Dec 10

Next generation engineers

What happens when 110 Year 4 & 5 Primary School children meet a 1,000 mph car?

Last week I was lucky enough to give a talk at a local (Bristol, UK) Primary School about the Bloodhound Supersonic Car (Bloodhound SSC) project. I signed up as a 1K supporter pretty much as the scheme launched (Aug 2009) and as an Ambassador shortly after that. Having done a couple of STEM / Bloodhound Ambassador events and activities, this was my first Primary School and first solo talk.

The pupils at the school had been making their own cars and were keen to know more about how Bloodhound SSC is being made. As a mechanical engineer by first degree, it was an excellent opportunity to talk with the children and pass on some of my passion for engineering!!

One of the great innovative technologies being used with Bloodhound SSC is the use of composite fibres in the monocoque shell that houses Andy Green & the HTP (High Test Peroxide) tank. While a primary school probably doesn’t have access to carbon fibre and autoclaves, they do use papier-mâché (which is a composite material) – so I could legitimately say they were using the same basic engineering technologies as Bloodhound SSC!

I also had the opportunity to show a video of some of the high speed machining that Hanson’s are undertaking for the space frame. While there was no direct link to what they’re doing in the classroom, I wanted to show them actual metal cutting and the preparation needed before you slam £25k of spindle into aircraft grade aluminium.

I had a couple of key things to communicate (mainly around what engineers do, and the level of teamwork and cooperation needed in modern engineering challenges), plus lots of facts & figures about the car itself.  I had to decide what to start with to engage with the children, and keep them engaged for 30min. The animation of Bloodhound SSC racing a Eurofighter is great for this – it’s high tempo and has lots of reference points that helped keep momentum through the talk.

Bloodhound SSC – by a Year 5 student

I followed this with some background details on the car, fortunately the Education Team at Bloodhound SSC make all this stuff available for Ambassadors. We just need to pick it up and flesh out the narrative, and make it appropriate to the audience. At each point when I started to talk about fabricating the structure, or the composite shell – I could pull up a video from BHTV (Bloodhound Television) to illustrate what I was talking about.

I ended the presentation with the video of the rocket test in Newquay on 3 Oct 2012. A really great high point to end on!

After about 30min presentation, I was then bombarded with questions; such as “Why was there all that water when they were cutting the metal bits out?”, and “Why does Andy Green wear a crash helmet?”

Communicating effectively is critical to success in any field; engineering, business, primary school teaching. Having a clear message, sound facts, and a simple presentation really helps tell the story, whether it’s an investor pitch or a class of 8-10 year olds!

That’s (part of) what I do; clarify objectives & ambitions, into plans & narratives, that can be communicated & acted upon.

[In the slide deck below, the blank slides linked to the Bloodhound / Eurofighter race (not officially available), BHTV Episodes 1, 15 and 17]
[slideshare id=15575330&doc=bloodhoundschoolevent-121210124940-phpapp02]

May 26

Social Cemetery anyone?

A couple of years ago (whilst at Science City Bristol) I was fortunate enough to have a tangential involvement in BioBlitz 2009 out at Ashton Court and to be able to consolidate that support the following year, focusing on their innovative social media activities. Since then Bristol BioBlitz has gone from strength to strength; and from Ashton Court, to Blaise Castle (2010), to Tyntesfield (2011) and this year Arnos Vale Cemetery.

That success has been amplified by the national explosion of BioBlitz’s, most of which have implicitly or explicitly linked back to Bristol’s success and approach. Just to be clear, the first BioBlitz was in 1996 and was part of the US National Parks Service, but isn’t ‘owned’ by anyone. In the same ethos, the UK national BioBlitz network might be hosted by Bristol Natural History Consortium (BNHC), but it’s an open and inclusive network. The real success of the BNHC is in being able to innovate faster and ‘better’ than anyone else.

The BNHC are constantly on the lookout for new ideas and excel at absorbing and transforming those ideas into their own innovations. They’re also extremely good at executing on those innovations so that everyone has a fantastic day out. All of which means they can be open about those ideas and share their experiences widely, knowing that they’re already working on the next one. That open sharing is a key strength; search for bioblitz (I just did using Firefox & Bing – a combination I almost never use) and Bristol’s BioBlitz features 3 times in the top 10, in positions 2,3 and 6; second only to the Wikipedia entry! The US National Parks (the originators of the idea remember) are in 4th place. Sharing your innovations works!

What else have we learned? Well, hedgehogs have footprints that look a lot like little tiny hands (see above). And that doormice can hollow out an acorn forming a ‘cup’ with an almost perfectly smooth rim. And that there at at least 454 different species of animal living in Arnos Vale Cemetery!

That’s the great thing about Bristol BioBlitz, a social day out and you can learn lots (not just about natural history). What’s not to like?

Until next year