Outreach & Public Engagement

Outreach and Public Engagement are a very important part of the OxICFM CDT. Oxford Chemistry has an active outreach programme and runs numerous events for schoolchildren (see more here). Students from the OxICFM CDT are actively involved in these events, and will additionally engage in new activities through the dedicated OxICFM outreach and public engagement training. This provide us with numerous opportunities to share the programme's passion for research in inorganic synthesis with schools and the general public.

During their first year in the programme, our first cohort of students worked closely with the Outreach team at the Department of Chemistry and the Public Engagement team from the MPLS (Mathematical, Physical, Engineering and Life Sciences Division) to develop new workshops and activities. The students came up with numerous activities, including a podcast about doctoral studies or a series of videos to introduce themselves and explain their research, amongst others. Some examples of the work that our students have been doing in the areas of Outreach and Public Engagement can be found below.

The Design Museum London – Waste Age: What Can Design Do?

Kam Poon (2020 cohort), Jamie Wilmore and Holly Yeo (2019 cohort)

'Waste Age: What can design do?' is an exhibition on waste and throwaway culture, which was based at the Design Museum London from November 2021 - February 2022, and attracted more than 20,000 visitors. The exhibition tells the story of society’s relationship with waste: from the throwaway culture which developed in 60’s alongside the boom in commercial polymers; the alarming scale of the waste problem at present; to the ideas, practices and products that are envisioned to comprise our ‘post-waste’ future. The exhibition ultimately aimed to demonstrate how the production of waste is central to our way of life whilst inspiring hope for a greener and more conscientious world.

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Work from the Williams research group on the topic of carbon dioxide derived plastics was featured in the exhibition. The team that put the exhibit together included Kam Poon, Jamie Wilmore, and Holly Yeo, together with other members of the Williams research group. The Williams group's exhibit was centred around polycarbonates made by recycling waste carbon dioxide. It featured samples from econic technologies and also a sample of poly(limonene carbonate) made entirely from wastes: waste CO2 and citrus peel (limonene oxide). These polymers could be useful contributors to a future circular economy where wastes and co-products are used to make new, high performance materials. In an accompanying film, Prof. Charlotte Williams discussed how their chemistry might contribute to a sustainable future for plastics and Holly (together with fellow Williams group DPhil student Wouter Lindeboom) showed how these samples are made at laboratory scale.

Find out more by reading this blog post about the work.

Small, Yet Mighty – How enzymes could fuel the energy revolution

Maya Landis (2020 cohort)

A brand-new workshop for KS4 students (aged 14-16 years), designed and delivered by Maya Landis (Vincent Group, OxICFM CDT) and Souvik Giri (Clarke Group) showcases the work of Dr Patricia Rodriguez Macia (Glasstone Research Fellow) on natural and artificial enzymes, considering the potential application to fuel cells. With support from the Chemistry Department’s Educational Outreach Officer, Saskia O’Sullivan, Maya and Souvik developed a fast paced one-hour session incorporating multiple puzzles and experiments. Two key activities involve students interacting with a model H2 fuel cell car and subsequently building a functional enzymatic fuel cell based on the glucose/glucose oxidase pair. The aim of the workshop is both to touch on subject matter students encounter in their syllabus, and to inspire them to think of scientific research as a crucial part in tackling current interconnected climate and energy crises.

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Feedback received from participants includes:
‘The practicals were very fun yet informative and have made me consider a future career in Chemistry’ Student
‘It was brilliant – a really high-quality session.’ Teacher

For Maya, participating in the project was a highly rewarding experience. ‘We have come very far from our initial ideas in February to the final result, which we delivered to students throughout the month of June. I personally feel I have been able to develop my science communication skills and I greatly enjoyed interacting with the KS4 students. I look forward to engaging with the many available outreach opportunities throughout the remaining years of my time at Oxford.’

Women in Science (WiS) – Using CO2 to make plastics

Francesca Fiorentini (2020 cohort) and Madeleine Smith (2021 cohort)

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Women in Science (WiS) is a yearly event organised by Wadham, Trinity, and Jesus Colleges. The day involves STEM taster sessions and advice on university admissions for women and non-binary state-school students in year 12.

