On Tuesday I was at Dulwich College for their STEM day. It was insane. I got the train with my little science suitcase laden with raspberries and solar cells, and was aware that I was going to a ‘posh’ school- nothing could prepare me for the decadence that awaited me! There’s even a street sign saying ‘Dulwich College’ when you get out of West Dulwich station- that’s NUTS. The Dulwich grounds are bigger than my to-do list, their boys are more posh than a meal at the Dorchester and their labs are more luxe than…the whole of Imperial. I’ve been lucky enough to visit hundreds of schools during my PhD and I’ve seen science labs that are peeling apart, where you’d never quite trust the gas tap, and the fume hoods rattled ominously- but the science still was still the same, and the students were still full of curiosity and questions. Dulwich has a lot of the ‘STEM capital’ that Prof. Louise Archer writes about: they have money, they have networks and they have drive. They also do something quite brilliant: they bring in nearby schools to see Shackleton’s boat and play with their cloud chambers, they arrange south London wide science days and they try really hard to share all of their great toys. They even had Tom from Bletchley Park! So sure, they’re loaded, but they do it with certain style. I had a great time meeting the technicians at Dulwich; who largely design the science programme for the boys.
The next day was the Academic Women’s Lunch, a celebration of Imperial of all the recent professors and prize winners. It really is the most amazing university in the world: they’re really addressing gender diversity college-wide. They’re looking at what works in bioengineering and replicating it in computing, they’re learning, they’re alive. Dot Griffiths and the provost James Stirling explained about the newest halls of residence: our first named after a female professor, Woodward. The new supercomputer is called Helen, after Helen Kemp Porter, the first female Professor at Imperial. Lunch was great- I really enjoyed working out who’d been promoted and why people had been invited.
In the evening I attended RacePoint Global’s panel discussion on diversity in STEM. You can check my report here: https://makingphysicsfun.com/2015/10/15/reaching-the-untapped-innovators/
On Friday I hosted the new Imperial College Women in Physics at a IC WiP breakfast: first year UGs even showed up at 09:00!! Great work team.
On Thursday evening I was in Hackney, at BSix Sixth Form College. What a world away from the 2 x £27 million science labs I left in SE21. Here the ‘science capital’ is pretty low, but the aspirations are pretty high. The project will run for four sessions, were I’ll be talking about science at university, university applications, literature reviews and research projects. The class comprises of students from 8 different Hackney sixth forms. The kids were totally switched on, totally inquisitive, totally inspiring. They wanted to start making designing their own physics courses, putting their UCAS forms together and come to Imperial. I’m going to work super hard to help them make that happen.
On Monday I spoke to Randall Perry, the champion behind the UK Space Design Competition. It’s a brilliant idea, “a science and engineering challenge designed as a simulation of life in industry”. What’s interesting is that without trying they’ve got nearly equal numbers of girls and boys entering- the astro effect?
Teams are given a list of requirements for a space settlement, and have a day to come up with a detailed design which they present to a panel of judges who include experts in the field and representatives of the UK Space Agency.
UKSDC is open to secondary and sixth form students (Years 10 – 13) in the UK, and entry to the competition is via video and regional events. Winning teams from these entry points take part in a residential competition weekend hosted by Imperial College London, and may go from there to the international final at a NASA space center. A series separate Micro-Competitions replicate this experience for younger students in Years 7 – 9.
Dr. Perry is running the heats across the country. The winner of the final in March will go to NASA !!
Tuesday was the IOP’s Opening Door’s conference. You can read more about that here.
Wednesday! Woohoo! I’ve finally arrived. Today was the big one. At 09:00 I left my phone in my office and made my way to the Imperial Business School, where I handed over my passport, walked through the airport security and met a few members of the MET. Then I was in! and the wait begun. 10 students of Imperial College were chosen to meet President Xi- and at the last minute- I was one! Everyone else on the list was much cooler and more impressive- they’ve run across Iceland, cycled around China and played tennis for the UK. But somehow I managed to get an invite, and as we waited for our turn in the alumni centre (free coke! free fizzy water! amazing sofas!) we practised our summary sentence describing our lives at Imperial and our research. Our time came and we formed an orderly British queue, awaiting the arrival of George Osbourne and the Duke of York. There was lots of cameras, lots of flashes, lots of hand shakes, respectful nodding, cheeky jibes about UG and PGs hanging out- it was a whirlwind of royalty, research and ridiculousness. We waited until the royal party had left campus to raid the free breakfast buffet bar, and I met the leader of the ‘D-school’- the charismatic Professor Peter Childs. As far as I can tell everything this man touches turns to gold: he’s written a book, he’s basically turned the engineering department into an innovation centre and he’s a fellow of the IMechE and Royal Society of Arts. This guy is amazing..
Then I jumped in a cab, grabbed a tea, and got a train to the Isle of Wight. That is literally mad. By midday today I’d totally lost my voice, so I was popping Strepsils like nobody’s business and hoping I could perform at the Isle of Wight College for their Aspirations Festival. I met their American ‘STEM’ lead, Steve Hill, a man from Colorado who’s come ashore in Cowes. He’s built them a new STEM centre too, and I think (for now) that the sixth formers of the IoW are in good hands. But they IoW is so far from the science world I live in it’s crazy, and I’m not sure what they can do about it. Definitely connecting with more universities, trying I’m a Scientist- but it’s tough. These are kids just like the ones in Dulwich, just like the ones in Hackney, these are people like me- who deserve science just as much as we do. I tried really hard to introduce the students to the crazy world of careers you can enter with a science degree and realise that it was as much their responsibility as it was mine.
Thursday marks the end to the madness- for a moment. I had a three hour group meeting that could have been 20, then repeatedly fell asleep as I tried to write competently about semiconducting plastics. I lectured my Hackney class about defining research questions and literature reviews, and in pairs they’ll be coming up with their own, preparing presentations for our final session in mid November. They’re a really exciting bunch. Then I got on the Piccadilly Line at Manor House and basically got the most value of any oyster journey ever, traversing the busy streets of London to Hammersmith. Professor Sara Rankin of g4g fame has launched a pop up shop in King’s Mall in collaboration with the Curious Act. The curious act have absolutely exceptional graphic design, and have figured out how to package science perfectly for general public consumption. The shop is full of excited science communicators using 3D printers to generate models of the cardiovascular system, scientists from the National Heart and Lung Institute running teaching sessions and workshops and wonderful boxes of medicine and medical tests. It totally woke me up, and made me, as everything does lately, so happy to be part of such an amazing and committed community.