Dr Appolinaire Etoundi presents at ASE talk

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UWE Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Mechatronics, Dr Appolinaire Etoundi, recently delivered a fantastic talk for the Association for Science Education, engaging local teachers and STEM educators with the story of his engineering pathway and his research into bio-inspired prosthetic joints for amputees.

Engineers above all else are problem-solvers, and there are a lot of problems these days that we have to face.

In his talk, Appolinaire spoke about his route into engineering and how his passion started at an early age with a love for Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs and the small self-assembly toys found inside. A great reminder that children’s scientific curiosity should be nurtured form an early age!

Appolinaire also shared his career pathway, starting with his study of mechanical engineering and leading to his research combining mechanical engineering and robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory. He spoke about a chance meeting with Rio Paralympic Triathlon gold medal winner Andy Lewis, and how this inspired him to change his research focus to robotic rehabilitation devices such as prosthetic joints and limbs.

Currently in the UK there are 5-6000 major limb amputations every year.

This area of Appolinaire’s research is heavily inspired by systems found in nature and these bio-inspired robotics have the potential to greatly improve the efficiency of current rehabilitation/prosthetic devices and improve the lives of people around the world.

Appolinaire’s passion for his research and how it can be of real benefit to people is truly inspiring. You can watch the full talk here:

A Mathematical Model of a Zombie Apocalypse

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Suppose there was a Zombie outbreak? How confident would you be to predict what would happen?

Well lucky for us, Emily Walsh Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at UWE, has created a new BoxEd school outreach activity, a mathematical model of a zombie apocalypse.

This engaging activity allows students to work through the maths behind infectious disease modelling, using a combination of mini lectures, tasks and guided solutions.

The BoxEd forms part of a new series of online outreach activities made available to schools during the pandemic and features an extension activity and short film created by Foundation BSc Maths student Michael.

Watch Michael’s film here: https://xerte.uwe.ac.uk/play.php?template_id=2878#page4

Michael’s video has been a huge success with over 300 views so far. To celebrate his hard work he was nominated to receive a signed copy of Fermat’s Last Theorem by science writer and co-founder of the Undergraduates Ambassador Scheme (UAS), Simon Singh.

The UAS encourage undergraduates to go into schools as part of their degree, in order to learn valuable skills, act as role models, build links between universities and schools, and contribute to widening participation.

As Michael points out in his video, whilst this activity has a little fun with zombie fiction, the mathematical model explored mimics those used in real life. Such models provide a valuable tool in understanding the mechanisms and patterns of disease transmission, including that of COVID_19.

Hopefully by engaging with this activity and Michael’s video, more young people will see the real world applications of what they are learning in school and the impact they could have as the future generation of mathematicians.

Mathematicians have and always will influence society in huge ways, as the next generation of mathematicians you will too, it’s never too early to start thinking about how you can change the world.

Michael, Foundation BSc Mathematics, UWE Bristol

Creating a buzz with Primary Engineer

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The DETI Inspire programme recently teamed up with Primary Engineer to provide online teacher CPD sessions for 10 primary schools in the West of England region.

These one-day online sessions supported teachers to deliver a whole class, curriculum mapped engineering project, in this instance, building an electric car.

Primary Engineer supplied all participants with the materials required to run the session, so they were able to follow along in real time and build their own cars with support from their session leader.

Teachers from Ashton Gate Primary, Horfield CEVC Primary, Little Stoke Primary, St Werburghs Primary, Parson Street Primary, Broomhill Junior, St Barnabas Primary, Wellesley Primary, Nova Primary, and Barton Hill Academy ​all attended the sessions online.

Feedback from the participants was really positive, and we were very pleased to note that the new online delivery method worked well.

Excellent training. Explanation was very thorough and the trainer was incredibly patient and supportive. The resources available and next steps are incredible and allows the school to actively participate in STEM with confidence.

Primary Engineer Electric Car CPD Participant

The DETI Inspire programme will now provide links to industry, giving schools the opportunity to be partnered with a professional engineer from a local company, to support sessions back in school with pupils in the classroom.

