The IET launch #LittleEngineers

The IET have just launched a lovely campaign called Engineer a Better World.  There is also a great accompanying video which encourages children to remain curious and inquisitive.  As the video plays, children are seen stopping and wondering about objects in the world around them.  Although both boys and girls are shown, one of its key messages is that girls and boys can be engineers. It also highlights that 0nly 6% of engineers in the UK are female.

The video is focused on primary school aged children, which is a good idea. This is the age when we should be starting to share ideas about careers with children, and more importantly, parents.

I would also encourage you to read the accompanying report about the IET research into perceptions and understanding of engineering.  Key points from the report are:

Fewer than half of parents of girls would encourage their children to consider a career in engineering, compared to two thirds of parents of boys. More than half of parents feel that engineering careers are more for boys, and children’s views are largely similar.

Two thirds of parents don’t feel they know enough to help their child if asked for advice on engineering – although the majority said they would like to know more after being shown additional information about careers in engineering and technology.

By involving parents earlier in the careers process they too can promote and feel more equipped to advise their children.  If a parent thinks engineering is ‘just’ about fixing engines its understandable why they are not promoting these options to their daughters.  If parents know about the many areas of engineering, the creativity and opportunities it can offer, they may be more inclined to encourage their daughters to become engineers.

Starting careers information and advice earlier allows children and parents more chance to find out about a wider variety of different careers.  At the moment, these conversations occur at about the same time as young people are making choices about GCSEs and concentrating on exams (and their social life).  Careers advice should be a much more sustained process over years of careers discussions and practical investigations, with emphasis placed on the skills and attributes needed to be successful in different careers.

This video, and the campaign by the IET, is a step in the right direction.

Experiment Zone Launch

Our partners the Centre for Life today launched their new Experiment Zone – a space for exploration and practical science. We were delighted to be there to join the celebrations, and see CBBC science specialist Fran Scott doing her thing:

Experiment Zone Launch 1

The purpose of the event, though, was to see the new zone in action. It’s a laboratory space, but not as you know it. OK, so it looks a little like a lab space in this photo:

Experiment Zone: picture #NorthNewsAndPictures/2daymedia

Experiment Zone: picture #NorthNewsAndPictures/2daymedia

…but when you see it in person you’ll realise it’s not like any lab you’ve seen. Life have some more details about it, but our advice is to head to Life and experience it yourself.

Experiment Zone opens to the public from Friday 3rd April.

Evolution CPD

Think Physics, in conjunction with Reading University, is hosting a free CPD session aimed at primary science teachers.

The session will take place on Tuesday 21 April 2015 from 16:30 until 18:30 in Think Lab at Northumbria University.

Light refreshments will be available from 16:00.

The session will be delivered by Chris Hatcher from the University of Reading.

Session outline

fossil fishEvolution and Inheritance will become part of the statutory Science Curriculum for Year 6 students from September 2015. This session will show you ways to bring these tricky concepts to life through hands-on investigations and activities. The team at Reading have developed lesson plans designed to maintain children’s enthusiasm and progress their understanding of evolution while working scientifically. Many of these resources are free to access on their website, and additional resources will be provided in the session. The session also addresses common concerns teachers have about teaching evolution in the classroom and will suggest ways to respond to children’s and parents’ questions.

For more information, please see the Primary Evolution Project,

Sign up to the CPD by using this EventBrite link:

Directions to Think Lab can be found here. We look forward to seeing you in April!

Your Universe: Explored

Explore your UniverseOne of the projects Think Physics is partnered with is Explore Your Universe, a national campaign celebrating the physical sciences and run by the Association for Science & Discovery Centres and the Science and Technology Facilities Council. We’re delivering a range of workshops and activities, and on Saturday we capped off a frenetic  British Science Week by hosting a family science show here in Think Lab:

This was the first time we’ve used Think Lab as a performance space like this, and it seemed to work pretty well. Thanks to everyone who came, and we’ll keep you posted on future public events.


Solar Eclipse and Physics in Perspective

We’ve had a predictably hectic first British Science Week here in Think Lab and around the region. We’ll catch up with reporting next week once we’ve had a bit of a lie down in a darkened room, but speaking of darkened: you might have noticed the solar eclipse this morning.

We were out on the Northumbria campus greeting sixth-form and college students arriving for our Physics in Perspective enrichment event. Here are a few snapshots from the morning – during and after the eclipse.

Work with us?

