Bio-engineering workshops inspire young scientists

Contamination Clues, Plant Power, Brilliant Bacteria and Funky Fungi, were just some of the subjects on offer at Groby School, Leicestershire in July 2016. Academics from the CL4W Project (Cleaning Land for Wealth) delivered the innovative workshops to pupils in year 8, to demonstrate how bio-engineering can be applied to clean contaminated land and recover valuable resources. The students were able to see first-hand how scientists from leading Universities are working together to solve real-world problems.

STEM bio-engineering workshop - pupils investigate what soil is comprised ofThroughout the day, students were given the opportunity to explore what is in our soil, and how different scientific methods – including bio-engineering – can be applied to clean contaminants from the land. The hands-on activities included using Lego bricks to show how bacteria can be used to extract metals contaminating the environment, observing how plants like celery take up materials out of the earth, dissecting mushrooms to find out more about the role of fungi in cleaning biomass, and investigating the causes of land contamination in the UK.

The day culminated in the students giving presentations on their findings to the academics.

Teacher Jennifer Scott said: “Students and staff really enjoyed the day. It was perfectly pitched for the work we have been doing on bacteria and decomposition as well as phyto-mining and sustainability.”

Young scientist take part in STEM bio-engineering workshop The (CL4W) project involves collaborators from five leading UK Universities -Warwick, Edinburgh,  Birmingham, Newcastle and Cranfield and is funded the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The aim of the project to use plants as a way to clean land that has been contaminated by industrial or other processes, and to develop processes to recover high value products.

“Delivering the workshop was very enjoyable and as a result, I have a lot more respect for 14 year olds, in terms of their scientific understanding and their adoption of quite complex scientific concepts,” said Dr Michael Capeness from Edinburgh University.

Photos courtesy Nick Rawle Photography

CLEVER academics Tap into Science

Bath Taps into Science is an award winning science festival held by the University of Bath. This focuses on enthusing young children and the general public about science and engineering.

Children playing the mobile phone operation gameResearchers from the CLEVER Project saw this event as a great opportunity to test the engagement activities devised by the team for children and families – including a 3D printed mobile phone, the “Operation” Game and the CLEVER App.

One of the main events during the festival was the Schools Science Fair where over 1,400 primary school children had the opportunity to meet academics and scientists and try hands-on activities with real science and engineering.

The other main event was the Family Science Fair held in Bath city centre to promote science and engineering to members of the passing public.

The team found that the activities were very successful in encouraging the audiences to get involved and to persuade them to think further about electronic waste and the valuable components that need to be recovered for a sustainable future.

Dr Álvaro Cruz-Izquierdo, Research Associate at the University of Bath said:

 “This was a really good opportunity to test the 3D printed phone, the “Operation” game and the App at a large scale event. The game in particular was an absolute success, as it provided us with a great opportunity to talk with school children about the components of a mobile phone. The App was also very popular – people were able to see the issues related to e-waste, and mobiles in particular. “

Screen shot of the CLEVER appThis was the first time that the CLEVER App had been piloted, and it gave the team the opportunity to garner some valuable feedback, and make some minor moderations before the next public engagement event.

Alvaro added: “Before the event, I was afraid about whether the activities would be appropriate for the age of the children attending the event. But I was impressed with their curiosity and how they got involved and engaged.”

SPEED event – how plants can bring land back to life

Bringing land contaminated by heavy industry is going to be a priority in the future, as we need to address issues surrounding future food production, environmental protection and energy crops.

Symposium at RICS - discussing how plants can help reclaim contaminated land

On 19 April 2016, the first International Symposium on Phytoremediation for Energy and Element Developments (SPEED) was held at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in London.

Leading international researchers explored the research challenges of using plant technologies to bring contaminated land back into use. The experts looked at the economic and policy drivers for using this technology to not only clean land, but also ways in which valuable metals currently causing pollution can be reclaimed.