Connections with diverse engineers are incredibly important for young children, helping to build their science capital and challenge common stereotypes. This is why the DETI Inspire programme launched their Diversity Demonstrator – a network of diverse engineering role models to champion engineering public engagement in the West of England.

We’re really looking forward to being able to meet our local teachers in person again and support sessions like this together, but it’s great to see activities like this working in a virtual environment too. A silver lining to this lockdown is that online events can sometimes allow more people to access the training and support they need, when they need it.

If you are a school looking for support with your STEM activities, or an engineer who would like to connect with local schools, please contact the DETI Inspire team for information about our current and future outreach opportunities.

DETI is a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), delivered by the National Composites Centre, in partnership with the Centre for Modelling & SimulationDigital Catapult, the University of the West of England, the University of Bristol, and the University of Bath. DETI is funded by £5m from WECA, with co-investment from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and industry.

UWE student engineers bring children’s designs to life!

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“If you were an Engineer, what would you do?”

This is the question asked to over 49,000 children throughout the UK each year as part of the Primary Engineer Leaders Award.

The Leaders Award is an annual competition which encourages pupils from primary and secondary schools across the UK to look at the world around them and find engineered solutions to common problems. Each year the children’s designs are graded by engineering professionals and the winners for each region are announced and celebrated at regional events.

The Engineering Design and Mathematics Department (EDM) at UWE Bristol have supported the awards and hosted celebration events for schools in the South West for the past four years, but this year the celebrations had to move online.

To make sure everyone could still view and enjoy the children’s designs, Primary Engineer created online virtual galleries for each region.

You can view the gallery for the South West entries of 2020 here.

EDM further support the Awards each year, by bringing the children’s designs to life. UWE student engineers are tasked to build prototypes of the winning designs, which are then showcased at the following year’s celebration event. This year a team of student engineers have been busy bringing an electric blanket design to life!

The solar electric heated blanket was designed by Mary, a local Year 5 pupil who aimed to provide warmth for the homeless. The team of UWE Masters students tasked with building a functional prototype of the blanket include student electronic engineers Oliver Németh, Eimantas Medziunas and Kieran Easdale, and student mechanical engineer Ahmed Nor (aka The Prototeam!).

The original design by Mary, Yr5

The challenge was to produce a blanket that would meet the needs of the end user – one that was suitable for outdoor use, durable, portable, low cost, easy to maintain, hygienic and able to provide heat for an appropriate length of time.

An interesting challenge with the technology currently available, and one that the Prototeam worked hard to solve together, using electronic simulations, schematic diagrams and 3D models. From this a prototype was built for testing and analysis, the results of which revealed the design was a success!

The prototype used for testing and analysis

Projects such as this have huge potential to inspire the next generation of innovators into a future in engineering. Encouraging children to tackle real-world problems that affect their everyday life helps widen the appeal of engineering to children from a variety of backgrounds, and will hopefully lead to a more diverse workforce in the future.

If you are a current student, alumni or professional and would like to know more about the Leaders Award or other engineering outreach opportunities currently available, please get in touch with the team at engineeringourfuture@uwe.ac.uk

If you are a school or young person interested in taking part in the Leaders Award this year, you can find more info and register for free here.

Providing space for social communication in a STEM engagement project

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Neurodiversity Week celebrates our unique strengths and differences, while recognising that the many talents of people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and other neurodiverse ways of thinking and learning are often not suited to traditional, formal learning environments.

Science Hunters is a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) outreach and research programme that uses Minecraft to engage children from under-represented groups with STEM. Projects have covered a wide range of topics such as the Amazon rainforest, understanding diabetes, earth science and volcanoes and space, with the Building to Break Barriers project currently running at UWE Bristol engaging children with many aspects of engineering.

Minecraft is the second-best selling video game of all time and extremely popular with children. Players place and break blocks with a wide range of appearances and properties, to build a huge range of constructions. It can be played either as a single-player game or in a shared virtual world with multiple users playing together, and was chosen for Science Hunters because of its popularity (children want to play it!), particular appeal to children who learn differently, and suitability for explaining science.

A key target group for Science Hunters is children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), particularly through a dedicated Minecraft Club that has been running since 2015. It soon became clear that taking part in the club, alongside children with similar needs in an accepting environment, and playing a game which was a shared special interest, had more benefits for participants than STEM learning alone.

