The world is changing rapidly, with major advancements towards sustainability, and the chemical sciences are cemented at the forefront of this change.
By Tom Benson
However, due to the complex nature of chemistry, access to these fields is not made readily available for many UK and Ireland residents. This means that pursuing a career in chemistry is a privilege that many children do not have.
The Outreach Fund offers an opportunity to promote chemistry to the public in exciting and engaging ways, lowering the barriers to entry. This all helps to promote interest in and understanding of chemistry to the general public as well as showcasing careers in chemistry to those who may not have known it could be an option.
In 2022, the Outreach Fund offered grants to 70 applicants across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. These projects covered a broad range of activities: from science and careers fairs to theatre productions, chemist meet-and-greets and laboratory-based learning sessions.
All of these projects focused on achieving the same goals: to showcase the importance of chemistry, to encourage curiosity and confidence in the sciences, and to demonstrate how rewarding a career in the scientific community can be.
One such project was undertaken by Discovery Planet, a small grassroots organisation based in Ramsgate, Kent. Their team were motivated by seeing how engagement with science can produce feelings of amazement, wonder and joy.
“It’s the looks on people’s faces and the squeals of delight when they see dramatic chemical reactions or make a new discovery for themselves,” says Xanthe Pitt, one of Discovery Planet’s directors.
Ramsgate is home to a significant number of unaccompanied child refugees. Discovery Planet, having heard that a local youth organisation had established a specific social group for the children to combat feelings of anxiety and isolation, wanted to offer them the opportunity to lose themselves, albeit temporarily, in the wonder and joy of science.
The project consisted of four sessions, which included highly visual interactive activities involving liquid nitrogen, chromatography, lasers and spectroscopes. This allowed young people to get the chance to bond as a group over enthralling, shared activities.
The educational starting points of the audience varied enormously, but the activities encouraged inquisitiveness and enabled them to make links between science and the world around them.
A woman looks through a piece of equipment during a Discovery Planet projectPicture: Pete Bateson
The youth worker that was present during the sessions commented on how anxious individuals began to relax and smile, how the activities broke the ice for new arrivals, encouraged peer support, and enabled them to extend their English vocabulary.
“It generates questions, it's fun and educational at the same time," they said. "It’s accessible, with physical and hands-on elements, and it allows for learning and playing simultaneously”.
Another project supported by the Outreach Fund was conducted by The Blair Project and looked to convert a van into a purpose-built STEM truck to conduct school and public outreach activities in Greater Manchester.
The initiative aimed to raise awareness of the commercial science underpinning electric vehicles and low-carbon innovations which help tackle climate change. This was achieved through the help of science students from Manchester University, who fitted the STEM truck and curated fun learning activities and Tik Tok videos.
Funding from the Royal Society of Chemistry enabled The Blair Project to pilot and trial new approaches for engaging young people from under-represented backgrounds with careers in chemistry, using See Me Be Me role models to communicate in fun, simple language.
Blair and NilePicture: The Blair Project
The project showed the ways that chemistry powers and shapes the world we live in, from battery and mobile phone technologies to plastics and renewable energy solutions.
Following funding, The Blair Project is now in talks with a major renewable energy company to expand the programme, targeting parents’ events, career fairs and community festivals in London as well as Manchester, creating a long-lasting legacy for the project.
In addition to the projects supported via the Outreach Fund, we funded 12 projects for Chemistry Week themed around sustainability. These projects ranged from quizzes and bioplastic investigations to science institution trips.
As we move into 2023, the Outreach Fund will continue supporting ventures that enable the chemical sciences to be accessible for all. Funding rounds will close at the end of every other month and grants can be offered for up to £10,000. To find out more, visit rsc.li/outreach-fund or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.