Further 18 months of funding for University’s Materials: Live!’ science and engineering initiative

An innovative Swansea University outreach and engagement project, which introduces the wonder of materials science and engineering to entertain, enthuse and educate potential scientists and engineers of the future, has received significant Welsh Government funding.

Materials Live 1The Materials: Live! project, which is led by Dr Richard Johnston and Dr Ian Mabbett from Swansea University’s Materials Research Centre, based in the College of Engineering, will run until March 31, 2015.

The project value is over £150,000, partly funded through the Welsh Government National Science Academy (NSA) Grants Scheme, with additional support from the College of Engineering’s Sustainable Product Engineering Centre for Innovative Functional Industrial Coatings (SPECIFIC) and Centre Of Advanced Training for Engineering Doctorates (COATED) projects and associated industrial partners.

COATED students as well as materials science and engineering undergraduates are encouraged to develop their communication skills by devising and delivering outreach activities as STEM ambassadors.

The Materials Live! project was founded in November 2012 and operated initially as part of a seven month pilot scheme through NSA funding.

This enabled Dr Ian Mabbett, Technology Transfer Fellow with the SPECIFIC project, to develop links with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths (STEM) providers and build a network with schools and colleges in Wales who would benefit from enhanced understanding of smart materials and the materials science and engineering industries around Wales. Materials: Live! now forms the foundation for the large Materials Academy training and research initiative.

The funding also enabled the team to develop materials demonstrations, free touring lecture shows, hands on workshops at science festivals, while also facilitating visits to the Materials Research Centre at the University’s Singleton Park campus, and the laboratories and pilot line of the SPECIFIC project at the Baglan Bay Innovation and Knowledge Centre.

This additional round of funding will build on the success of the initial Materials: Live! project, enabling the expansion of the existing free outreach and engagement activities and demonstrations.

The project will deliver curriculum-tied inspiration in materials and information on relevant careers in Wales for pupils and students aged six to 18 years (Key Stages 1-4, and post-16 FE), to enthuse and excite with STEM subjects and inspire to study STEM further.

MATERIALS LIVE 2Plans also include the expansion of the scope to include professional development for teachers, providing the tools to teach smart materials aspects to the curriculum, based on feedback from teachers who participated in the project’s pilot scheme.

Dr Ian Mabbett, Materials: Live! Public Engagement Manager, said: “In Wales there is a strong and proud materials science and engineering heritage, with many manufacturing processes pioneered here”.

“A shortfall of materials students and graduates will impact on the future ability of our workforce to meet the demands of a global economy, so we need to do something to address this now.”

Materials: Live! is a progressive project which seeks to raise the profile of materials science and engineering in an engaging, relevant and exciting way for pupils and teachers, and much has been achieved through the initial pilot project. The initial Materials: Live! project enabled 310 pupils to visit our facilities, with a further 1269 visited by our ambassadors. Footfall at the large STEM events exceeded 75,000 people.

“This additional funding will enable us to adapt and build on this foundation work and we will also look at how we can build on our collaborations with many other organisations to develop a coherent STEM message, which we hope will ultimately have beneficial results for the future. We can also offer encouragement and partnership with other groups who are motivated to bid for these types of projects.”

The project’s activities will be expanded to include 12 visits to the University and/or SPECIFIC facilities, with an average 30 pupils attending per visit, and 30 schools, colleges, afterschool clubs visited by the project’s ambassadors.

Materials: Live! will seek to build meaningful partnerships with AS/A-Level classes, allowing them the opportunity to access the University’s laboratories, providing skills and resources to carry out some of their course project work.

Dr Richard Johnston, Director of Materials: Live!, Senior Lecturer in Materials Science and Engineering at Swansea University, and a British Science Association Media Fellow said: “We hear from children, about how they want to be an engineer when they grow up and to work on 3D printing or fixing people. It’s heartening to see children inspired by the magnificent science and engineering that enriches our lives every day.”

The Materials: Live! team will also have a presence at, amongst others, the GwyddonLe science pavilion the Urdd Eisteddfod; the Cardiff Science Festival; the Cheltenham Science Festival (which although held in England, is considered one of the best science festivals in the world and this year has dedicated areas with advanced materials theme); and Big Bang Cymru.

To keep up to date with news from the Materials: Live! project visit Materials Academy YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/MaterialsAcademy, or follow the project on Twitter @materials_live.


Image 1: A Materials: Live! demonstration at a Teen Tech event. Dr Ian Mabbett inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers. Photo: Christian Fisher.

Image 2: A Materials: Live! demonstration at a Teen Tech event. Photo: Christian Fisher.