When face-to-face sessions are possible, as they were until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Minecraft Club uses a dedicated server, so that children can play together in a safe social online space. Most of the children who attend have ADHD, autism and/or dyslexia. Spaces are limited to no more than 16 at a time, with simple guidelines to keep the club fun; children are not under pressure to conform to ‘neurotypical’ behaviour norms as may be expected in non-specific settings.

STEM topics are briefly introduced, and then participants are free to build in Minecraft in relation to that topic; while adults are there to guide and support, children are encouraged to follow their own interests and ideas to create their own unique designs. For four years, data were collected from participating children and their parents/carers, who attended with them, through surveys and interviews.

During this time, 101 children aged 5-17 years attended; responses were gathered from 29 children and 37 caregivers. Results indicated that children both enjoyed and learnt something from attending, and while their feedback understandably often focused on Minecraft, they also indicated that they had benefitted socially and emotionally from being in the shared space with other children with similar interests. This was supported by insights from parents and carers, who described benefits outside the club, such as improved confidence and wellbeing, improved social skills, and reduced need for formal learning support.

Interest in playing Minecraft is what motivates children to attend, and the game provides a range of opportunities for children to potentially develop social and educational skills. This is supported by the process of designing and completing builds, independently or collaboratively, and communicating with others within the shared virtual world. Playing in the same physical space enhances this, as communication can move between the virtual and real worlds and allow in-person peer support and the ‘safe space’ provided in our Minecraft Club supports children with SEN to interact naturally and spontaneously. While it was set up as part of STEM outreach, the social communication impacts of our Minecraft Club – such as making friends, fitting in, and feeling valued without judgement regardless of completing tasks or conforming to expected social behaviours – are at least as important.

Minecraft Club is currently running virtually as part of Building to Break Barriers. We’ve looked at earthquake-proof buildings, protecting against flooding, tunnels, drones and more, and are exploring the effects of the change to meeting online.

More information about Minecraft Club, and its impacts reported here, is available in Hobbs et al. (2020) Shared special interest play in a specific extra-curricular group setting: A Minecraft Club for children with Special Educational Needs, Educational and Child Psychology, 37(4), 81-95.

A Big Success for the Big Beam In

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DETI Inspire hosted a series of online engineering engagement events last week as part of British Science Week celebrations, and we’re pleased to say it was a big success!

The Big Beam In connected 54 primary and secondary schools from across the region with local engineering ambassadors, providing an opportunity to engage over 3500 pupils with engineering careers in the West of England.

A key theme for these sessions was challenging common stereotypes and myths about engineering, and this was achieved through live interactions with real-life local engineers, a new set of curriculum linked teaching resources and the Engineering Curiosity card set.

Kings Oak Academy Primary and Secondary school had a lovely surprise when their classes were joined by engineers who were the inspiration behind two of the cards in the new engineering top trump set.

And children from Cathedral Primary School in Bristol were inspired to design their own inventions after their Big Beam In session with Mechanical Engineer James, who spoke about his PhD and working with robotics, electronics and a big dose of lake science!

Future Engineers, inspired by the Engineering Curiosity card set and teaching resources

Our engineer (James) was excellent. The children were really interested to hear about the projects he has worked on and what his role as an engineer is. They were able to ask him lots of questions and were inspired to design their own inventions after the session!

Becky, Teacher at Cathedral Primary School Bristol

Science Week was certainly very different this year but as always, we were amazed by the adaptability and dedication shown by our teachers, schools and engineering ambassadors. Everyone involved worked hard to make these online sessions the best they could be, providing children in the region an opportunity to share and celebrate science together during their first week back at school.

Thank you so much for joining us for our assembly on Friday. The children got a lot out of it. It’s been very tricky co-ordinating Science Week this year with us not knowing whether we would be open, but it was good to have had something planned from the outset!

Lucy, Year 3 Teacher and Science Lead at Ilminster Avenue E-ACT Academy

And it seems our engineering ambassadors had a lot of fun too!

