Graphene research students engage the public with science shows
Postgraduate research students on the University’s Graphene NOWNANO CDT programme take part and demonstrate at science festivals, school visits and other public engagement events, to spread the word and inspire the next generation of graphene and 2D materials scientists.
Outreach forms a key part of the programme and is a valuable way for research students to develop their communication and presentation skills through demonstrating and showcasing complex research concepts to a non-scientific audience.
We asked our students to tell us about some of the public engagement activities they’ve taken part in over the last few months.
Students on the programme are invited to deliver a few talks in secondary schools throughout the year. Talks are offered both in person at local schools, and online for schools further afield. These are often small events with a class of pupils or a STEM club group.
Amy Carl, a student on the NOWNANO CDT has attended various school visits along with other students on the programme. Recently Amy visited a school in Oldham, Greater Manchester. Reflecting on the visit Amy said, “we were able to have a good discussion with the pupils about graphene and 2D materials and what studying science is like in higher education. We spoke about our journeys through A-levels and undergraduate courses, as well as what doing a PhD is like. It was interesting to share our experiences and give the pupils some insight into what it’s like working in research.”
Bluedot is a unique combination of music, science, arts, culture and family fun and takes place every year at Jodrell Bank in the presence of the Lovell Telescope. Students run the ‘Discover Graphene’ stand in the hands-on science exhibition where festival-goers can experiment with making their own graphene and see the students’ work at the University and how it impacts daily life.
Thomas Astles was one of the students working on the stand at the festival and commented, “I found it very interesting discussing the ultimate impact of our work at the university and how that fits in with the different experiences of the public. Also, you get to go to the festival for free!”.
An annual event, the University-wide Community Festival, is an opportunity to get hands-on, have fun, and learn more about the plethora of work that takes place at the University.
“I was part of the team running a stand representing graphene research across the University”, said CDT student Amy Carl. “We ran lots of activities, from graphene tape exfoliation to building large models of graphene, and we showed a variety of commercially available products made with graphene. It’s a really good way to talk with different people from the local area about our research and to showcase the work that we do at Manchester.”
ScienceX at Oldham Library
The Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University held a small ScienceX event recently at Oldham Library. Our NOWNANO CDT students were there representing the graphene research community in Manchester. They spent their day with children, their parents and carers, exfoliating graphite and looking for graphene flakes under the microscope.
“Smaller events such as this one seem very effective at sharing knowledge like ‘What is graphene?’, but also more holistic information like ‘What does a researcher do?’ or ‘How can I become a researcher?’. This event was dedicated to local communities who don’t often interact with researchers, which I believe made the event even more worthwhile”, commented student Hugo De Latour.
“ScienceX is a community-centred event which took place at Manchester Central Library during the October half-term. This year (2022) there was a great turnout with a constant stream of people coming to the stand”, said CDT student Hannah Burnett.
“Most visitors to the Graphene@Manchester stand were Primary school-aged children who were very keen to make their own graphene! They enjoyed learning about graphene and 2D materials by drawing with a rock of graphite, exfoliating graphene with sticky tape, and solving a heterostructure puzzle that involved stacking coloured layers so that they fit together.”
Hannah added, “It was also fun to discuss the current and future applications of graphene with the parents and other members of the science community, which often involved showing off the famous bright green graphene trainers. Hopefully this event inspired some future scientists!”