Cohort 2017 ventured down to Magdalen Farm for a three-day team-building residential. See our Flickr album for all photos.
We speak to Isabella Poli, an MSCA-FIRE fellow at the CSCT who was selected as a finalist in the ITWIIN 2017 competition. She received an honourable mention for the sustainability aspect of her innovation.
What is ITWIIN? How did you come across it?
Everything started when I received an email which read: "Are you a woman? Are you Italian? If so, keep reading!". The ITWIIN prize is awarded by the Italian Association of Women Inventors and Innovators to Italian entrepreneurs, professionals and researchers. The prize promotes inventions and innovations in the working environment and in education. It creates networking opportunities for creative women, as well providing guidance and training. I came across this prize from the Marie Curie Alumni Association and I decided to accept the challenge and I sent my application! Incredibly, I was selected as a finalist and to compete for the prize I attended the ITWIIN two-day annual conference in Turin to exhibit my invention and present it in front of a jury.
Can you tell us more about your project?
My innovation consisted of an 8-week sustainability course designed for primary school students. The idea was inspired by the Public Engagement training received during my MRes in Bath offered by the CSCT. Five different topics are addressed during the 8-week course: Waste, Water, Energy, Renewable Sources and Sustainable food production and consumption. The experiment is the central part of the lecture, where kids become little scientists and learn how to observe a phenomenon, how to draw conclusions and project them into their everyday life. At the end of the course, kids take part in a local science festival as proper scientists. Three of the lectures focus on the preparation of the stall that will participate in the public event. In this way, kids become science and knowledge bearers.
ITWIIN finalists at the dinner and award ceremony at the Industrial Union in Turin. Best inventor prize, Best innovator prize, Honourable mentions and finalist certifications.
What is the takeaway message?
The environmental awareness has been raising recently through actions such as the recycling, local food companies and energy saving guides. However, these actions often speak to adults and less to kids and teenagers. Moreover Italian primary schools usually see scientific subjects left behind. As a result kids tend to grow up being biased against science and thinking, incorrectly, that it is difficult and boring!
And what about your competitors?
There were 12 finalists (obviously all Italians), I was the youngest participant and the competitors’ expertise was all very broad: there were chemists, biologists, physicists and medical doctors. Some of them were at an advance stage of their career with already three startups and several patents behind them! I found this extremely scary initially! However, the jury was really impressed with my enthusiasm and I received an honourable mention from them for the sustainability aspect of my innovation.
The prize for best inventors were given to two exceptional women: Dr Anna Tampieri who presented a multi-step process to convert wood hierarchical structures into scaffolds for bone tissue engineering and Dr Serena Zacchigna who developed a therapeutic approach to induce cardiac regeneration.
Isabella proudly showing the Honourable mention certification received
Is it important to praise women in science? Do you think this experience will broaden your research horizon?
Today’s scientific environment is very competitive and particularly hostile towards women. In Italy only 22% of the highest academic position are occupied by women. This experience is a great chance for women to take the advantage of current and emerging opportunities. Interacting with women at an advanced stage of their career has been an extraordinary source of inspiration for me and my future as a scientist! Being recognised for my achievements from the jury and the other competitors has been a real encouragement to keep me going!!
Isabella is currently working on her PhD project: "Exploiting perovskites for the generation of solar fuels" with Dr Petra Cameron and Dr Salvador Eslava; Industrial Partner: SPECIFIC.
The Royal Society, or rather, the President, Council and Fellows of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, to use to the full name, was established in 1660. In the early days of the Royal Society, membership was primarily composed of scientifically minded gentlemen (physicians and natural philosophers) with an aristocratic background. Whereas today, the Royal Society is a large establishment with various roles in the world of modern science, such as promoting scientific research and excellence, dissemination of scientific knowledge through publishing and public engagement activities, promoting inclusivity and diversity in the world of science as well as examining existing policies and suggesting revisions as new scientific knowledge and technologies emerge. One interesting example of this is the development of artificial intelligence technology… but I will leave that here as I could write a whole blog post on this after an interesting discussion with a member of staff at the Royal Society!