I enjoyed taking part. I’ve done some STEM events before but up until now I’ve never had the time to present to schools during the day. The virtual format made that possible this time. As much as I dislike lockdown, it does have its silver linings!” – Adam, Acoustic Engineer

Thank you for organising the Big Beam In event, it was so much fun this morning!

Krystina, Senior Flight Systems Engineer

If you would like to know more about DETI Inspire and the STEM outreach opportunities available for schools, local communities and engineers, please get in touch with the team at deti@uwe.ac.uk

DETI is a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), delivered by the National Composites Centre, in partnership with the Centre for Modelling & SimulationDigital Catapult, the University of the West of England, the University of Bristol, and the University of Bath. DETI is funded by £5m from WECA, with co-investment from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and industry.

How do you teach a class of pupils amidst lockdowns and school closures?

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British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) taking place this year between 5-14th March.

Despite the many challenges of taking part in Science Week during a global pandemic, schools around the country have been engaging with celebrations whole-heartedly, ensuring their pupils have the best opportunity possible to celebrate science and its role in society.

And here at UWE Bristol, our student engineers currently studying the Engineering and Society module have been working hard to find new ways of connecting with local schools despite lockdowns, school closures and a whole lot of uncertainty!

The module highlights the importance of professional development, lifelong learning, and the competencies and social responsibilities required in order to be a professional engineer.

Through experience of speaking to different groups of people, including teaching a class of school pupils, the module aims to improve the engineers’ communication skills and enable them to effectively communicate engineering and sustainability concepts to a variety of audiences in the future.

But how to teach a class of pupils during a time of school closures and remote learning?

Our student engineers solved that problem, collaborating with students studying Primary Education at UWE, to create their own set of digital educational resources that could be used remotely by teachers.

An exciting opportunity to gather an insight into engineering allowing us to inspire young minds and create opportunities for the future.

Elizabeth Hadlington, Student in Primary Education, UWE Bristol

Over 50 student engineers recorded a set of videos; the first to introduce themselves to the pupils, the area of engineering they study, their interests, what inspired them to become engineers, and advice about different engineering career pathways.

The second video was more subject-specific, helping teach the pupils some of their curriculum-linked learning using a combination of presentations, demonstrations and follow-along activities.

Here is student engineer Noble, introducing himself to KS1 and having some fun with forces.

Meet Noble, student engineer at UWE Bristol

The students then worked together to create a full package of teaching resources for local schools, including videos, lesson plans and activities. These resource packs are now being shared with the placement schools usually visited by the students of Primary Education, over 40 schools throughout Bristol, to use during British Science Week.

‘Draw an Engineer’ one of the activities from the pack sent to local primary schools

The resources will also be made available to all schools registered to take part in the DETI Inspire event – The Big Beam In for British Science Week, reaching a further 19 schools from across the West of England and over 1600 pupils!

From the feedback coming in so far from all students involved, it looks like the project has been a huge success! We’d like to thank all of the students and schools involved and we’re looking forward to seeing what our local schools make of the resource packs – watch this space for more updates!

Noble had the challenge of creating materials for KS1 which is always tricky especially when it comes to engineering however he quickly overcome this barrier and was able to assess the national curriculum to pinpoint were engineering would fit in.

Noble is a credit to the engineering team! We hope him the best in the future! Thank you for allowing us this opportunity to work with engineers. We have learnt a lot and explored a new way of teaching!

Megan Lili William, Student in Primary Education, UWE Bristol

If you are currently studying or working in an engineering field and would like to know more about the outreach opportunities available, please get in touch with the DETI Inspire team at deti@uwe.ac.uk

Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) is a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), delivered by the National Composites Centre, in partnership with the Centre for Modelling & SimulationDigital Catapult, the University of the West of England, the University of Bristol, and the University of Bath. Industry partners include Airbus, GKN Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, and CFMS, with in kind contributions from UWE, Digital Catapult and Siemens. DETI is funded by £5m from WECA, with co-investment from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and industry.

The Big Beam In for British Science Week

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DETI Inspire at UWE Bristol are running a series of engineering engagement events with local schools during British Science Week this year (5th-14th March) called The Big Beam In for British Science Week and they invite anyone currently studying or working in engineering to take part.

