High Speed One

Today I went on a train that goes at 300 km/hr. I left King’s Cross at 0837 with a Starbucks in my hand and a ticket to deepest darkest Kent. 300 km/hr is pretty fast. It’s 10 times faster than I go to on my bike, it’s quicker than my dad drives his BMW along the A40 and it’s speedier than a hummingbird can fly backwards (54 km/hr). Yesterday I was on the 06:30 train to East Croydon, which is basically diagonally opposite from where I live in London, which is a really long way away. Then I went home, took my beloved mother to Charing Cross Hospital, spoke to some lift engineers, went home, made lunch, went to our group meeting, got some quotes on some expensive pieces of kit and went to our group christmas dinner in a Korean/ American restaurant in town.

So why these AM adventures across town? Because I’m all about watering the little STEMettes of the future. I’m on a mission to find the best scientists around the country (and seem to end up telling them all to study Design Engineering)… You’re not the only one- even I am bored of hearing about how we ‘need women in science’- I don’t think we need anyone to do anything- but we owe it to all young people in the world to show them how awesome science can be. I’m not sure anyone in the world has as fun a job as us. We’ve got a set of keys and 24-hour access to a lab with a half-a-million pound laser system. We can grow crystals, we can make solar panels, we can print conductive plastics. Sure, it’s an incredible privilege to be able to do what we do, but I genuinely believe any of the young people I meet in these schools could do it- they just need to be told about how awesome it can be. There’s been £411 billion invested in to infrastructure in the UK. That’s an awful lot of money to fund jobs for engineers.

Croydon was cool. I cruised in to East Croydon station at around 0729, stepping in to the future: high rise Korean like apartment complexes, roundabouts full of miserable looking commuters and green. Lots and lots of green. I got a mini-cab to Croydon High School for girls, a GDST school in Croydon, where I was talking at a STEM networking breakfast. Croydon had done well: medical physicists,  management consultants, coders working for the MOD, civil engineers, structural engineers and JESS! Over orange juice, coffee and croissants we chatted careers, cryogenics and creativity. Having been at South Hampstead, it’s always interesting to see what’s different about the other GDST schools- and always comforting to know how supportive and encouraging all of the staff are.image Me and mom went to the Charing Cross Hospital where my mum had an operation last week- she had a microdiscectomy, where a super-intelligent-friend-of-my-dad-neurosurgeon move one of the discs in her spinal cord that was pressing on one of the nerves down her leg. It’s real miracle stuff. A nurse popped out the little clips that were keeping the skin together to let the skin do its thing by itself and gave mum permission to shower: the ultimate reward. The lift engineers were working their magic on the 15th floor too, abseiling down lift shafts and jumping over chains. We only got a sneak peak into their world- an industrial revolution style cuboid floating in the sky. I had a group meeting where we discussed some science that someone did because they were the first to do it, not because it was the best idea, and then they made some devices that are potentially lethal and not very good, but make for a really good headline. Korean dinner was at Oxford Circus, full of christmas shoppers and twinkling lights and busy pavements. Ugh! And J Crew were having a sale on Cashmere. Over dinner I chatted to an old friend who’d ordered a 160 kg piece of equipment for his lab that was bigger than the lift it had to go up one floor in. #ThatsScience.

So I overslept- and I never over sleep. So I ran, in my new J Crew top, to the the tube to get the train to get to Ashford in Kent where possibly the most eloquent mini-cab driver I’ve ever met in my life drove me to Benenden, possibly the poshest school in the world. Princess Anne went to Benenden. It’s like a mini Hogwarts for 500 girls (+ as far as I can tell, no wizards). The science block is new and crazy well-equipped, the technicians are more knowledgeable than most PhD researchers and their dedication to the girls is overwhelming. I had prepared lots of slides on the science of christmas: champagne bubbles, fairy lights, cracker snaps and resonating wine glasses- but got too carried away talking about nanotechnology and Imperial. (I hope no one saw me falling off the stage). I think I managed to convince everyone to study Design Engineering- got in early with year 10, priming them for the A* maths requirement- so many good questions on applications and work experience. A PDF of my slides is available here. I stayed chatting to Year 11 about university and art school and physics and life. Benenden had invited 17 local schools to the day of STEM and rocket scientists and forensic scientists and chemists and perfume makers and physicists. The teachers and students were really passionate and enthusiastic and beaming throughout the day, with more christmas trees on campus than I’ve seen this side of 2014 and capri sun at every break/ lunch interval. Lunch featured sprout tops ! Sprout tops! So on trend. I got back on my 300 km/hr capital and sped back to the buzzing capital, feeling insanely lucky to be able to do what I do and interact with so many exciting and inspirational young people.

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