Shell: Make the Future

I received a mysterious e-mail in October from someone at Shell inviting me to the launch of their STEM initiative, ‘Make the Future’. The event was to be held at 18:30 at the Science Museum, about 3 minutes walk from my office at Imperial! Not even the secretive invite could keep me away.

On the way I called in to the launch of the year 10 STEM potential scheme and spoke to the future scientists and parents ahead of their two year Imperial programme.

Make the Future was set in the Making the Modern World Gallery.

An aside: the catering- the canapés and food were INSANE! There were venison doughnuts, sea bass ceviche, pumpkin ravioli- it was beyond delicious.  

There were a few cool people there; including Rhys Morgan, my wonderful cousin Polly’s husband, and the director of education at the Royal Academy of Engineering. There were heaps of people from ‘Researcher’s In Schools’, a teach first start-up placing STEM PhD graduates > £40 k a year to teach science in schools. I was still unclear of what was going on. After about an hour of canapé crunching and drink devouring, a disembodied voice summoned us downstairs to the basement.

IMG_3857Eric Bonino, the UK face of Shell, appeared amidst two big screens saying ‘Make the Future’. Make the Future is a project looking to address the way the world uses energy. The increasing population, changing cities and evolving eco-systems will only consume more energy, so we need to rethink how we use it. Akin to all other projects for future scientists, Shell realise they can’t ‘create the world of tomorrow’ without the help of the next generation.

Mr. Bonino was a totally compelling speaker. He introduces the audience to the British race for an accurate way to determine Longitude of 1714, because on of John Harrison’s original wooden clocks lives in the Science museum. For every 15 ° that you travel to the East, the local time moves one hour ahead. Similarly, travelling West, the local time moves back one hour for every 15 °. In 1714, the British Government offered a financial incentive to find a solution to determine longitude. The rewards increased in value with the accuracy: £10 k (£1.30 million in 2015) for accuracy within 1 ° or £20 k (£2.6 million) for accuracy within 0.5 ° (2 mins). The longitude problem was solved in the mid 18th-century by a joiner and clock-maker without massive science capital. Bonino says that the problems of 2015 won’t be solved by individuals alone: we need to work together in teams.

Make the Future is a journey to a low carbon future. In 2016 there will be a four-day festival of innovation at the Queen Elizabeth Park. There’s a Bright Ideas Challenge for school pupils aged between 11-14. Shell want them to use their creativity, problem solving and science skills and to come up with some designs for cities of the future. School teams of 5 – 100 can enter until April 2016.

Make the Future: London (30/06/16-01/07/16) will also see the launch of the first Shell Eco-Challenge in the UK. The eco-challenge is inspired: a 200 team European wide competition encouraging engineering departments to design and build the cars of the future. The teams have to travel as far as they can on 1 litre of fuel (current record = 3771 km). There was a clever video with smooth music that introduced us to the teams and the enthusiasm of previous events, then we were lead into another space where there were some of the actual cars and teams of last year’s race. It was an exceptionally well-made video that wasn’t at all embarrassing. I was excited.

The teams were as you’d expect: switched-on, sensational, astonishing. They’d not aced their degrees because they’d actually built a car with a hydrogen fuel cell. They all worked in engineering (designing cars, sports cars and America’s cup yachts) after their degree: no sneaking into the City.. They were interested in other people’s designs, and the modifications the current cohorts at their ex-universities were making on their own.  They were honest. They had got their hands dirty.

I was super impressed by Shell. Even with my hyper-cynic hat on; this initiative have got it right. I will continue to follow the Make the Future/ Bright Ideas/ Eco-Challenge with excitement, and I encourage you all to do the same!

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