In 2022 the event was held in person on 17th June. As part of the inorganic chemistry taster session, Francesca Fiorentini and Madeleine Smith gave a presentation on their research into the development of sustainable polymers; “Using CO2 to make Plastics”. After the presentation, the students were free to ask questions on the chemistry presented, alongside general questions around university admissions and study.

Trinity Talks: Beyond the classroom – The Future of Plastic: Environmental Challenges and Everyday Life

Kam Poon (2020 cohort)

The 'Trinity Talks: Beyond the classroom' series of interactive talks were ran by postgraduate students and academics at Trinity College Oxford for secondary and sixth-form students at state school with the aim of showcasing cutting-edge research to those considering applying to university. Topics covered in the series range from the politics of Brexit to the sequencing of the human genome and Virginia Woolf’s modernism.

As a part of this series, Kam Poon, designed and delivered a virtual talk on the future of plastic on two separate occasions. The lectures covered why plastics are such important materials in all of our lives and why the properties that make them so useful, have led to them harming our environment. It also covered some of the exciting cutting-edge research in polymer chemistry taking place in Oxford and around the world, as well as how to make environmentally friendly plastics and discuss what plastics might look like in the future. The talk was followed by some lovely feedback, thoughtful questions and an interesting discussion on polymer chemistry and the wider issue of sustainable plastics.

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Trinity College Women in STEM – How can light be used to help us switch things on and off?

Charlie Simms (2020 cohort)

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As part of Trinity College's Women in STEM, Charlie Simms gave a talk to a group of Year 12 students about her research project and her path to Oxford. Having attended a school that didn’t sent many students to Oxbridge, she wanted to encourage students from similar backgrounds that scientific research was a realistic and exciting career prospect. She also really enjoys teaching, and so she found the opportunity to translate her chemistry into a presentation that would be enjoyable for year 12 students really rewarding. She especially enjoyed hearing all their questions and thoughts, and hopes it was interesting for the students to see what a future in STEM could look like! Overall, the experience was a great opportunity to learn more about how to communicate her chemistry outside of a specialised academic setting.

Plastics from another perspective

Jamie Wilmore and Holly Yeo (2019 cohort)

The Plastics from Another Perspective Workshop was developed by Jamie Wilmore and Holly Yeo (OxICFM CDT) and Wouter Lindeboom (DPhil Student, Williams Group) under the guidance of Saskia O’Sullivan (Oxford Chemistry Educational Outreach Officer) and was funded in-part by the Royal Society of Chemistry. The workshop encourages students to think about the lifecycle of typical commercial polymers compared with newer biorenewable and degradable polymers under development in the Williams Group at the University of Oxford. Given the widespread public pressure to find alternatives to the current single-use non-readily degradable polymers, it was hoped this workshop would provide another narrative to the issue of plastics, encouraging GCSE students to consider the role chemistry can play in developing new materials to solve the environmental challenges of plastics.

The workshop was initially designed in 2021 for virtual delivery to GCSE classes, and was designed to complement the GCSE chemistry curriculum, discussing the lifecycles of various polymers in small group discussions between researchers and school students, giving students an opportunity to discuss the process of chemical research and gain an understanding its real-world impact. The workshop then moves to a discussion of the infrared spectroscopy of polymers enabling students to build an appreciation of the use of an analytical technique covered in their GCSE studies in research. The workshop has since been adapted for in-person delivery by undergraduate chemistry outreach ambassadors, with a researcher joining virtually to field questions at the end. Feedback from students and teachers has been overwhelmingly positive, and we hope that the workshop will form part of the Chemistry department’s outreach programme going forward.

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Balliol College's Discovery Programme – The Battery Revolution

Ludmila Babicova (2020 cohort)

The Discovery programme, organised by Balliol College, is a two-year academic enrichment programme aimed at year 10 students from across the UK. In the programme, small groups of students take part in a series of virtual academic enrichment sessions after school. The sessions, delivered by DPhil students, serve as an introduction to a variety of humanities and science topics.

