On 10 and 11 June, our first year students took their ‘Island of Sustainability’ exhibition to the Festival of Nature 2017, where they ran activities to answer questions such as: “Can fruit waste make plastic?” and “How do you clean water?” Watch this video, created by Vicky De Groof, showcasing the highlights of the event.
The Festival of Nature will be hosting the Bristol Free Fun Family Weekend at Bristol Harbourside on the 10 and 11 June. A group of 19 PhD students from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, University of Bath have been eagerly preparing activities that answer questions such as: “Can fruit waste make plastic?” and “how do you clean water?”
Venturing from their labs and offices, the PhD students will share their research with festival goers. Making it even more challenging, the main audience is families with young children. How do you explain the importance of water treatment or the concept of the circular economy to a six-year-old? Integrating the research of chemists, engineers, and biologists into one activity is tricky, especially if it has to appeal to both adults and children! The final outcome is a collection of activities centred on The Island of Sustainability. The students have built an island with a focus on wastewater treatment system, energy supply, and circular economy to promote discussion.
The island and its related activities were successfully tested for the first time at the Bath Taps into Science Festival. Collecting feedback from participants allowed them to improve their activities - curious to see what they’ve made? Wondering how chemistry fits into a sustainable society? Come and see The Island of Sustainability at Waterfront Square during the Bristol Free Family Weekend, 10th and 11th of June.
On the 15th of March, I headed to Parliament for an event organised by the Royal Society of Biology, called “Voice of the Future”. This event allows for the tables to be turned on MPs and select committees, with young scientists and researchers asking the questions that matter to them.
It was held in Portcullis house, the sci-fi looking building next to Big Ben, which acts as another wing of parliament. The building has an air of chaos surrounding it, with people running around and screens in every room with constant updates from the House of Commons. We required pretty heavy security to enter, and we weren’t allowed to take any photos or go into the café area (I think MPs are all a bit jumpy about unflattering-career-ending photos).
I was representing the Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), and successfully applied with this question:
“In the 2015 manifestos, water quality received significantly less attention than other key environmental issues, despite increasing evidence of water's key role in antibiotic resistance, climate change and wildlife damage. Why is water quality so overlooked? And how can this be changed?”
However, when I arrived I found out they had completely changed a lot of our questions, so my question about why water quality isn’t on the agenda was taken off the agenda… My question was changed to “With less than 15% of MPs with backgrounds in STEM, how should the government ensure that policy-making remains firmly based on evidence?” (A question I was hesitant over, as it implied that only scientists can understand evidence. As scientists and experts, we have a responsibility to effectively communicate our message to the wider audience).
Stephen Metcalfe MP, Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee replied:
“I don’t think that there has to be a direct link between having a science background and being able to base your decision-making process upon evidence. If you believe in evidence you all have to stand up for it.” He went on to state that there are times when government takes a different path and doesn’t follow the evidence, due to other considerations. However, this should never be because the evidence doesn’t suit a particular agenda and evidence should remain at the heart of everything government does.
Dr Tania Mathias MP added:
“We do have some engineers in Parliament and I’m sure we could always do with some more. The fact is evidence is scrutinised ever day in Parliamentary debates. You will get pulled up if your argument and your evidence isn’t strong.”
Tania went on to explain that the UK parliament is the only one in the world with opposing benches. She stated that this means you will be heavily scrutinised, and will be pulled up if your evidence or argument isn’t strong enough (reminds you of a viva, no?).
The MPs never missed an opportunity to take a dig at the other parties' policy, leaders, handling of EU, handling of Trump but of course, the session was dominated (like the rest of British culture) by the ever looming Brexit (first mention of “Brexit means Brexit” recorded at a mere 22 minutes). Jo Johnson MP (of the same relation and the same blonde floppy hair) seemed to have a particularly high volume of Brexit questions including:
“With the Brexit negotiations up and coming, how will the Government ensure that vital collaboration and communication can continue with our European colleagues?
“Firstly, we have to remember we are for the moment, still a member of the EU with all the rights and obligation that go with being a member.
We’ve been very clear as a government that we value our European research partnerships, and we value collaborative structures with countries in Europe and broadly around the world and we will want to ensure those collaborative relationships continue to be productive in years to come”
In response to concern surrounding gaps in research funding, he stated:
“In the budget we have allocated £270 million within the industrial strategy challenge fund, for research activity.”
