Engaging teenagers in science by the 'back door'

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Chemistry


We have chosen to address the issue of communicating the excitement and value of UK scientific research to the general public (primarily 13-18 years olds currently 'turned off' by science) by training 40 young PhD scientists with public engagement skills and providing a supportive structured programme in which they will undertake TWO follow-up public engagement events either in groups or individually. To test the feasibility of the planned approach we were awarded an EPSRC grant ('Explaining the Chemistry/Biology Interface: Networking and Evaluation Phase,' EP/D504503/1) to prepare for this current proposal. This grant provided funds to construct and deliver a customised training course in 'science communication'. The award holders consulted widely and ultimately developed the course in collaboration with the Science Communication Group (SCG) at Imperial College. Two successful prototype courses have been delivered to 2nd year PhD students registered at the Imperial and Warwick Doctoral Training Centres. The ingenuity and enthusiasm exhibited by the PhD students on our prototype training programmes was remarkable and is reflected in the quality of the output. We are therefore confident that we have a successful template that can be developed for a wider audience of young scientists near the beginning of their careers. SCG has readily agreed to partner the applicants in expanding the course to include two specific public engagement tasks as a follow-up for each participant and support them as they execute it. The coupling of the existing training course with this second phase of public engagement is the focus of this current proposal. On the 28th of November 2007 we staged a pilot 'CSI event', staged at the Ricoh Coventry City Football Club, in collaboration with AstraZeneca, the Coventry Business and Education Partnership, Warwick University Chemistry Department and Finham Secondary School. We chose to focus our event on children who were currently not 'turned on' by science but were more interested in other areas such as the media. All twenty children could name three footballers but not name three scientists! The event was run by staff who had had previously undertaken the Imperial 'Science Communication Course'. The primary aim was to determine if the Imperial Science Communication Course would prove adequate training to stage this type of public engagement event. The school children were arranged in two groups of ten and given a role (e.g. Policeman, Reporter, Scientist) and were exposed to a mixture of analytical science via presentations, film and hands on experience. They were then introduced to a 'murder scene' and had to collect appropriate evidence (DNA, trace-residue etc.), interview suspects, analyse the evidence, work as a team, solve the murder and construct a newspaper article. Thus children whose main interest lay outside of science were able to take an active role during the event (i.e. taking the role of journalist). These children were exposed to the science 'clandestinely' as they needed to play an active role in understanding the science in order to make their relevant newspaper article. The success of this event has proved to us that we can deliver successful public engagement events based upon the training obtained from Imperial media course.To this end we propose a two phase programmePhase 1: Deliver two training courses (following the successful model already piloted under EPSRC grant EP/D504503/1);Phase 2: Set TWO specific public engagement tasks for each participant and support them as they execute it. These will include 7 days of events with the Coventry Business and Education Partnerships, 10 events with the Imperial Researchers in Residence Scheme, 3 events with the Royal Society of Chemistry, 40 science blogs and press releases and 8 students focussing on the preparation of short videos and pod-casts to support these events.


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