National Science and Engineering Week – What lives in a drop of water?

Students Olivia Cooke and Ioanna Stamataki represented the WISE CDT as part of National Science and Engineering Week in March 2017, which cultivates the awareness of science in the UK. Academics within universities are continually encouraged to think about the potential impact of their research. Sometimes this includes public engagement.

Their event was all about inspiring agile young minds in two primary schools, with an imaginative workshop called “What lives in a drop of water?” The pupils were introduced to freshwater microbiology by using microscopes to look at the zooplankton that are easily found in pond water.

Olivia explained their reaction when they both announced that they study ‘Water’ “This seemed to confuse them at first. We then each briefly introduced our own work in a slide to show the wide range of work we do within ‘water’. We found ourselves challenged trying to explain our work and engage a completely different audience, but that is what made it interesting!” The children were excited to discover what lies within pond water. “One child found a water flea trapped in an air bubble and another type of species of zooplankton we hadn’t seen before in the lake; we still need to research what it really was. All the kids felt like a “real scientist” and wanted to discover something new under the microscopes- they were even giving names to their new discoveries.”

The enthusiasm the children had for the activity reminded Olivia and Ioanna that while doing research is vital, it is also very important to also promote work through outreach with different audiences.  Ioanna said “It was interesting to show them that a scientist is not someone dressed in a white lab coat with crazy hair. At the end of the workshop we were happy to have a few converts to water research, with a few children declaring they wanted to do this when they grow up and come to the University of Bath!”

Following this, Olivia and Ioanna are planning more outreach activities at different events during the Festival of Nature in June, including an “augmented reality sandbox”. With this, they hope to teach different geographic and hydrologic concepts through topography models.

WISE CDT Director, Professor Savic, said “This workshop was win-win: Olivia and Ioanna learnt at first-hand the importance of presenting their work in an engaging manner to the public, whilst it is invaluable for children at an early age to have role models in science and engineering”.