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Robot hearts and hackathons to help engineers engage with the public

06 April 2016

Audiences in the UK will have the opportunity to get involved with engineering events as part of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Ingenious program.

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This year, 23 projects have been funded under the public engagement program, which gives engineers the opportunity to share their stories, expertise and passion for technology with audiences ranging from school groups to retired communities. The annual grants scheme supports projects across the UK that engage people with engineering in creative ways, and gives the engineers involved opportunities to develop their communication and engagement skills.

Projects that have been funded this year include Heart in your hands, an interactive experience enabling people to get hands-on with robotic hearts mimicking the structure and function of normal and diseased human hearts using soft robotics. Visitors to events in Birmingham, Bristol and London will have the chance to appreciate the engineering behind the human heart, how it works and adapts to disease, and how robotics can be used to model this.

A Stemettes Hackathon weekend for young women at Imperial College London has also been funded this year, providing a workshop for 50 female school students aged 12-18 to learn real programming techniques and develop their own app, game or website. The weekend in May will culminate in a launch event where the students’ finished products will be presented to parents and a panel of expert judges, and participants will have an opportunity to ask professional engineers and computer scientists about their careers.

Another funded project is Engineering Showoff, which will take engineers from a broad range of backgrounds and from across the country and train them to become accomplished performers. They will be challenged to take to the stage at evening cabaret-style events for adults and entertain the audience by revealing their work as engineers, using a mixture of comedy, storytelling and demonstrations.

Other projects funded this year include an engineering themed photography competition in London, a workshop in which participants will get to build their own electro-acoustic guitar in Edinburgh and a project from Techniquest Glyndwr which will encourage over 4,000 members of  the local community to go on an engineering adventure in North Wales.

Professor Mark Miodownik FREng, Chair of the Ingenious panel, said: “The range of these fascinating projects show that engineering really is all around us, and will give hundreds of people the opportunity to get hands-on with engineering for themselves. Ingenious projects not only inspire the public, but give engineers the training and the opportunity to get out there and share their work. We’re delighted to support these projects that explore some the engineering at the heart of society.”

The full list of funded projects is as follows:

Buskineers: Bath engineers perform their research on the street, University of Bath

Buskineers is a project aimed at developing a team of engineering postgraduate students and researchers, to take them from being academic speakers to eloquent street performers capable of delivering entertaining performances about their area of research on the streets of Bath in a busking style. The University of Bath engineering department currently hosts a wide variety of research ranging from sustainable energy to biomedical applications, sensors and construction materials. The project aims to enhance the communication, creativity and outreach skills of engineering researchers, which will not only be applicable to public engagement activities, but to academic activities too.

Electronic Touch (ET), University of Glasgow

Electronic touch is a new scheme which sees engineers at different career stages provided with the training and opportunity to share cutting edge research with groups outside the research environment. The University of Glasgow is doing internationally recognised work in the field of tactile interfaces, which will be brought to life through interaction, experimentation and play with new touch screen technology in classrooms. Pupils will benefit from gaining insight into the working of touch interfaces while engineers will gain valuable experience in engagement while gathering thoughts, opinions and data about how people interact with these devices.

Engineering Showoff - chaotic cabaret about making the world, Steve Cross

Engineering Showoff builds on the longstanding Science Showoff concept which, over the last four years, has seen over 500 people take to the stage and communicate science in different ways. The project will take groups of engineers from industry and academia and different employers from four cities and train them to be accomplished performers. They will then be put onstage at evening events for adult audiences. Each gig will be photographed and filmed to create a permanent record of the engineers’ performances.

eTunes: building your own electro-acoustic guitar workshop series, University of Edinburgh

This weekend workshop series walks participants through the process of designing and building an electro-acoustic guitar, amplifier and speaker system. Participants will work together in groups with engineers to learn basic acoustic, circuit design and electromagnetic theory and apply it to a practical project that they can take home. The course, which is open to complete beginners, will end with a public demonstration where engineers and musicians explain and use the instruments.

Foundation for Jobs, Modus

Foundation for Jobs (FFJ) is a youth project running throughout Darlington delivered in partnership with local schools, The Northern Echo regional newspaper, Darlington Borough Council and Darlington business community. FFJ will work with local engineering businesses to develop and deliver a range of activities that will inspire, stimulate and raise awareness of engineering as a career, create positive perceptions of the work and opportunities in the sector and address the current local and national skills gap by encouraging more of Darlington’s young people to study STEM subjects at a higher level.