(Disclaimer: This figure has not made it to the side of a bus just yet)
Chi Onwurah MP, the shadow minister for industrial; strategy, science and innovation, who said she went into politics for the same reason she went into science, “because they make the world a better place, they are the engines of progress… I think you’ll all agree on that for S&E, maybe not for politics”.
On the topic of the lack of women in STEMM, Chi, an electrical engineer herself, stated that the number of female engineering students at her old university, Imperial, has remained constant at 12% since she attended in 1984. She continued that there have been a number of initiatives that have been unsuccessful in increasing the number of females across STEMM, and the importance of understanding why that is:
“There is a reason more women haven’t been going into science and engineering for decades, we need to do something about that. We need not to blame historical facts, which are a consequence of science and engineering not welcoming women over centuries. The proportion of women who are fellows of the Royal Society is just 7%, so we need to encourage initiatives like Athena Swan, more transparency, and support different universities, institutions, programs which are successful".
Whilst on the topic of Donald Trump, she stated: “My big concern obviously is the Trump Administration science policy doesn’t seem to be a science policy.”
She emphasised with continuing strong ties with American scientists and institutes, which she points out haven’t “all become trump supporters overnight”. She also stated “we need to be clear, we’re not going to change the meaning of science for one man”.
Overall, it was a fantastic opportunity to see the complex but vital relationship between science and government, as well as a snapshot into how government works. I would highly recommend anyone to apply for it next year!
Personal Highlight: Hilary Benn MP running in, to find the Brexit committee had moved. If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of the missing Brexit committee, could you let Westminster know.
'Bath Taps into Science' is a free, educational outreach event, organised by the University of Bath, in attempt to make science accessible to all. This year, the MRes cohort created a series of fun and hands-on activities showcasing the research being done at the CSCT. The activities gave participants a chance to become sustainable scientists to save our sustainable island.
Our stall had three different activities based on three research themes: Energy, Water and the Circular Economy.
'Fuel your Future' activity used external combustion engines to demonstrate energy conversion and the potential of biofuels. Our highly realistic model of a volcano explored other possible renewable energy sources. The 'Fruit Box' was a great talking point for conductive materials and their scarcity.
The water activity allowed people to clean dirty water using membranes. The 'Membrane Box' demonstrated filtration on a larger scale.
'A-peeling Plastics' explained making bio-plastics from oranges demonstrating some of the potential of closing the loop. The giant 'Puzzled by Plastics' allowed for a hands-on explanation of the circular economy.
Friday, 17 March was cohort 16’s first experience of Public Engagement as a group. Fuelled by coffee after a start at 7am sharp, we began setting up in the University’s Sports Hall.
Before long the hall was filled by 900 excited school kids who were armed with plenty of questions about sustainability. There wasn’t a single quiet moment at our stand.
On Saturday, 18 March we set up base in Victoria Park in the city. The windy weather allowed for a perfect team building opportunity.
Being a family event, Saturday brought the opportunity to talk to new audiences about our research. Oriol being able to explain sustainability in Spanish pleasantly surprised a couple of members of the public.
Overall we found the experience exhausting but rewarding and are excited to apply the feedback we received to planning future Public Engagement events.
If you enjoyed reading about our activities, why not get in touch to find out more about our future events? Get in touch with our super active Public Engagement committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
CSCT student Marcus Johns was one of the 12 speakers who delivered a six minute presentation, in which he set out his research and why it matters. He also explained his motivations and progress in his research journeys, including advice to others.
Themed around ‘healthy futures’, this year’s Research Rocket celebrated contributions of early career research community at the University of Bath.
CSCT PhD student Marcus Johns works on tissue engineering and developing new components for organs such as the heart. Marcus’ own tricuspid valve in his heart is not properly formed, and by sharing his own story and motivations behind his work, he pointed to the huge, potential applications for this work in improving quality of life for patients.
You can watch his talk again (starting from 14:00).
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!
Final year student Jon Wagner was one of the five shortlisted finalists for The Ede and Ravenscroft Prize.
The Ede and Ravenscroft Prize is an annual award for the best postgraduate research student awarded for the first time in 1991 and is generously funded by Ede and Ravenscroft, appointed robemakers to HM The Queen.
Jon is working on his PhD on "Novel materials for catalytic conversion of bio-oils" with Dr Valeska Ting, Professor Mark Weller and Dr Chris Chuck.
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.