltenham begins: 26 days.
On the 11th of April, CSCT students Emma Sackville, Jemma Rowlandson, Paul McKeown, Shawn Rood and Helena Quilter ran a workshop on Sustainable Chemical Technologies at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute (BRLSI). Here’s how we got on!
Spending your Friday night Sellotaping balloons to straws probably isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but that’s what we found ourselves doing a few weeks ago.* It was the night before to our very first “Can Chemistry Be Green?” workshop at BRLSI, and we wanted it to be perfect. Balloon-sticks made and last-minute laminating done, we packed up the cars the following morning and headed to BRLSI for a day of green chemistry.
When Paul Thomas first asked us if we might be interested in running a workshop on Green Chemistry some months ago we absolutely jumped at the chance. We’ve been scheming for a while about doing some workshops and thought it would be a great chance to give it a go. I’ve helped out at BRLSI “Crazy Chemistry” workshops before and really enjoyed it. Just this time all eyes were on us…
Armed with the trusty ethanol rocket, a few boxes of packing peanuts and a whole lot of yeast, we rocked up in Queen’s Square on a beautiful Bath morning. We were fully booked (20 kids, aged 8-12) and had decided to keep the same format as other BRLSI workshops, where the kids move around the activities with a group leader.
After a quick safety intro (wear safety specks when we do the rocket!) we got going. In groups of 4 the kids and our wonderful volunteer group leaders worked their way around our five interactive stalls to learn about some of our research including, batteries, hydrogen, biofuels and renewable feedstocks.
There were a couple of new simple experiments we had decided to try out: “Biofuel Blast” and “Dunking Peanuts”. We had made some sheets to fill in to go with them to encourage the kids to make scientific observations, and that went down really well. At the end we also got an awesome chance to see what the kids had really learnt from us (evaluation!) as the groups did presentations about what they had enjoyed doing in the workshop.
All in all it was a brilliant day. The kids were great and really engaged (and we hoped they enjoyed it too!) We got some good feedback: there a few lessons to learn and some of the activities need a bit of tweaking but we can iron all that out before we do it ALL AGAIN in June!
*Don’t worry, I’m usually in the pub…
Helena is in her second year of the CSCT, working on new polymers made from terpenes with Matthew Jones, Davide Mattia and Matt Davidson. The second BRLSI workshop will be on the 13th of June and is already sold out!
Back in February 2014, the 2013 cohort of the Doctoral Training Centre in Sustainable Chemical Technologies become the custodians of a community garden in the city of Bath, working with Transition Bath. Now we've had some good weather the garden is blooming and lots of veggies are on the way. We've had lots of interest from the local community too!
Want to get involved?
We're always happy for more hands! We meet regularly at Hedgemead Park, but not currently on the same night each week, so be sure to join the mailing list to find out about future meetings.
As of February 2014, the 2013 cohort of the Doctoral Training Centre in Sustainable Chemical Technologies have become the custodians of a community garden in the city of Bath.
Interested in joining in? You'd be very welcome — find out how at the bottom of this post.
Situated in Hedgemead park, and aptly named "Vegmead", the garden was once a neglected flower garden owned by the council. Upon seeing the land going to waste some of the keen gardeners at the Transition Bath food group decided to take matters into their own hands and, with council permission, planted a variety of nutritious and aesthetically pleasing vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruits at the site. Through personal ties with the Transition Bath group, ownership of Vegmead garden was offered to the students in the CSCT to tend to, and continue fruitful growing and harvesting of the land.
The act of utilizing unused areas of land such as this for gardening is known as Guerrilla Gardening, and is indeed becoming very popular world wide, with guerrilla gardening projects cropping up in North America, Europe and Australasia. It hosts a variety of benefits which are heavily linked to creating a more sustainable and enjoyable world about us. Growing food locally reduces the food miles that it must travel significantly, it also provides a source of free food (and yes it’s free for anyone and everyone!), it improves the visual beauty of an area otherwise disused, it enhances a community spirit by encouraging local and open participation, and last but not least- it’s great fun!
The Bath Transition group, alongside many Transition Town movements across the world, operates as a community-focussed group of people aiming to build resilience and respond to some of the planet’s biggest issues: peak oil, climate destruction and economic instability. The Bath Transition group, as well as developing a variety of sustainable food initiatives such as guerilla gardening and developing mechanisms of local food supply through their food group, also has an energy group delivering advice and action of reducing domestic energy consumption as well as implementing local renewable energy projects, they also focus on transport issues within Bath.
Needless to say tackling these issues related to creating a more sustainable future is at the heart of what the CSCT does, and it is with great enthusiasm that we can do our bit to help outside of our research by popping our green chemistry coats on the hook momentarily, and donning our green fingers for a bit of gardening.
So if you see a group of young gardeners at work as you pass Hedgemead Park, come and join in and get your hands on some delicious fresh food!
Want to get involved?
We'll be in Hedgemead Park at 5.30pm this Friday 11 April 2014 and you're welcome to come and see what's going on. We meet regularly, but not currently on the same night each week, so be sure to join the mailing list to find out about future meetings.