On the 18th and 19th March, members of the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) CDT 2015 cohort and I took part in our first public engagement event, by attending ‘Bath Taps into Science’.
Since joining SAMBa, I have been really interested doing some public engagement activities, whether it is school events or science festivals. I have always wanted to get out there and communicate my research to a wider audience so that they understand that the work I do can make a difference, particularly in the understanding of air pollution.
Thanks to SAMBa and the CSCT, I was able to join the CSCT 2015 cohort during their public engagement course. This course aims to increase our skills and confidence for public engagement in science and train us in the different approaches and audiences you may want to take when designing these activities. It involves participating in Bath Taps into Science and Cheltenham Science Fair, with a public engagement summer school in between to teach us good public engagement practices. My research into air pollution fits in nicely to some of the CSCT research so I was hoping there’d be a common ground on activities that capture both sets of research.
Our first public engagement experience was Bath Taps into Science, which is a science festival run by the University of Bath and is aimed at engaging schoolchildren and the general public into Science. It took place during National Science Week on 14th–19th March 2016. While there are activities set up for local schools throughout the week, the main science fair was held on the Friday 18th and Saturday 19th March.
We decided our theme of our activities would surround how waste can be used more sustainably, which is a hot topic, particularly in respect to climate change. We decided to choose this theme as this covers many of the cohort’s research in such areas as plastics and biofuels, and even included my air pollution research.
Our stand at Bath Taps consisted of five main activities; (1) a rocket, which was launched using bioethanol, (2) a world map where participants had to guess the footprint and miles of common lunchbox items and the resulting waste, (3) a customised bike linked up to a battery and fruit batteries, (4) a spinning wheel, where participants had to spin the wheel and guess how they could Redesign, Rethink, Repair, Reduce and Reuse common objects before turning it into waste and finally (5) cloud in a bottle, which was designed to show how clouds are formed and how waste can be harmful to the environment if not used sustainably.
The first day took place at the Founders Hall in University of Bath and was attended by primary school children from local schools. We all arrived very early on campus of the Friday morning. Some of us definitely had more energy than others. There was both a sense of nervousness and eagerness about the day ahead.
We first had to transport everything over to the Founders Hall. We managed to stuff all of our equipment into each other’s cars and head over the venue. As we were so early, we were one of the first groups to arrive and with much buzz and excitement around the other activities going on already, we knew we were in for a good day!
After setting everything up, we all managed to take a little break to prepare for daunting levels of schoolchildren that would be rushing through the doors. We made sure that there was time to take a quick team photo!
Photo1 - All of us raring to go!
At 9:30am, the doors were opened and we hoped we were prepared/energised enough to engage with the 1200+ schoolchildren anticipated to arrive. With a little help from biscuits and coffee, we managed to keep the levels of energy and enthusiasm up!
Throughout the day, we all rotated around and ran all activities, educating and inspiring schoolchildren to think about the waste they produce and how this can be used more sustainably. And as the clock struck 3pm, the last school departed from the Founders Hall. With a great sense of accomplishment, we took a sigh of relief that we made it through the day! We packed up our equipment into our cars again, ready for another exciting day of public engagement!
The second day was held in the centre of Bath in the very beautiful Victoria Park open to the general public. It was a very cold and cloudy day in Bath, and even though some of us were a little tired and achy from the day before we remained in high spirits to get the day started.
We all arrived promptly at 8am to start setting up our gazebo and activities for the day. We unfortunately had a hiccup on the morning, as we couldn’t find some parts of the gazebo! With a slight panic we wouldn’t be able to get both the activities and gazebo up in time, Cei and Hannah came to the rescue and dashed back to campus to get the remainder of the gazebo.
Having managed to get everything up in time, the first families began to arrive at about 10am and proceeded to have a go at our experiments. The weather lent some further problems. The rocket relies on ethanol to vaporise inside the bottle in order to ignite it. As it was so cold, the ethanol wouldn’t vaporise! Thankfully, we came up with the idea to heat the bottles in warm water so that the ethanol would vaporise. This sadly meant that we couldn’t be as interactive with the spectators, who on the first day helped create the rockets. As it turned out, it was so busy on our stand, a demonstration worked better.
Photo2 - Our very busy stand on the second day!
The enthusiasm, perseverance and determination of every member of the team meant we managed to keep the demonstrations going throughout the day! As the second day was open to the general public, it was really interesting to have a range of discussions with such a diverse group. In some cases, we had children that already knew so much and were telling us about our activities! It was really fantastic to see people so enthusiastic about our stand.
As the day came to an end, we packed away our equipment and loading everything carefully into the van and back to campus. We celebrated the end of our fantastic experience, as any Bathonian should, with pie at The Raven! While we stuffed ourselves with pie, we mulled over the two days with a huge sense of achievement that it had gone well. There are
This was the first public engagement activity I took part in and even though I was very apprehensive about whether or not I could do it, I thoroughly enjoyed myself! I think we all did a great job and everybody showed fantastic teamwork.
Bath Taps was definitely an eye-opener in the world of public engagement, and everybody took away valuable experience and confidence for public engagement in the future. I really did enjoy speaking to the public about the research that the group did and really hoped that we excited and inspired many of the people that came to our stand. There are improvements that could be made, and the summer school later in the semester will teach us good public engagement activities. We will then be able to build on the success of Bath Taps for Cheltenham.
I cannot wait to learn more about public engagement at the summer school and take the lessons from Bath Taps to make the activities better for Cheltenham Science festival!