The motto of the Royal Society, Nullius in verba (Latin for "on the word of no one" or "take nobody's word for it”), is shown in the stained-glass window in the building and was chosen soon after its founding. It is a statement of the drive of Fellows of the Royal Society to seek scientific truth. Many aspects of the original foundations and motivations of the Royal Society have remained the same over time, with commitment to scientific excellence and developing scientific understanding. However, just wandering around the building and looking at the dates on paintings is like walking along the timeline of the changing face of science! The Royal Society changed it headquarters in 1967 and is now located at 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, which is a Grade 1 listed building in central London. During the Summer Science Exhibition, the doors of this stunning building open to the public, literally and metaphorically opening the doors of Science to the public!
This year I applied to be a volunteer at the event so that I could experience it all first-hand. Our doctoral training centre also brings an exhibit to the weekend of the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition every year, so that’s another way to get involved too! Before the event, all volunteers were given an induction day. This was a very well organised day where we were given an overview of policies, guidelines and roles for the event. We were also given a tour and talk on the brief history of the Royal Society Summer Exhibition. Apparently, it originally was more of a ‘show of scientific oddities’, held in the living room of one of the members… whereas today it’s a large event, opening the whole building to the public with events and exhibits on various areas of cutting edge science. We were also treated to the archives at the Royal Society including Isaac Newton’s lab book and Robert Boyles’ to-do list! He had some pretty ambitious aims including ‘The art of flying’ and ‘Potent drugs to alter or exact the imagination’.
The Summer Science Exhibition consisted of over 20 different exhibits from various universities and science institutions with research related to areas spanning from quantum computers, dark matter and gravitational waves, all the way to the science behind our voices and how crows use tools and what we can learn about human evolution and tool use from this! Find more details on the various exhibits this year.
In addition, there were many events going on during the week such as special talks and an adults-only event the Monday evening before the exhibition, which involved ‘poisonous cocktails’ and eating insects. Find more details on the various events this year.
It was a pretty busy and exciting atmosphere during the exhibit with many schools visiting, members of the public and the occasional Duke or two. Whilst on ‘patrolling duty’ on the first floor, I took a couple of quick photos of the exhibits just before opening time, which are shown below. These exhibits included using virtual reality to help us understand mental health problems (top left), how to make a supernova (complete with an air canon) and how to store solar energy using water splitting (bottom left), climate modelling and Microsoft’s virtual reality stand (right).
For me, I would say a couple of highlights from the exhibits were the quantum computer research from the University of Bristol (shown below on the left), since this could really revolutionise the future of my area of research (simulating solar cell materials on supercomputers) by greatly increasing the power of computers. Another highlight was University College London’s exhibit on ‘smart surfaces’, which can be made to be super hydrophobic (repel water) or hydrophilic (attract water), and they demonstrated this brilliantly with a silicon disk, half coated in one surface and half coated in the other (shown below, bottom right). They highlighted applications for this technology for antimicrobial and self-cleaning surfaces to prevent the spread of infections in hospitals, but also from when I was speaking to an exhibitor at this stand, it sounds like another potential use could be to keep the surface of solar panels clean, to help sustain high performance through self-cleaning to prevent dirt on the surface from blocking out sunlight from the solar cells.
Other highlights for me during this event were various interactions with visiting members of the public. It was lovely to see and speak to so many people enjoying the event from school children, to families to scientists and Fellows of the Royal Society. I found it particularly interesting to talk to a couple from Cairo who were interested in renewable energy and to learn that solar power doesn’t seem to be utilised there at all – despite all the sunshine there! I also very much enjoyed speaking to exhibitors with a solar fuels project that was a collaboration between a university and a secondary school (supported by the Royal Society), which is involving school children in real, contemporary research. I thought this was great since I remember back in secondary school (somehow!) having the impression that ‘we knew it all’ in science, everything we needed to know was already in textbooks… how wrong I was! In contrast, I’m now of the opinion that the more I learn, the more I realise there’s so much we still don’t know! So, I love that school children are being introduced to real research… especially for solar power!
The Royal Society in general seems to be the embodiment of how the face of science has evolved and is currently evolving. Being involved in this event, the purpose of which is to showcase and share some of the latest developments in science with a broad audience, left me feeling very fortunate to be part of the ‘world of science’ and how important it is to share the enjoyment of it. I really enjoyed being involved and would highly recommend signing up as a volunteer at this event, going along with our doctoral training centre to help out at the exhibit… or both!
Suzy is working towards her PhD on 'Overcoming the efficiency bottleneck of metal sulfide solar cells' with Professor Aron Walsh, Professor Chris Bowen and Professor Mark Weller.
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 email@example.com. 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.