As the economy shifts back towards design and manufacturing industries one North university welcomes the next generation of innovators. Ruth Lognonne reports.
Politicians from all sides have been calling for a rebalancing of the economy. What they often mean is a shift away from financial services and back towards industries which rely on design and manufacturing.
However, innovators of the future will not appear out of thin air and that is why Northumbria University welcomed thousands of young people from North East schools to its Newcastle campus to engage and inspire the next generation of makers.
This year’s Big Bang North East Fair at Northumbria University, which took place on Tuesday, July 7, celebrated the very best in science, technology, engineering and maths.
The event attracted more than 1,000 eager students, aged 11-19, from 40 schools across the region to participate in one of the largest events of its kind. The emphasis was on interaction and the chance to explore the wide range of careers and opportunities in the field of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
Students took part in more than 70 hands-on activities including The Zombie Show, Brain of the Dead, a spoof lecture which lifts the lid on the zombie skull and peers into the brain of the infamous movie character. They were also challenged with problem solving activities, including whether or not the Angel of the North could fly and the chance to build their own space satellites.
Students were also given the opportunity to showcase their projects to a panel of judges who awarded them for their skill and creativity. The best projects were nominated to represent the North East at the Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair at the NEC, Birmingham, in March 2016.
Some of the country’s leading employers including Nissan, HP Enterprise, The Reece Foundation, Accenture and the Royal Air Force (RAF) were on hand to talk to the students about the career opportunities available to them in STEM.
Building on the success of last year’s Big Bang North East Fair, education partnership NYBEP and Northumbria University-led ‘Think Physics’ have engaged with more employers and organisations, including event partners The Reece Foundation and headline sponsor Accenture.
The three-year Think Physics initiative was launched in 2014 to help engage more young people – especially girls and under-represented groups – in STEM subjects from pre-school to university and into their careers. It was partly inspired by a report from the Institute of Physics, which revealed only 21 per cent of physics students at UK universities are female.
The project aims to address this over the next three years under the leadership of Dr Carol Davenport, Director of Think Physics, and her team of specialists.
By hosting the Big Bang event, the Think Physics team was able to highlight the broad range of careers available in science, engineering and technology.
Dr Davenport said: “Once again, Think Physics is delighted to be involved with the Big Bang North East. The day is all about showing young people how interesting, exciting and surprising science can be.
“One of the great benefits of this event is that it highlights some of the many different careers in science, engineering and technology, careers that our visitors might not have realised were science linked.
“As they walk around Northumbria, they will see examples of real world applications of the ideas that they have learnt about in school science. Young people want to make a difference in the world, and one of the aims of the Big Bang, and Think Physics, is to show them that studying physics and maths will let them change their world for the better.”
The Big Bang North East Fair has received welcome backing from Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, an engineer herself, who has often called for more to be done to inspire young people, and particular girls, to get into STEM careers.
She said: “We have a huge skills shortage in engineering and science. Engineering is a great career and too many young people are missing out on it. The country, and in particular, the region needs engineers’ skills and insights to help rebuild our economy. Collaborative working between educators, employers and policy makers is the best way to make sure we can pay our way in the world of the future. We need to be working at all levels to attract more young people in general into engineering and the Big Bang event at Northumbria University is a perfect example of this.”
Paul Jackson, chief executive of Engineering UK, said: “We know that over the next five to 10 years we need 2.5 million people coming into the engineering sector. That means a lot of jobs and opportunities in the North East. The Big Bang fairs around the country connect young people to the employers they could be involved with in the future.”
The Big Bang North East is part of The Big Bang Near Me, a major UK-wide programme led by EngineeringUK. The Big Bang Near Me programme also celebrates and raises the profile of young people’s achievements in STEM through the National Science and Engineering Competition, led by the British Science Association.
Yvonne Emerson, Big Bang North East manager, said: “By engaging with local employers to support the event we ensure that the Big Bang North East Fair reflects the STEM skills needs of the area and provides employers with an opportunity to showcase the career pathways available to young people in STEM.”