Chemists and Engineers learn value of communicating their research

Chemistry and engineering postgraduate students have been learning how they could become “the next Brian Cox”, with a masterclass in communicating their research to the public.

As part of their studies at the University’s Doctoral Training Centre in Sustainable Chemical Technologies (DTC), the students visited hands-on science centre At-Bristol and spent time with the team that makes the exhibits.

They used the session, along with other masterclass events throughout the year to develop ideas for an exhibit of their own which could be displayed at future engagement events, such as the Cheltenham Science Festival.

Other public engagement activities of the DTC students include giving public lectures on their research at the Bath Royal Science & Literary Institute, acting as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Ambassadors in schools and taking part in Bath Taps into Science, the annual hands-on science festival in Bath.

All agreed that public engagement helped them think about their research in a different way.

Rebecca Bamford, who joked that her PhD research ‘using renewable materials to make recyclable catalysts’ can be particularly hard to explain, said: “It’s highlighted to me how, although my project is complicated, my research is socially relevant.

"People are interested in renewable materials and the environment. When I am talking about my research I start by explaining what a catalyst is, and this stimulates discussions on wider issues connected with the environment.”

Kathryn Wills with a solar cell made in the shape of the University logo

Kathryn Wills with a solar cell made in the shape of the University logo

Will Reynolds, who is working on so-called ‘green chemistry’ - developing cleaner methods of producing pharmaceuticals – has used the experience to help him give talks in local schools to A level students.

He said: “Learning how to make a very complex research topic understandable helps with your general communications. If you can explain your research to a lay audience, that can also help when you’re explaining your work at peer reviews later in your career.”

Kathryn Wills is developing sustainable dyes for use in dye-based solar cells. She said: “The dyes used in this type of solar technology aren’t always made from nice chemicals so I’m looking at making cheaper, more sustainable alternatives.

“A demonstration we have run at Cheltenham Science Festival in the past involves making small solar cells using fruit teas as the dye, which helps me explain my research and is a good way of showing how solar cells can generate electricity in a more environmentally friendly way.”

The University’s DTC in Sustainable Chemical Technologies runs a four year PhD programme where students mix taught courses with multi-disciplinary research projects in the latest cutting edge fields of sustainable chemistry and chemical engineering.

The students work closely with industrial partners on projects that are relevant in the commercial sector. For more information about the DTC please contact csct@bath.ac.uk or phone 01225 385820.

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