PhD students visit middle school to demonstrate composites research

Researchers from the University of Bristol’s EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Composites for Innovation and Science led an outreach event for Year 7 students (6th grade) at the Crypt School in Gloucester, England.

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An outreach event was organized to mark the official opening of the Crypt School’s new £1.8 million engineering block and it involved a variety of engineering companies and academic institutions, including EDF, Delphi Diesel Systems, GE Aviation, Renishaw, Royal Navy and the Universities of Bristol and Leicester.

The University of Bristol was represented at the event by staff and students from the ACCIS CDT, the University’s center for composites research and education, which was established in 2009 following a £7.1 million ($11 million) award from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It was the first event of its kind coordinated by the ACCIS CDT’s recently established student-led public engagement committee. The aim was to educate the school’s students about composites and specifically to introduce them to some of the groundbreaking research being done in the ACCIS CDT through a series of talks and hands-on practical activities.

The ACCIS CDT team ran four sessions, each lasting just over an hour, over the course of the day. Each session accommodated 16 students, making a total of 64 participants.

Each session started with introductions from the staff and students, alongside some background information about the university and the CDT. For example, Richard Trask, a reader in multifunctional materials, gave an introduction to composite materials, explaining why and how they are used. Participants were given to chance to test the properties of some composite materials for themselves in a practical experiment led by PhD student Simon Bates.

Two blocks of ice, one reinforced with drinking straws and the other with sawdust, were the test specimens, alongside a benchmark block of pure ice. After hypothesizing how these blocks would react to a hammer blow, participants donned protective equipment and three volunteers enthusiastically tested the three blocks to destruction. The experiment successfully demonstrated how even low volumes of reinforcement can drastically improve the toughness of an otherwise brittle material.

At the end of each session, the student who had contributed the most was given a special prize in the form of a carbon fiber trophy.

“The event went outstandingly well, and this is very encouraging as it was the first active outreach participation of the recently established ACCIS CDT student-led public engagement committee,” said PhD student Giampaolo Ariu, who helped organize the event. “All the kids got involved in the activities with so much curiosity about science and engineering. It reminded me what it feels like to be genuinely passionate about discovering how the world around us works. Hopefully we will see some of them again in CDT in a few years.”