Think Physics is looking for another Outreach Specialist in Secondary education to work with the current team and extend the range of activities we can offer to secondary schools.

We’re looking for someone who wants to share a love of physics (and other STEM subjects) with others, who is determined to make a difference in the lives of the young people they work with, and who can communicate complex ideas in simple ways.  If that’s you, then we’d love to hear from you.

It’s important for you to know that we are a very flexible team, and so you need to be prepared to ‘muck-in’ with the many different aspects of Think Physics.

The post will be part-time (0.4 FTE) and a fixed term one-year contract.

For more details visit the University Jobs page.

Application deadline: 12 noon on 8th April 2015

Partnership working

Although the Think Physics project is led by Northumbria University, it is a partnership between 10 different organisations.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of spending time supporting teachers from one of our partners, North Tyneside Learning Trust.  I was leading a session for primary school teachers about levers, pulleys and gears – which are in the new National Curriculum.

We sorted household objects, created three sorts of catapults, and played with pulleys.  I suspect that I may have lost at least one pingpong ball in the classroom!

The materials from the session are available in here.

2015-03-10 16.26.21

Work Experience Diary: Sam Rees

My name is Sam Rees and I am an A-level student from Whitley Bay High School doing a week of work experience here at Think Physics.

Sam was with us from 23rd-27th February. This is his placement diary – Jonathan.

Day one:

My first day: I was very excited to get a real insight into the daily work and life of a member of its team. Nervously I wandered through the, what seemed like, maze of corridors and doorways until I finally arrived at the Think Physics floor. I was then greeted by Annie as I arrived and led to the desk and laptop I would surely be using a lot throughout the week. To my surprise in the office I saw that Jamie, the other work experience member, was sitting in the office, and so I felt reassured that I would have someone just as new as I was in the colossal university. I then met Emma who gave me and Jamie a chance to share some information about ourselves and get to know the department a little better.

I knew that it was going to be a fun week as it was very friendly and made me feel right at home from the off. She then gave us a rundown of what our week would entail: electrical engineering lab sessions, lectures on the core principles of physics and much more. I then set off on my first task which was to create a physics quiz for kids that included a lot of wacky and fun questions, admittedly I found this hard as I felt like the content I was using was a lot harder than the level the kids would be at. I also got a chance to talk to a few more members of the team: Joe and Jonathan who were very warming and made the office a lot more fun. Before I knew it lunchtime had arrived, I travelled down to Granger market with Jamie and bought some food to fill me up for the rest of the day. We then ambled up to the university and headed back to the Think Physics office (it didn’t feel like much of a maze this time) and finished completing the quiz. The whole day was very relaxed as I found my feet in what first felt like a daunting environment, however it was far from daunting once I got going.

Day two:

Sam work experience 3Still excited. I made my way up the long flight of stairs to the office and sat down to be told what my activities for the day would be. To my delight I was told I would be participating in an electronics practical activity all day where I would get to learn a lot of new things and try some new practical skills. I headed down with Jamie to the workshops and labs where there were a lot of workshops with exciting and cool looking experiments and practical’s going on in them. I heading into the lab that I was going to be working in and got started on my task which was to create a pair of speakers that could be used. I started by soldering on the components to the circuit board; my soldering skills were a little bit rusty but I had got the hang of it again in no time.

I had to learn a new skill, unsoldering which was a little tricky to do but I still persevered and managed it in the end. After a little longer on the project we took a break and David showed us some of the renewable energy sources of the school including two wind turbines and some solar panels. Soon it was lunch time and I headed down to the Mexican food bar ‘Zapatista’ that everyone had been raving about, and it’s fair to say I can understand why it’s popular. Jamie and I headed back to the lab to continue with our project and started making the cabinet for the speaker to be housed in to ensure that the most efficient sound was being produced. We finally got the sound just right and it turned out by coincidence the holes David had drilled were near perfect size to allow the best sound quality. So with that I got my speakers screwed in and proceeded to test them out with my iPhone the result was some fairly decent speakers that I had made completely on my own. I really enjoyed the day and can’t wait to be back in tomorrow.

Day three:

I felt completely settled in, I headed down to the lab where I would be doing practicals with Pietro and Gary, I received a lab script and chose an experiment to do. It was very interesting to see some of the topics we had been covering in class back at school being measured and tested in the lab script; some of it however did seem to look a little bit more complicated than what I had seen before.

