The Smallpeice Trust Residential Courses

The Smallpeice Trust Residential Courses

The Smallpeice Trust is a charitable organisation that promotes science and engineering through the delivery of hands-on workshops and residential courses for secondary school pupils. Over the summer, I volunteered as a supervisor at 4 residential courses run by The Smallpeice Trust. Each course is hosted by a different University and everyone involved stays in the University’s halls of residence. This gives the students a glimpse into life as an undergraduate. During the day, the students participate in practical workshops run by engineers or university lecturers and attend careers talks by sponsoring companies. In the evenings, social activities are planned for the students and on the final evening, there is a formal dinner where the students are encouraged to interact with senior engineers from the sponsoring companies.


The first course I attended was in April and was hosted by the University of Durham. This course, ‘Step into STEM’, was designed to give local year 10 students insight into general science and engineering based careers. Over the 3 days, the students had to work in groups of 5 or 6 to complete two workshops, the first of which was run by the National Nuclear Laboratory. The students were challenged to build a centrifuge out of Mechano that could separate out ‘nuclear waste’ (a mix of oil, sand, and water).  The second workshop was run by Jaguar Land Rover and had the students building a lightweight and durable car out of plastic sheeting, balsa wood, and a 9 volt battery.


My attempt at a durable and lightweight vehicle

The second course I attended was ‘Cyber Security with Electronics’ at the University of Portsmouth.  This course was aimed at year 9 and 10 students with an interest in computer science and electrical engineering. Two organisations designed and ran the course, GCHQ and QinetiQ. To set the scene, the students were split into groups of 5 or 6 and asked to ‘infiltrate a terrorist ship’. The first challenge was to hack into a cluster of raspberry pis and required some programming knowledge. The second challenge was to use a printed circuit board and soldering to create an alarm that sounds when a light beam is broken. This was much easier for students who had previous experience soldering. Finally, breadboard circuit boards were used to build a robotic buggy that could follow a black line on a white surface. The three very different challenges meant that most students had at least one challenge with which they could fully engage.

Third up was ‘Supercomputing in Engineering’ at the University of Southampton. This was the smallest course I attended with only 22 year 12 students split into teams of 3 or 4. As the students were older, the course was run slightly differently with the day activities being run by staff from the University’s Aeronautical Engineering department. Lectures on aeronautical engineering were complimented with workshops that included building computers, modelling aeroplane wings and weather balloon flight paths, and programming and app developing.


An Aeronautics lecture at the University of Southampton

Finally, I attended a ‘Girls in Engineering’ course at the University of Bristol. This was a heavily subsidised course for girls in year 8 or 9 that aimed to encourage the study of STEM subjects at a higher level. There were 97 participants and 4 outside companies running workshops, Lloyds Registry, Selex, National Nuclear Laboratory, and Babcock. The Lloyds Registry challenge was to build a boat out of wood and an air propeller. Selex challenged the girls to add a series of sensors onto a remote control car. The National Nuclear Laboratory required the students to build a centrifuge that could separate an oil-water-sand mix. And finally, the Babcock challenge was to build a crane out of bamboo and rope.


The Smallpeice Trust booked @Bristol for an evening activity, something we all enjoyed!

Overall, working as a supervisor was rewarding but tiring work. During the day, a supervisor has the opportunity to engage with the students and the challenges set, but in the evening you are also responsible for making sure that the students get to bed on time.

Fish tales

Iain Young and Simon Maher, PhD students Rudi Verspoor, Vincent Keenan from IIB and colleagues from Q-technologies and FarmUrban spent an enjoyable weekend telling “fish tales” at the “Eat the Atlantic” Food Festival 4th and 5th of July.

Eat the Atlantic was part of the Transatlantic 175 celebration commemorating 175 years since the first cruise liner crossed the Atlantic to Manhattan from Liverpool. Cruise liners, vintage vehicles and classic cars, catwalk models, dancers, bands, celebrity chefs, urban growers, about 500,000 visitors and even a few scientists from the IIB all gathered on Liverpool’s Historic Waterfront for the celebration.

