Master Classes in Engineering (Year 9)
Five Year 9 students had an amazing opportunity to participate in virtual engineering master classes, run by Brunel University London which took place across four Saturdays between April-May 2021.
Students explored various aspects of science using modern technology, sustainability and the impact of human activities on the environment. The sessions included: making us all climate champions, flood risk modelling and forecasting, adapting to costal change and plastic pollution. This substantial opportunity helped them collaborate with students like-minded from other schools.
During the course, students were supported by highly competent STEM ambassadors from Brunel University, who talked enthusiastically about their fields of study and how they relate to the course. The participants were divided into teams (Breakout Rooms) for many tasks, which allowed them an opportunity for discussion and to think about ‘out of the box’ ideas regarding the activities. During the course, they also met representatives from the Environment Agency, whose goal is to protect our environment from the impact of future climate change – if we don’t take action immediately!
Ananya (9DXS) and Harini (9DXS)
The first session: Making us all climate champions!
Did you know that due to climate change, the intensity of storms and heavy rain has risen by 25%?
The first session was about flooding. One of the practical activities was to allocate essential supplies to flood volunteers under a fixed budget. During this activity we were presented with challenges, such as running a budget and accounting for new people. Our favourite part was brainstorming with the other students about new ideas to keep people safe. One of the ideas included having a drone to monitor water levels that would send warnings when a danger threshold was reached. Assembling VR glasses (included in resource packs) enhanced our problem solving abilities, and experiencing the impacts of flooding virtual reality gave us a deep understanding of the impact floods can have on lives, families and communities - both physically and emotionally.
Session Two: Flood risk modelling and forecasting
The program advisor’s job from the Environment Agency required making computer models from field data to design an effective floodplain system. This is a really important task as it helps to control the flow of water. There was much encouragement and support from the Environmental Agency representatives when trying out computer modelling at home with software like HEC-RAS.
The opportunity to design a floodplain using the software was truly enlightening, as this was a practical, hands-on activity. During the process, we used the skills we learnt to make communities safer.
Map and model:
Another important skill we learnt was how to collect field data. This included using advanced methods such as LIDAR (light detecting and ranging), or simple yet accurate methods such as rain - gauges. It helped us understand that different methods work best for different scenarios and often adaptation is necessary.
Session Three: Adapting to coastal change
In this scenario, living on an island, we have access to quite a few marvellous coastlines. However, problems like erosion do not just wash away (pun intended). The focus of this lesson was coastal defenses. We were fortunate to do some hands-on wave simulation, making our own defense systems with plasticine!
The thinking behind the idea
There’s a beach and several sand dunes with marram grass to stabilise them for tourism and to break the wave energy. The rock armour and embankment have the same purpose. Houses are covered with waterproofing and are built on stilts for a final layer of protection, with a pipe at the back to drain the water away.
The second image shows on how to make the community flood safe. It involves various ideas; including water level monitors, which raise the defenses if the water levels exceed the threshold.
It is a known fact that beaches are one of the best types of protection against flooding
and they also encourage tourism. Marram grass is commonly used to stabilise sand dunes, as it preserves the original visual appeal of the beach.
Groynes slow down longshore drift, which is the movement of sediment across the beach. However, groynes can cause problems further along the beach and this must be taken into consideration.
Session Four: Plastic Pollution
Over 350 million tons of plastic are produced each year and an estimated 12 million tons of plastic go into the ocean every year. Plastic pollution is a global problem and we must work together locally, nationally and internationally in order to stem the flow of plastic into our environment. All the plastic that was ever made, still exists in some form unless it was burnt. Plastic does not decompose! This lesson helped us identify the different sources of plastic pollution and gave us new insight into the impact of ways we can reduce plastic. For instance, one of the activities included calculating the reduction in CO2 emissions. Did you know that by switching to reusable water bottles and reusable hot drink containers, you could reduce your CO2 emissions by 9.1 kg?
This is hugely significant when we consider the increase in plastic manufacturing, as shown in the graph on the right
This course was a huge success. It was a new experience for us and we had an amazing opportunity to collaborate and share our ideas with new people. It is very important that opportunities like this are available to more students. We hugely enjoyed this new and productive learning environment where you can directly communicate with experts in the field. The course got our brains thinking and creativity buzzing. Thank you to the mathematics department for providing us this opportunity.
Ananya (9DXS) and Harini (9TXD)