The experiment I decided to do was one based upon the diffraction of light from a laser. It was an interesting experiment because it showed the phase difference of the light waves as they travelled from the laser to the screen. Jonathan then showed up to tell me that if I wanted I could go with him and Emma to a Northumbrian water sewage works, not the most glamorous place but I thought it would be a good experience…. I was right.

Northumbria WaterWe arrived at the works after having a little bit of a struggle to find its location, to see that Emma and the woman we would be interviewing were already waiting for us. We received some rather funny boots and a coat to wear as we were expecting to film the interview outside where we needed to obey health and safety rules. Laura gave us a tour of the site where we learned a lot of new facts that we wouldn’t have ever expected, such as: the water only takes 8 hours to be fully cleaned and put back in the river; this was very surprising as I thought it would take a lot longer. Next we moved onto the filming, I was holding up the microphone as Jonathan filmed and Emma asked the questions. This turned out to be a lot harder than I may have thought at first! The trip to the water works was extremely interesting and I had a great time, I never knew somewhere like that would be so interesting.

Day four:

The penultimate day of my placement and I was thoroughly enjoying it so far, I got into the office and saw that the two members of the team that I had not yet met, Sarah and Carol, were in so it was very nice meeting them. There were four very large boxes in the office and to my surprise Sarah told me that I would be with her making a rollercoaster out of K’Nex. We opened one of the boxes and looked at what seemed to be an ocean of small plastic components. We were set the seemingly impossible task of assembling a rollercoaster from no more than a few more small dark pictures of the finished product we were meant to have.

Sam work experience 2‘Where do we start?’ I thought looking around at all the different colours. However we soon got into the flow of things and had one of the parts assembled in about an hour, we then had to build the base of the roller coaster which proved even more difficult as the photo we had to work from was very small and a little blurry. So this is where me and Jamie used our skills and created our own base that would hold up the structure. Within 15 minutes we had a very sturdy base which we attached to the roller coaster. It was the moment of truth, would our beautifully coloured roller coaster work, we brought Jonathan in to film as we sent a small ball down, it had worked! This meant that we could now disassemble it and create instructions so that children could make it up when they used it in a workshop. We then got chatting with Jonathan and physics student volunteer Andrew about the physics around the roller coaster. It seemed like what looked like a simple plastic toy wasn’t so simple at all when it came down to the physics of it.

Later that day Jamie wasn’t feeling so good so unfortunately he went home. I then started working on a task Emma had set me which was to look up school prospectuses and decide whether or not they had a good section about taking physics as an A-level. While I was doing this task I couldn’t help but notice what Andrew was doing… he seemed to be using some sort of device plugged in to his laptop that would give him a set of results which he could then plot. Jonathan then explained to me that he was planning to use Arduinos with a number of swinging pendulums and see what happens when he set them up to some sounds or lights, and whether the phase difference would create something melodic and soft, or something rather unorganised and disrupted. That is what Andrew was working on; he had some trouble but he eventually came bursting into the office rather excitedly saying ‘I’ve got it to work!’, he explained he still had a few slight problems but it was doing what he intended and was very pleased.

Soon it was time to go home and I was very happy with my day it was again a very fun and exciting one. That is what I love about being here, not one of my days has been the same, as I have been doing a selection of fun and exciting things each day.

Day five:

Sadly it is my final day at Think Physics as I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here.

I got the day started with an update to this blog and filling in some review sheets about the placement as a whole and how I found it… (Amazing as you can probably tell). Before I knew it lunch time had arrived and I had to go and get some food before my lab session with Pietro and Gary.

work-experience-6After lunch I headed down to the lab and took a seat amongst the undergraduate students and Pietro gave us a few tips on how to do the wind farm efficiency experiment that we were set. We got going and managed very well with the task there were a few pieces of equipment that were new to us but we managed to get the hang of them. It seems we did so well that even Pietro was impressed ‘You already know everything, let’s get you out in the industry now’ he said… that made me laugh. After we had finished the experiment Pietro checked it and asked us if there were any specific areas of physics that we liked. I explained that I find astrophysics quite interesting. He proceeded to show me a hydrogen lamp that they have that allows you to see the light spectra emitted from the lamp, it was a very interesting piece of equipment which I wouldn’t normally get to see or use. He then showed us a few more pieces of apparatus they have in the lab and explained the different types of physicists that exist. The lab session flew by as it seemed like not long after we started it was time to leave, Pietro gave me his email address and told me if I have any questions he would be happy to answer them. I headed down to the office to this; my last entry to my blog that I have been working on this week.