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Hard Wired World: Fibre Optic Communication and You, Telegraph Museum Porthcurno

Housed in original telegraph buildings and wartime tunnels, Telegraph Museum Porthcurno tells the story of the engineers who designed, created and maintained a hidden communications network of undersea cables which connected Britain with the world. This project will involve engineers with audiences to develop light-based interactive exhibits which will be integrated into a new exhibition on fibre-optic communication. The interactives and exhibition together will allow visitors to explore the science and engineering behind how we live our modern connected lives.

Heart in your Hands, Rusty Squid

The human heart is a biological feat of engineering - highly coordinated, robust and designed to endure. The Heart in your Hands project is an opportunity for the public to literally hold in their hands a beautifully designed beating heart, and appreciate of the biomedical engineering behind the human heart. Using soft robotics, the project will develop a series of hearts, mimicking the structure and function of the normal and diseased heart, giving visitors a hands-on view of how the heart works and adapts in disease.

I’m an Engineer - online STEM engagement for schools, Gallomanor Communications

I’m an Engineer is a tried and tested STEM education activity where school students and engineers meet and interact. Students challenge the engineers over fast-paced online live chats, asking them anything they want and then voting for their favourite to win £500 to be spent on further public engagement. As an online project, I’m an Engineer can reach remote schools not well served by other STEM outreach activities. The project has a positive effect on students’ attitudes and understanding of the diversity, nature and impact of engineering.

Knead for Speed: Aero Challenge, University of Manchester

Computational aerodynamics plays a significant role in the engineering of vehicles, but communicating its effects with words or equations alone can be challenging. This project aims to offer an insight into physics that would be difficult or expensive to obtain using traditional methods, using computer modelling together with augmented reality to explore the air flow around 3D shapes prepared using plasticine. Pupils will model a series of shapes representing cars, trains and planes before 3D scanning and simulation software visualises air flow over the vehicles. Pupils can experiment with different designs and gain an intuitive insight into aerodynamics.

Learning from the Past, Engineering the Future, Talyllyn Holdings and Narrow Gauge Railway Museum

Learning from the Past, Engineering the Future is an exciting engagement project delivered among the engineering artefacts of the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum and on the inspirational steam trains of the Talyllyn Railway in the Fathew valley. The project will include school events and informal public engagement sessions delivered during the peak running season of the railway. The Talyllyn Railway and Narrow Gauge Railway Museum have a wealth of engineers within their staff and volunteer workforce which is not always apparent to visitors. By engaging these engineers with different publics, the project will inspire children and adults alike.

Let's go on an Engineering Adventure in North Wales, Techniquest Glyndwr

Let's Go on an Engineering Adventure is a program of events for the community of North Wales led by local engineers. Over the course of the project, two events for female school students, four events for the community and 20 days of workshops run at local events will enable over 4,000 people to engage with the engineers who will benefit from bespoke support, information and training from Techniquest Glyndwr to enhance their confidence. New workshops will be developed and trialled during the project through collaboration between Techniquest Glyndwr and engineers in academia and industry.

The Macroscope: a lens on the World Wide Web, University of Southampton

The web has developed from a document sharing system to a dynamic space in which information is shared at very high speed, generating vast quantities of data about the activities of three billion people worldwide. This data is promising but it is increasingly recognised that a new ethics of care is required for data analytics. This project aims to engage the public in the development of a web data ‘Macroscope’, built by software engineers to observe, analyse and better understand streams of real-time web data.

Making Place engineering kits, The Making Place

This Making Place project will work with a group of engineers and industrial designers to develop some of the charity's successful workshop based introductory engineering activities into a range of stand-alone kits in order to reach a wider audience by selling the kits at minimum cost online and by engaging the public at music festivals in creative hand-built engineering projects. The project will also encourage engineers to develop their communication skills by volunteering on the Making Place stand at various musical festivals.

Particle accelerator engineering workshops for schools, University of Liverpool

Significant investment in accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider, and a growing need for accelerators for applications in security, healthcare, the food industry and environmental issues mean there are many opportunities for engineering careers in this field. The aim of this initiative is to provide an opportunity for pre-sixth form pupils to get a taste of hands-on practical engineering by building machines related to particle accelerators in small teams supervised by researchers from the field. Resources will be developed in the form of 'how to...' worksheets which will be complemented by accessible videos made available via public websites.