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As part of this programme, Ludmila Babicova designed and delivered an interactive live academic talk on batteries and their importance in moving towards a green future. Prior to the session, the students read about the road to invention of the Li-ion battery and completed an exercise to help them understand the working principles of such batteries. During the session, Ludmila explained how chemical reactions produce electricity, and, with the students, explored the chemistry of a Li-ion battery, and discussed the need for sustainable energy storage solutions, involving supercapacitors and flow batteries. To make the virtual session more interactive for the students, and to ensure that they followed what was taught in the lesson, they participated in a number of quizzes under the supervision of their lead teachers. Ludmila received great feedback from the Balliol representative who attended the session and she thought that the students understood the scientific concepts really well and asked topical questions at the end of the session.

OUMNH Super Science Saturday – Polymer Diversity

Jamie Wilmore and Holly Yeo (2019 cohort)

In addition to housing an incredible collection of objects, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH) also offers a wide programme of events, exhibitions, and activities to share research with their visitors. Since 2015, the OUMNH has hosted the popular ‘Super Science Saturday’ science fair, where researchers from across the University of Oxford take over the Museum and share their exciting work through fun activities for all the family.

Due to COVID-19, Super Science Saturday took place online in 2020. The theme for the year was ‘Diversity’, and Jamie Wilmore and Holly Yeo – together with other members of the Williams research group – were within the six teams selected to participate, with their entry called 'Polymer Diversity'. The team produced an interactive and virtual exhibit involving a polymer life cycle, using a series of activities to explore sustainability across the life cycle. They also used this cycle to introduce themselves and explain what motivates them and what might happen in a typical day doing research. The exhibit can still be accessed here.

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IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival – Lighting up life with color

Sebastian Kopp (2019 cohort)

The IF Oxford Science and Ideas Festival is a yearly event organised by the Oxfordshire Science Festival Charity, that aims to bring people together, inspiring curious minds of all ages and backgrounds to access and help shape new ideas. In October 2020, the Festival was delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic as a digital and print-led Festival.

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Explorazone Digital, the Festival’s flagship interactive event, combined video booths, at-home activities and postal kits sent to homes across the UK and beyond. This allowed people from everywhere in the world to transport themselves to Oxford and discover amazing science, experiment with creative technologies and chat with the people developing the most innovative research today. One could wander around the virtual Exhibition Hall and choose which activity booths to visit.

One of these booths was presented by Sebastian Kopp and a few other members of the Anderson research group. They recorded a series of videos entitled 'Lighting up life with colour', intended to show people how things change colour in response to light, acid or heat, and how coloured fluorescent dyes are used to see inside cells. After watching the videos, people were also able to discuss any doubts with Sebastian and the team. A report about the 2020 IF Festival, including some of the content can still be accessed here.

Women in Chemistry: Making the difference – Power UP!

Holly Yeo (2019 cohort)

'Women in Chemistry: Making a difference' is a project partly funded by the Royal Society of Chemistry that involves women working in the chemical sciences across different UK universities. The aim of this project is to support girls aged approx. 10-14 in finding out about the research happening at UK universities. This is being done by setting different challenges and associated material, and by showcasing many of the young women involved in the chemical sciences.

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As part of this initiative, in February 2021, the Department of Chemistry at Oxford hosted the 'Power UP!' Challenge. Led by Saskia O'Sullivan (the Departmental Educational Outreach Officer), Holly Yeo and a few other members of the Department prepared a series of activities aiming to introduce young girls to batteries, the chemistry behind them, and the vital role they play in our everyday lives. As part of the event, people were able to participate in challenges such as learning how to make a simple battery at home out of coins. In addition, the Power UP! team added loads of associated material to the web, and hosted 3 live events on YouTube where girls could meet with researchers at different stages in their career, and learn about how their efforts are making the difference. More information on this event and Holly's contribution can be found here. You can find out more about Holly's background, interests and current research on her Intro to my DPhil video below.

Introducing our DPhils

2019 cohort

The Oxford Chemistry Outreach team encouraged DPhil students in the Department to prepare a series of short videos sharing their academic journeys and research projects with the wider public. Here you can hear more about Holly Yeo's research in her 'Introducing my DPhil' video. Moreover, learn more about Kam Poon's research by watching the recording of his 'Trinity Talks: Beyond the classroom' lecture.