I’m so thankful that I got to experience what it’s like here as I have gained some really valuable information from it. I also got to learn a lot about engineering which is the career path that I intend to go down; Emma has helped a lot in terms of showing me just how vast the array of jobs available in engineering are as well as letting me know the names of a few companies that are extremely good and might be worth looking at.

I would just like to thank the whole Think Physics team as well as David, Pietro and Gary for having me and helping me throughout my time here.

Best wishes


Work Experience Diary: Jamie Clark

My name is Jamie Clark, I’m half way through my first year of physics at AS-level, from Whitley Bay High School, and this is the start of my 5 day work experience placement with Think Physics!

Jamie was with us from 23rd-27th February. This is his placement diary – Jonathan.

Day One

I was excited of the prospect of my first day in a real world of work situation, but I learnt an early hard lesson, always check your metro ticket is valid…

After the early slip up I arrived at the university and was amazed to see so many different people and students all sitting together and talking, the whole building had a relaxed atmosphere. I was taken upstairs to the Think Physics office and was immediately greeted by the whole team and felt so welcome straight away. After a quick brief on the program and what they’re all about I was straight down to work. I was tasked with creating a quiz or interactive learning session to help the team when they tour local schools.

After a recent blog post by a famous sci-fi actor, who shall remain anonymous but is quite accustomed to space, I was inspired to think of the scale of the universe, but also the capability of a single person. I designed an interactive learning presentation, where the students will learn about the universe, its size and scale, but also about how they can change the world. I started off by doing some calculations to scale down the actual universe into something that would be easily representable and easier to understand for the children taking part. After a considerable amount of time dealing with large numbers, I realised the time. The environment of the office and everyone there made you feel so at home and was a complete change from the usual working environments I am in. In addition the ethos and motive the team have driving them on inspired me, as I am already passionate about education being the key to helping everyone no matter their background.

Day two

I’ve come to realise that I maybe should have prepared more for this week. I think the whole point of work experience is to get you prepared for the world of work, and after having been stopped again for an invalid metro ticket, I’m glad I’m having this experience now and not when I’m older, as inspectors aren’t as sympathetic to working age people.

amplifier and speakersLater on in the day we met with the technician for the electrical engineering department and we were introduced to the equipment and what undergrads get up to. He then gave us some equipment and showed us how to assemble a simple circuit. We spent the following hours soldering and building up the circuit. My last experience of electronics and soldering was a few years ago, so it was good to be learning the skill again, especially as I wasn’t too good at it in year 9. Surprisingly my circuit worked, and we were able to use it as an amplifier for music. After this we did some advanced work on resonances and frequencies of sound waves, using oscilloscopes to determine the optimum height for the amplifier in a small cupboard. We also went on a tour of the faculty department and were able to see the renewable energy solutions that have put Northumbria on the map. It was interesting to see some of the postgrad work that was being done on the campus, and was insightful to see the real world applications of physics and electrical engineering.

Day 3

Thankfully this time my ticket worked, as I made my way to the university for a three hour practical. We were given equipment and a lab script which gave us basic instructions on how to set up the Young’s Double Slit experiment. This experiment was relevant to my school work as a large part of the syllabus for year 12 involves light, diffraction and waves. However the work we carried out was at a much higher level to school, but it was helpful of the professors to guide us through the stages and explain to us what the countless jargon meant. By the end I was much more knowledgeable on waves, light and lasers and it was a good experience to use a helium gas laser, something I would never be trusted with at school!

In the afternoon I focused on my EPQ project which centres on the real world applications of quantum mechanics. After having a talk with Dr Beattie the day before I was given references to useful documents published in journals, and this was vital as I needed a direction and most importantly references for my EPQ project, before this I had a total of zero references. To start with I didn’t have much of an understanding of the information that was in the documents, but eventually I got more of an understanding and was able to use the diagrams and references from the journals.

Day 4

Sam work experience 1Arriving early, we got straight down to work helping the team prepare for a workshop with students in secondary school. We helped assemble and the order hundreds of Knex parts to build a rollercoaster. We also got the chance to design a crucial part of the build, the supporting tower, and it was good to put some mechanical lessons I’ve learnt at school into practice to make sure the tower was steady and would hold up the structure. During this time we learnt some more about the work the team does with secondary schools. Unfortunately I had to leave early as I was ill, and I missed the rest of the day, but I was preparing to come back eager and make no more public transport mistakes the following day!

