36-hours in Wade World

Althea Imperial is an award scheme that supports innovators across Imperial, whether they be bioengineers, chemists or material scientists- the one criteria is that they’re a girl. For the final 6 of these inspirational students are pitching their ideas to a star-studded panel, representing academia, industry and the government. The ideas are amazing- wireless EEG devices to minimise contamination between patients, melanoma identifying smart-phone add ons, water filtration systems and smart lighting. Did you know that 1 in 25 people leave hospital with an infection they’ve acquired inside? That to cure these infections the NHS spends £ 1 billion a year? Did you know that the textile industry is the second biggest contributor to water pollution? To convince the chefs they’ve got to really know their numbers, the science and the business plan. It’s not just enough to want to change the world; Mark Walport wants to know who’ll pay for it. I left with a spring in my step and a song in my heart; Imperial are supporting and creating a better world.

imageWednesday welcomed my two favourite media ladies to London; Caroline Lefevre and Sheila McLennon, who were hosting a training session for women in science and engineering. Caroline had managed to recruit and incredible bunch representing the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, Imperial, Plymouth University, Liberty Electronic Cigarettes. imageI could happily spend my entire day in Sheila and Caroline’s company: they’re engaging, caring and brilliant and what they do. Only media training is expensive, and I’ve spent all my money on lasers and rocket launchers lately. Instead I do what good grown-ups do and go and meet an Italian to talk about nanoparticles. Afterwards I cut across town to UCL, to meet Elpida Makrygianni, head of Engineering Education at UCL.

Elpida’s great: she doesn’t only deserve her own paragraph but a medal (or two). Elpida doesn’t seem to have a team, she doesn’t even really have an office, sharing a big open plan PhD style complex with people who are in awe of her as I am. Elpida’s a maker. She’s not a self-indulgent, self-obsessed science communicator who sells her self more than her message: she doesn’t care what anyone thinks. For what it’s worth, what she thinks is usually right. From Torrington Place (UCL’s new Engineering building) Elpida runs 134 activities a year. She’s done some pretty innovative things- she insists on 50:50 boys and girls for any activity she runs (even from single-sex schools), she doesn’t let journalists mess her around, she works with researchers from all 11 schools of engineering and she doesn’t waste her time with the Big Bang Fair. Elpida loves Science Girl (and I’ll be Science Girl loves Elpida), she’s created an engineering course for KS2 and KS3 and she helps her students, aged 5 – 19, write for science journals. Engineering Everywhere is an online resource, a bit like I’m a Scientist but with no time limit and no competition. It’s a bit like Google Connected Classroom, virtual lab and workshop tours of Department of Engineering. Elpida’s worked with the IET, the RAEng and the Royal Institution. With the Royal Institution she created a project called “Engineers Save Lives”. Elpida doesn’t get sent flyers and brochures, she gets sent free pieces of kit from Lego. She’s won awards from the provost and been recognised by the mayor of London. What she doesn’t know about engagement isn’t worth knowing.. Some of Elpida’s schemes are competitive (her Women in Engineering taster days require high STEM grades) and some are inclusive (150 word personal statement), but all are over subscribed. She doesn’t even need to advertise for volunteers- UCL alumnae try to come back to run their own sessions.

After a journey to Kilburn to get some Almat from Aldi- I was on a mission to make my own silly putty (think 2016’s answer to Flubber). Almat’s a unique UK washing detergent (I only found this out after buying > 4 litres of non-unique washing detergent) that containts scorbic acid, which cross-links the polymer chains of PVA glue to make a tacky, stretchy slime. Add a bit of glitter and a bit of food colouring and BAM- you’ve got yourself a galaxy in your hand.

I spent Wednesday night at the IOP, watching Professor Derek Long of King’s Computer Science talking about the take over of intelligent robots. Prof Long shows us some pretty awesome videos of the robots at Boston dynamics:

It’s not all human simulations; but planning for water treatment, network and traffic control. Prof Long talks us through the complexity of controlling a Mars rover from planet Earth, where a day talks 24 hours 17 minutes. Without the rover being able to control itself ‘autonomy’, the team on Earth have to wear special Martian watches and program every individual movement. The Mars Rovers had to make 17 scientific observations, which comprised of 45 unique scientific activities and 13 engineering activities, with 220 different constraints. Don’t get frightened though- we already have some pretty useful control systems (like thermostats in our homes, which sense when the house is warming up and start to cool down). Professor Long manages to explain every level of the systems in a way that his IoP audience can understand: there’s a range from high to low frequency control. There’s more to Long than rovers, he can use his comprehensive understanding of planning to minimise police search time, reduce the number of batteries soldiers have to carry and keeping traffic moving around central London… He’s also got loads of great quotations on plans:

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Planning is everything, the plan is nothing.” Dwight Eisenhower

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight Eisenhower

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