Crystals within crystals: The story of sea ice

Lead Research Organisation: Bangor University
Department Name: Sch of Ocean Sciences


2014 is the international year of crystallography, and is an ideal chance to celebrate the subject that has delivered so many outstanding discoveries over the past century. The use of X-rays to examine the structure and properties of crystalline materials is a topic that school students in the UK are relatively unaware of, and we would therefore like to resolve this by offering a public engagement activity for secondary school students.

Our research utilises synchrotron X-ray Powder Diffraction at Diamond Light Source to investigate the mineral dynamics associated with the seasonal growth and melting of sea ice. We aim to use this example of sea ice, and the crystal salts that exist throughout its structure, as an analogue for how X-rays can be used to investigate the world at microscopic levels, which are otherwise inaccessible. We aim to deliver the project as a practical workshop that will last the duration of one school lesson. 1200 year 9,10 and 11 students in North Wales will receive the workshop via 12 school visits, with 4 session at each. The workshop will provide the students with a hands-on insight into crystals, and how their presence can effect the physical properties of materials that we observe. We aim for this intervention to help promote interest in science as a subject, and importantly how X-rays have many exciting scientific applications.

Planned Impact

Successfully marketing the availability of this public engagement project is vital, because if schools are unaware of the service that is available to them, then we will not be able to reach our desired audience. We therefore aim to market the project through several means. Firstly, we will make details of the project available on the Welsh branch of the STEMnet website ( Teachers that are registered on this network are primarily those that already make use of the STEM projects that are available for their students, and will therefore attract their involvement.

In order to try and branch out to schools and science departments that may not already have a strong involvement in STEM activities (either due to not knowing what is on offer, or by lack availability of STEM projects their area), we will target them directly by phone or email. The Head of Science at each of the schools within the area of North Wales that this scheme will cover (~30 mile radius from Bangor) will be contacted and told about what we can offer the students and how it could help spark their interest in STEM subjects.

Methods of sharing the successes of the project have also been considered. We would like to attend public engagement and science communication meetings such as the British Interactive Group's annual 'BIG Event', or the British Science Associations annual 'Science Communication Conference'. These conferences would be a brilliant chance to network with other scientists involved in public engagement. The meetings would also provide us with an opportunity to present details about the project and describe what worked well, so that others can apply the same principles to programmes of their own. Further to this, setting up an online blog about the project will be a way to keep scientists, educators and communicators up to date with what the project offers, where it has been, where it is going, and importantly how to get involved.


10 25 50
Description Although this is not a research grant, information was gathered from teachers at each school visited via questionnaires. The answers from the questionnaires clearly demonstrated that public engagement is viewed positively by both teachers and students. Also, teachers and students alike welcomed the opportunity for the provided interaction, noting that the opportunities for this kind of interaction are limited in North Wales.
Exploitation Route We are now competent in the process required to engage with schools, making any follow-up engagement projects more efficient.
Sectors Education