Day 5

Finally being able to use my metro week saver, I realised how much I have learnt in the past week with the Think Physics team. I’ve learnt what a real world office and environment is like, I’ve learnt about physics and the higher level aspects which I am eager to do myself at university, but I have also learnt valuable life lessons, the team have taught me lessons that I will never forget, and I am thankful to them for letting me have the opportunity to take part in this fantastic opportunity.

The main task for today was to carry on my research into the EPQ project, as I had a meeting again with Dr Beattie later that day. I decided to focus more on the equipment that is used in the systems, such as quantum dots, entangled LED’s, and single photon emitting LED’s. I’ve learnt so many new ideas, as during my EPQ at school I don’t have that much time, but at Think Physics I am able to spend hours just researching which has really helped me. After I had researched the equipment I then got some contacts who I could email to get even more information for my project. Having Dr Beattie helping me has been fantastic, as he has knowledge and contacts that I otherwise wouldn’t have known, and given the fact he is a leading researcher exactly in the field that I am writing my EPQ on has been excellent.

Embedding Careers Advice in Schools

On Monday 2nd March the BBC published an article called  All schools need trained careers teachers, says charity. The article reported on calls from Teach First that more needs to be done in schools relating to careers advice.

All schools in England should have a teacher trained to give high-quality careers advice, particularly to poorer pupils… Without a fresh effort, careers advice in schools will remain ‘fragmented and ineffective’.”
Teach First.

Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan responded to the report saying that there were many schools and colleges doing “fantastic work” but there was also too much provision that was “patchy and in places inadequate.” She also mentioned that in many cases teachers did not have the time to dedicate to careers nor the training to deliver good careers advice. Ms Morgan then commented that the government’s new Careers and Enterprise company, announced late last year, would help schools to develop links with employers and improve pupils employability.

This reference to the new Careers and Enterprise company is interesting – it’s being sold as if it will make careers advice in schools magically better.

The new enterprise company sounds like a good idea, but as yet we don’t know much about it. With the best intentions in the world, employers still won’t be able to link to every child and young person. They do not really have the time to… they have businesses to run! Similarly, I don’t believe that a visit from one employer is going to create a school full of young people wanting to do whatever it is the company are encouraging pupils to consider. The Careers and Enterprise company may be part of a solution, but interventions and engagements need to be sustained and meaningful: there is not a quick fix.

Another part of the answer may lie in better training for schools and teachers, and a careers strategy from primary school age through to post-16 which lies at the heart of the national curriculum. I think careers advice needs to be central, embedded and expected in most lessons. It should become second nature to teachers, providing meaning and context for what is being learnt.

You have a maths lesson, with no idea why you are learning certain topics; would it not be better to show how maths, and the skills you are developing, apply and will support you in the future? Engineering, accountancy, hairdressing, plumbing or sport, all require a mathematical understanding. Would this not help pupils better understand why they are learning something and how they can apply it, as well as introducing the many different careers out there?

For me, this is one of the problems with careers education, that we do not make enough use of careers examples within our lessons. Yes some teachers do, but not consistently and there is no guidance or expectation that teachers should make careers links consistently.

My personal opinion is that careers advice should be incorporated in the majority of lessons, not bolted on or exclusively discussed in citizenship and similar lessons. Teachers should be able to go to a website for example for this information, carry out regular personal CPD, and easily find role models/employers they can use to clearly highlight careers links from their lesson topics. These should be included in lessons, and examples and challenges set around them.

Currently career guidance is compulsory from Year 8. This is too late. Some young people are fully aware of what they want to study, and have a career in mind by 13 years of age, but the majority don’t have a clue! Also, how can you have high aspirations if you are not aware of the careers available to you?

We should be introducing pupils to careers earlier to inform the choices they need to make from year 9. Whole schools need to take some ownership of their role within careers advice, rather than leaving one person to deal with careers and progression (a problem shared, is a problem halved as they say)! If not, we may keep witnessing the year 11 head or teacher with careers responsibilities firefighting a situation which could be much more easily and effectively dealt with earlier on.

This whole school approach is backed by the research carried out by ASPIRES (2013) which suggested that STEM careers advice should be embedded within science lessons, as well as much earlier interventions relating to STEM careers information in primary school. Otherwise, we risk secondary careers information, advice and guidance being ‘too little, too late’.