Explosives chemists from Cranfield University have been taking part in an outreach programme to support and inspire young people with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) projects during the school shutdown period.

Project Inspiration, organised by STEM Ambassador Hub West England and Graphic Science, invites volunteer STEM ambassadors to record videos talking about their STEM expertise, linked to project ideas that young people can use to follow up with their own STEM research.

Chemistry creations in lockdown

Dr Lisa Humphreys, Research Fellow – Formulation Chemist, and Niki Darcy, Senior Laboratory Technician of the Centre for Defence Chemistry, Cranfield Defence and Security, produced a video about formulation chemistry.

The video, titled ‘Using formulation science to create great products at home’, explains what formulations are – mixtures of chemicals which work together to produce products with desired properties – and discusses what they can be used for.

Dr Lisa Humphreys said: “We can’t always set time aside at work and so many of us engage in outreach activities outside of work so we can make a difference. This lockdown period created a perfect opportunity to enable us to do more. It was wonderful to educate young students about the art of formulations, and better still to give them the chance to get hands-on and step away from their screens to conjure up some clever creations.”

Willy Wonka and mixology - science in everyday life

Niki Darcy said: “Having been put onto furlough during lockdown, STEM activities were an obvious place to channel my energy. Having taught in a school for 10 years, I am aware of how science is perceived as ‘hard’ and ‘only for strange people in lab coats’. This programme gave Lisa and me the opportunity to devise activities which would present science in a fun and engaging way, while showing applications in everyday life.”

Suggested follow-up projects for students to do in the video included developing a weird and wonderful ‘Willy Wonkaesque’ piece of confectionery, creating colourful clothing designs using natural products, developing a decadent dessert and using mixology to create magical mocktails.

Lisa and Niki are now working with a teacher and student from Bournemouth School for Girls on a project to create a delicious dessert. By varying individual components in her experiments, the student is able to determine how each ingredient contributes to the taste, texture and aesthetics of her new concoction.

Liz Lister, STEM Ambassador, Hub West England, said: “Project Inspiration is a new YouTube channel created to support teachers and students during the COVID-19 shutdown. We’d like students to be given the opportunity to get involved in some independent learning through STEM project work … so when it comes to writing applications for college, university, or to apply for apprenticeships, they have some additional evidence to show their commitment to STEM subjects during this time when they haven’t been at school.”

The aim is that projects will be accredited through the CREST Awards scheme with students gaining the Silver Award, which requires at least 30 hours of independent work.