BSW: Thursday 17/03

Whilst I’m firmly out of the show-stopping in your face festival action of the past week, I’m totally on year 7 careers advice in East London. I made some awesome slides on routes to STEM and started the hoards in Haggerston with some straight up STEM facts. My slides are online here.

Did you know that the UK Space industry makes £11.8 billion a year, 4 times more than any other industry in the UK? Sam Houser finished school in London without very good A-Levels. He went back and re-sat them and applied to study computer science at university in London, and three years later launched his first video game. The video game was called Grand Theft Auto and today Sam Houser is worth £ 80 million. What about Roma Agrawal, the London student who studied physics at Oxford before an MSc in structural engineering at Imperial? She built the Shard! So we’re doing okay for engineers- but we need more. Engineering UK say before 2022 we need 1.82 million more engineers, and we’re losing 55,000 a year. They estimate that 1 in 5 young people have to study engineering just to fill the gaps. It is NOT good place for the country to be. But what the good news is that this year 7 class now know and they can make sensible choices for the future. The teacher whose maths class I invaded wasn’t super happy at the start, but when I showed her my I ❤ MATHS badge from the Institute of Mathematics and she softened.
i_love_maths_badge_largeEven though they were only in year 7 I could see the beginnings of a few STEM enthusiasts- they’d followed Tim Peake up to the ISS, they’d seen the aurora on BBC news last week (that green thing in the sky) and they knew that solar panels were too expensive to be used in most homes. I even managed to get a smile out of the maths teacher before zooming up the Northern Line to King’s X and catch the 10:30 to Nottingham.

After the media furore over the sugar tax you’d be forgiven for thinking heading to the UK home of sugar beet wasn’t a bright idea, but I was on a WISE mission to Newark Northgate and David Cameron wasn’t going to change that. At British Sugar you have to don a hard hat and high vis and walk on entry- even if you’re just going to a meeting in an office block. There’s a heavy odour of sugar beet in the air, even though they’re not in ‘campaign’- they grow 7.5 million tonnes of beet grows and is harvested between September and February. The beet is never very far from home travelling an average of 28 miles before it reaches the British Sugar factory. To try and be more self-sufficient, the UK have been growing sugar beet since WW1. They’re incredibly environmentally conscious, they make bioethanol, the tops of the beets go to feed sheep and cattle, with the ones that are left being ploughed back into the land as natural fertilizer for their 140 million British Sugar tomatoes. British Sugar’s factor is a whirring energy machine, extracting double the energy from fossil fuels compared to conventional power plants and producing high pressure steam that power the rest of the factories. They actually make too much and use their high sugar energy to power a nearby town of 160,000 homes. British Sugar make £ 1 billion a year for the UK Economy. I’m here with Kathyrn Grant, fellow member of the WISE young women’s board and manager of a team of engineers who work in the Newark site. She rules lots of the biggest (and dirtiest) machinery I’ve ever seen: it’s gritty and it’s alive- it’s a world away from the cleanroom and spin-coater I’m familiar with. Kathryn walks the metal stairs with confidence and class- she runs this plant and she knows it. Watching her at the top of a complex networks of conveyor belts and complicated machinery, Kathryn controls the whole processing area. When beet comes in she oversees the beet being sliced into V-shaped strips, then her teams dissolve the sugar into a soluble juice which is purified and thickened. About 30 % of the sugar is crystallised into white sugar and the remaining pulp is dried (Kathryn keeps her furnaces at 1000 °C) for animal feed. Kathryn has a knife room. There’s a flow diagram of different blade shapes. There’s a Beet End Eye Bath for emergency sugar rushes. There’s a technical poster saying industry words like ‘Bits and Mush’ and parts of a ‘Slicer’ is called a Mingler. British Sugar has a ‘passion to excel’: promoting efficiency, safety, customer focus, team development- all with extreme environmental concern. What’s funny about British Sugar is how it all looks like it shouldn’t work and it doesn’t only work but it works insanely effectively. With girls like Kathryn calling the shots, I’m not surprised. She’s so proud when she shows us the centenary video it’s like watching a grandmother at graduation- Kathryn’s been here since finishing her Chemical Engineering degree at Sheffield in 2008, and it doesn’t look like she’ll leave any time soon. You can read more about Kathryn on the WISE website here.


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