The Big Beam In aims to connect children throughout the South West with real-life engineers and showcase the diversity of engineering, its people, skills and future career opportunities.

The sessions will take place virtually and full lesson plans and guidance are provided to all teachers and engineers taking part. These lessons are themed around DETI Inspire’s latest school resource Engineering Curiosity – a set of top-trump style cards which have been created with engineers across the region.

You can find a sample of the digital card set here.

If you are an engineer and would like to take part in some online outreach and engagement activities with schools in your local area, register your interest using this online form today!

Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) is a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), delivered by the National Composites Centre, in partnership with the Centre for Modelling & SimulationDigital Catapult, the University of the West of England, the University of Bristol, and the University of Bath. Industry partners include Airbus, GKN Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, and CFMS, with in kind contributions from UWE, Digital Catapult and Siemens. DETI is funded by £5m from WECA, with co-investment from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and industry.

UWE Graduate Engineer featured in Prospects case study

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Laura studied for a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of the West of England (UWE) before joining the Bus Engineering graduate scheme at FirstGroup. She recently shared her story in an interview with Prospects, helping students discover what it’s like to be a maintenance engineer.

In the interview Laura speaks about why she chose a career in engineering, a typically male-dominated industry, and gives her insight into how we might increase female representation – through relatable role models and more opportunity for girls to engage with engineering activities at a young age.

Girls also need to see more representation of people that look like them in engineering roles.

She also mentions becoming a member of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) after attending conferences as a student at UWE, and how these experiences helped increase her confidence and develop supportive networks, allowing her to create a women’s engineering society whilst studying for her degree.

Read Laura’s full interview.

The issues raised in Laura’s interview are incredibly important. With women currently representing just 12% of the UK engineering workforce, more needs to be done to encourage and support girls to study and pursue a career in engineering and help retain those women already in the industry.

UWE Bristol’s peer mentoring programme Women Like Me aims to address these issues head on.

Women Like Me pairs mid-career women engineers with junior women engineers, and provides career and public engagement mentoring. As part of the programme, junior engineers deliver engineering engagement activities in local schools and at local public events, providing positive role models for young girls. Through this approach, the project will lead to impact both in the workplace today, and for the future of the engineering profession.

You can read more about the Women Like Me programme in 2021 here.

Connecting local students and engineers with I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here!

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I’m an Engineer is an online STEM engagement and enrichment project that connects students with real engineers online.

And this year, the DETI Inspire team from UWE Bristol have teamed up with I’m an Engineer to show students the positive impacts of digital engineering.

Engineers from across the region are invited to take part in the Youth Engagement with Engineering and Sustainability Summit (YEESS!) to help school students see engineering’s impact on sustainability and the future of our planet.

Together with DETI, I’m an Engineer will run 3 activities for schools in the West of England as part of the DETI Inspire programme.

In March and June 2021 , students can Ask engineers questions, Chat to them in live text-based Chats, and Vote for their favourite engineer to win £500 to put towards further outreach.

In October 2021 , engineers who have taken part in March and June will be given the opportunity to discuss sustainability and engineering with students ahead of COP26 (UN Climate Change Conference) as part of the Youth Engagement with Engineering and Sustainability Summit.

Register your interest now: imanengineer.org.uk/engineers/yeess/

As part of the activity, you can:

  • Help students understand the role engineering has to play in making the world more sustainable
  • Engage school students in the West of England with your work
  • Help students see engineering as something ‘for them’
  • Improve your communication skills

I’m an Engineer is accessible and flexible to fit around your schedule – the Zones take place over 4 weeks, and you can choose to participate in live Chats at a time that suits you. You only need access to a computer or tablet, and Internet access, to take part.

Engineers, sign up to the first activity taking place from the 1st – 26th March here.

I would recommend I’m an Engineer to anyone looking to develop their engagement skills – it really is an invaluable experience

Engineer, Autumn 2020

Still have questions? Drop the team an email at support@imanengineer.org.uk

The Metre Zone (1st-26th March) is funded by the Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation initiative (DETI), as part of the Inspire programme led by the Engineering, Design and Mathematics Department at the University of the West of England (UWE).