We took along some of our projects that we’ve been working on in partnership with collaborators from industry: AQUAMMS – an EU framework project in partnership with the University of Liverpool spin-out company Q-Technologies ( developing new miniature mass spectrometry based sensors for aquaculture (, BiffiO – working with agriculture and aquaculture to look for new ways to gain value from their waste (, and various projects we have running with FarmUrban ( focusing on sustainable urban food production.

fishtalesWith its high efficiency pink LED grow lights reminiscent of an 80’s theme cocktail bar hovering over lush green plants, our “Vydrofarm” vertical nutrient-film hydroponics unit built for us by hydrogarden ( was certainly eye-catching. We soon became a crowd-puller in the atrium of the Mann Island Buildings (especially during Sunday’s downpours) attracting a lot of interest in aquaculture and urban farming.

The Big Bang North West

The Big Bang Near Me is a programme of events that get young people excited about science, technology, engineering and maths.  The Big Bang North West, organised by MerseySTEM, took place yesterday, Wednesday 8th of July, with nearly 6000 thousands children coming to Aintree Racecourse to visit a number of exhibitions from a variety of parners, and to present their own scientific projects as part of the national science+engineering competition.

The School of Life Sciences and the Institute of Integrative Biology staff and students were present and supporting the event in a variety of ways. So many in fact that this post will remain for a few days “in construction”: I hope that colleagues will give more details of their involvement in the comments section and I will update the post as needed!

Institute of Integrative Biology Exhibit

Daria Pastock, Chris Corbin, Amy Eacok

In the comments section, please add details of the activities that were on the stand and the people involved, thanks!

Project Patient 0

Beth Levick, Cassandra Raby, and Amanda Minter.

Beth and her team ran an amazing project on infection spread. In the end, they had 120 individual participants recorded over 40 different groups. They are planning to do further analysis of the data so watch this space!

Beth, let me know in the comments everyone who was involved, the number of people infected, etc (feel free also to write a separate post just about this project if you wish!).

Judge of the NSEC regional heat competition

Raphaël Lévy 

I had been invited by former student Zoe Chapman, communication officer for MerseySTEM to judge projects. It was good fun. I learnt about black holes, hydrophobic coatings, the hydrodynamics of cycle helmets, throrium as the future (?)of energy production, and a few essential science tricks to survive in case of an (infectious) apocalypse.

The judging team:

Aquaponics Jens Thomas, Paul Myers and Dan Groom

Jens, Paul and Dan  from Farm Urban had a beautiful stand next to the main stage showing off their new @VydroFarm growing system and demonstrating their “Build Your Own” aquaponics systems for schools. Although the VydroFarm can grow 140 lettuces every 28 days and glows a psychedelic pink with its full spectrum Valoya grow lights, it had trouble competing with fishy and fishy; the two goldfish in our aquaponics system named by Paul’s two-year old daughter. It was a great day and we had a tremendous amount of interest in our systems and workshops. During our spare time we learnt how to milk a cow, extract DNA from strawberry’s and discussed the potential mechanisms through which caterpillars may change colour.

‘Meet the Future You’

Kate Hammond

Kate Hammond took part in the ‘Meet the Future You’ event organised by Tomorrows Engineers. Students got the chance to quiz a group of STEM professionals about our careers, including Kate (a lecturer in Genetics and Molecular Biology), an engineer from Landrover and Sarah who designs nuclear reactors for submarines (very cool!). The students asked us everything from what we do each day, to what inspired us to take up our career to, most crucially, how much we get paid.

Kate Hammond at the

Kate Hammond at the “Meet the Future You” event #BigBangNW

Life Sciences Outreach Society

Juhi Gupta, Hannah Sharp, Lauren Evans, Sapphire Rogers, Ant Smith, Amal Abdulkadhir, Hannah Smallwood and Amy Gillespie. Dr Hammond helped with the set up of the workshops.

Children at the Life Sciences stall at the Big Bang North West

Children at the Life Sciences stall at the Big Bang North West

Juhi says:

Us students from the Life Sciences Outreach Society joined in with the fun and excitement at this year’s fantastic Big Bang Fair! Returning for a second year, with the DNA Sweet Models and Strawberry DNA extraction workshops, we inspired yet more merseyside pupils. We got lots of great feedback from both the staff and pupils intrigued by our science – we certainly had lots of fun too!