Researchers from the ChemBAM team at the University of Birmingham teamed up with staff at Phillips 66 to run activities to support schools in Humber supported by a grant from the Royal Society of Chemistry's 'Outreach Small Grant' scheme matched by Phillips 66.
The aim of the project was to increase pupils' awareness of chemistry careers by linking them with their local industry and meeting real industry scientists including University of Birmingham Chemistry Student Cameron Williams who completed his Year in Industry at Phillips 66.
A "Twilight" session was run in November 2019 for 23 teachers and technicians from the six partner schools. Staff were shown how to run six experiments based on both research at the University of Birmingham and Phillips 66 and to meet the researchers and Phillips 66 chemists in person. These experiments focussed on enhancing school curriculum by linking to real-life chemistry applications including fractional distillation, water treatment, waterproofing materials and making simple electrochemical cells. Schools were then awarded "ChemBOXes" containing £1,000 worth of equipment and consumables which would allow them to repeat the experiments in their schools.
The response from these teachers was fantastic commenting on both the value of being recognised as scientists and how the kit would provide a legacy of activity within the schools.
We all really enjoyed the training event and feel we benefitted massively from the opportunity to be scientists interacting with our peers!Thank you for inviting (us) to the launch of the ChemBox project yesterday. As you saw it was like Christmas had come early and we are very much looking forward to phase 2 and implementing the lessons into our teaching.
Phillips 66 chemists, engineers and researchers then ran a day for 160 Year 9 and 10 pupils from the partner schools in December – hosted by St. Lawrence Academy. Pupils got to take part in three of the experiments and were encouraged to discuss university and careers with staff and to learn about how the careers connected with their local industry.
Although the experiments linked to curriculum activities such as building and observing fuel cells and fractional distillation, these were delivered in the context in which they are used in the energy industry.
One teacher commented "The students' feedback has been positive and the experience has added value and context to their studies!"
Pupils' changes in perceptions of chemistry was measured using word association with the word "chemistry" before and after the sessions. At the start of the day 69% of words provided by pupils related to curriculum (pH, acid etc) and less than 2% of words related to enjoyment of the subject compared to 3% of words relating to finding the subject difficult or "boring".
By the end of the session 7% of words given by pupils related to the subject being enjoyable and 29% of words related to industry careers with some students naming Phillips 66 or individual researchers describing them as "cool".
Since the event teachers have commented on productive conversations which were triggered by the event.
It was fantastic for our pupils to talk with adults who use chemistry in the outside world. I know that the pupils were inspired as there were many conversations afterwards regarding careers and university courses.
Working with ChemBAM to bring our industry to the curriculum and the curriculum in turn to life has been a wonderful journey. To see the excitement in the teachers and the noticeable change in the students from start to finish was priceless. We hope they enjoy using the ChemBOXes for years to come and look forward to further collaboration helping promote STEM and Chemistry!
All of the experiments run as part of this programme are freely available on the University of Birmingham's Outreach page, which was launched by Senior Lecturer Dr Zoe Schnepp in 2017. The ChemBOX Humber project was led by Dr Schnepp and Dr Ruth Patchett from the University of Birmingham alongside External Communications & Public Affairs Lead Nina Stobart from Phillips 66 and Jennifer Vincent Careers and Enterprise Coordinator for North and North East Lincolnshire. They would like to thank all of the staff at Phillips 66 who supported the days, Cameron Williams for his dedication to the project and all of the staff from the partner schools for their time and enthusiasm.
Anyone who wishes to be involved in future ChemBAM projects is encouraged to send us an email.