International Symposium - taking questions on how plants can reclaim contaminated land

Global estimates indicate that there is over 400 million hectares of abandoned land unsuitable for agriculture due to contamination by toxic metals. The symposium brought together leading researchers working in this area to develop a future vision for this sector and discussed the innovative technologies arising from their work.

Find out how scientists from the CL4W project are researching how to use plants to clean contaminated land while reclaiming valuable metals.


Racing kayak put to the test

A team of academics are creating a high performance racing kayak out of recycled carbon fibre and entering the International Canoe Race this Easter.

Dr Gary Leeke from EXHUME is leading a team of scientists and engineers to make a kayak out of fibre reinforced composite materials, which is believed to be a world first.

Kayak being made from recycled compositesGary is so confident in the processes of creating the material, he will be putting his money where his mouth is, and racing the kayak 125 miles non-stop in the International Canoe Race with his teammate Professor Liam Grover.

The International Canoe Race starts in Devizes, Wiltshire, finishing just downstream of Westminster Bridge in central London, opposite the Houses of Parliament. The race, which has 77 portages, is a test of planning, skill as well as physical and mental stamina and is a major event in the sporting calendar.

Gary is an enthusiastic paddler and wanted to showcase that the kayak his team has created, can withstand the toughest of races. The International Canoe race is compared with climbing Everest.

Composites are very difficult to recycle and the team at the University of Birmingham has developed a technique using a process called solvolysis. They have created a material from recycled composites, which is as strong as the original, unmodified material.

Gary said: “The kayak is only two to three millimetres thick. The material is light, extremely strong and hardwearing. It can be used in a huge number of applications as well as high performance sporting goods as demonstrated by our kayak.

“We are excited to be putting the material to the test with the creation of the kayak. By racing it myself, with my teammate Liam, we will know first hand how suitable the material is.”

The material has been created to illustrate that composites can be recycled and used in manufacturing processes with industry. Recycled composites could have a large part to play in the future of manufacturing within industries such as automotive, renewable energy and construction.

There is a huge need to do this as the majority of composites are currently sent to landfill. This is becoming an increasing burden on the environment and it is expected that by 2025 it will be illegal to send composites to landfill in the UK.

Watch an interview with Gary


CLEVER academics run STEM workshops

Academics from the CLEVER project delivered a day of STEM workshops in March 2016, designed to consider the environmental and social challenges of electronic products in today’s ‘throw-away’ society.

A group of 30 key stage three students – all girls – from the Madani School, Evington, Leicester took part in the event.

CLEVER STEM Outreach Event at the Madani Schools Federation in Leicester
CLEVER STEM Outreach Event at the Madani Schools Federation in Leicester

Throughout the day the students and academics worked together in a range of innovative workshops focused on e-waste reduction and mobile phones. Sessions included designing mobile phone skins, investigating economically recyclable components for mobile phones and discussing the value of discarded mobile phone items. The students were also challenged to consider how people might be encouraged to keep hold of devices via the use of new materials which age, in much the same way as leather.

Dr Debra Lilley from Loughborough University said: “The day was fantastic and it was great to involve the students in the challenge of designing more sustainable products and services. We hope that these projects will ignite the interest of young people in studying STEM subjects in the future.”

CLEVER STEM workshopThe day was part of a series of outreach events designed to engage interest, especially of girls, in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths. It was delivered by the CLEVER team, a group of academics from Loughborough University and the Universities of Bath, Newcastle, Surrey, Oxford and Cardiff whose research activity is focused on what to do with electronic waste as smart phones and tablets become ever more popular. The work of the CLEVER team has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Dr Garrath Wilson, also from Loughborough University added: “I think I can safely say on behalf of all those that took part that it far exceeded our expectations.  Both the staff and students were amazingly welcoming and genuinely interested in all the workshops and the CLEVER concept. The highlight for me though was when a group of students wrote and sang us a song about mobile phones and resource efficiency !”