Qualified for Life - Focus on Engineering, Techniquest, Cardiff

Techniquest is a science centre in Wales with a track record of successful public and schools engagement with STEM subjects. This project will deliver free workshops, on the topics of numeracy and problem solving using physics, to 2,000 11-16 year old students. The workshops will be run with engineers from local companies, showcasing how STEM skills are essential in the workplace and providing an insight into different engineering jobs available.

Robots pop-up workspace, Science Museum

The Science Museum will work with 16 engineers to develop a range of interactive events exploring the cutting-edge engineering behind contemporary robotics. The project will involve a mixture of pop-up workspaces and live dialogue events. Engineers will be present in gallery to share their expertise with the public, exploring the social impact of their work. Visitors will meet engineers who work in the field of robotics to learn how contemporary engineering influences and shapes our lives now and in the future. They will benefit from lively conversation with experts as well as interactive experiences.

School Gate SET - Primary school parents supporting STEM, Kate Bellingham

This project aims to create a community of engineers who are on, or have had, a career break and have time and enthusiasm to become embedded STEM Ambassadors in a primary school. The project will recruit 40 engineers in two UK regions, and give face-to face and online training to build confidence and to develop expertise to deliver a number of existing STEM activities. Case studies of the participants’ experience will be shared with the online School Gate SET community.

Securing tomorrow’s world: best practice in staying secure online, Ulster University

Securing Tomorrow’s World builds on Ulster’s well-established STEM outreach activities to create a long-lasting model for training academic and industrial engineers to inspire students to follow an engineering career. Engineers will be trained to engage with primary, GCSE and A-Level students through practical demonstrations aligned to the appropriate educational syllabuses, focusing on engineering computer network security. Case studies will be filmed to capture the participants’ passion for engineering, and will be incorporated into the workshops and used to create an online interactive resource.

Stemettes Hackathon, Imperial College London

The Hackathon is a weekend event for 50 young women supported by academics from Imperial College London and the Stemettes. The Hackathon will get girls learning real programming techniques and coding an app, game or website. The weekend on Imperial’s campus will include engineering-themed icebreakers, training and knowledge-building exercises. Faculty of Engineering researchers, students and app-designers will be ‘hack-hosts’ teaching girls to achieve a tangible take-home result that can be used by family and friends. Hack-hosts will be primed to discuss STEM futures alongside providing technical tuition.

Structurally Found, Structurally Found

Structurally Found is an engineering-themed scavenger hunt that takes place around London during Open House weekend (17-18 September). Participants download a list of structural engineering features to look out for, and simply photograph and tweet/Instagram the element with the correct hashtags for a chance to win great prizes. Engineers are on hand to share facts and answer questions about the photographed features.

Student Engineering Ambassador Program, Science Oxford

This project will link students with companies in the Oxford local area to inform them of the engineering careers available. Student Ambassadors will be selected from a local school to work with engineers from five local companies on practical engineering projects. The engineers will receive training to devise a suitable project based on their business and will host visits for students, who will showcase their work at school events to inspire other students. The Engineering Ambassador Program will continue with future year groups with the potential to roll out to other Oxfordshire schools.

Survival Village @SMASHfestUK: a festival bringing engineering to new audiences, Refinery Productions

Survival Village is the engineering centre of a new festival that has been explicitly designed to increase diversity and widen participation in STEM. SMASHfestUK was successfully piloted in February 2015 in Deptford, London where the Survival Village was the centrepiece of the narrative. Festival attendees were invited to discuss what a future Deptford might look like and how they could engineer solutions, and develop new amenities, in the event of a disaster such as an asteroid strike. Audiences were then invited to build structures using basic engineering principles. Using a narrative-driven and inquiry-led model of engagement, the Survival Village concept will return in 2017 and be taken into two new London boroughs.

Wales & Humberside Schools Hydrogen Challenge, Arcola Energy

The program of workshops will be delivered across schools in Wales and Humberside, two regions that have put sustainability at the forefront of their development. The workshops engage young people in practical science that directly affects them and their environment, and explore the science behind renewable technology in a fun and tangible way. Secondary school students will be challenged to design, build and test their very own hydrogen-powered vehicle, and primary school students will work as a team to take aerial photographs with a hydrogen-powered Raspberry Pi and a hydrogen balloon.

Ingenious is an awards scheme, run by the Royal Academy of Engineering, for projects that engage the public with engineers and engineering.


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