Labs at Queen Mary, next to the fair
The fun of the science fair
By Angela Saini
With fewer young people choosing science careers, the Young Scientists and Engineers Fair is trying to show how interesting a life in the lab can be
Fifteen-year-old Patrick Burns, Britain’s young engineer of the year, stands proudly next to a beeping, brightly flashing hazard light. “My dad is a fireman and he told me about the accidents that can happen when people break down on dark country lanes. So I invented this light to help drivers spot cars in the dark,” he says.
He has joined dozens of young researchers for the British Association’s annual Young Scientists and Engineers fair at the Centre of the Cell at Queen Mary, University of London, in Whitechapel, marking the start of National Science and Engineering Week.
Young Engineer, Patrick Burns
A survey by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) recently revealed that only a third of 15-year-olds want to study science after secondary school
But the British Association is optimistic. "I think there’s a sense of excitement at events like this, which is so encouraging for young scientists," says Annette Smith, Director or Regions at the British Association.
"I want to be an engineer," says 14-year-old Peter Briggs from Derby. "If there aren't people doing engineering then aircrafts and other things won't get built." He has helped to build a prototype linkage and lever mechanism for a set of stairs that can turn into a ramp, for disable access.
Seventeen-year-olds, Nicole Lynch and Aoife White, from Northern Ireland, has researched which tomato sauces have the most lycopene, a red pigment that has been proven to be a powerful antioxidant. "We were just sitting in chemistry club doing research. I can't believe we've come so far and that our results are actually scientifically valid and useful," says Nicole.
A young engineers club from London
Despite having made it as far as the Young Science Fair with his research into plant fertilisers, fifteen-year-old Alex Pegler from Cheshire says that he is not convinced he will choose a career in the lab. "I might go into marketing or study English. I'm not sure science is my strong side," he admits.
A dirty, smelly job?
Despite the fun of the fair, getting more young people to choose science subjects has been a major challenge. In January 2008, the government committed £140 million to support science in schools and train more teachers.
Caitlin Watson from the Institute of Physics says, "Children respond really well to the 'wow' factor. We go to events like this to show that science is relevant to people's lives." The national Researchers in Residence scheme similarly attempts to raise enthusiasm about science and engineering, by placing university researchers in schools.
"The challenge is the perception of what engineering is," says David Lakin from Young Engineers, which holds after-school clubs. "People think it is a dirty, smelly job. But we show them that engineering relates to everything around us."
To hear some interesting views on science and young people from Annette Smith, the Director of Regions at the British Association, click on the audio link at the top right of the page.
last updated: 12/03/2008 at 14:38