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Climate of change – students look to the future for STEM Insight Week

Thursday 4th November 2021

During an unseasonably warm October and the build up to COP26 – the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow – we were excited to welcome an enthusiastic group of young people to our Climate Change themed STEM Insight Week. Secondary school students from the region took part in free talks and tours over half term, showcasing companies at the cutting edge of research and technology into solving the world’s climate crisis.

It was great to be able to meet our students in person again. Our tour of University of Oxford’s Museum of Natural History included Meat the Future, an exhibition on food, farming and climate change. Ninety per cent of people across the world are meat-eaters and global consumption is rising, but new research has revealed the cost of a meaty menu. University of Oxford’s LEAP project (Livestock, Environment and People) studies the health, environmental, social and economic impacts of meat and dairy production and consumption – their findings and future predictions are on display until May 2022. Students also had a peak behind the scenes at the museum’s collections to understand how the climate has impacted on species, where they met some giant Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches!

We toured renewable energy initiative Osney Lock Hydro, the first community-owned hydro scheme to be built on the Thames, with Zoe Toone from social enterprise Low Carbon Hub. The project generates clean electricity for local households whilst giving protection from flooding – and even allows fish to move freely up the river for the first time in 200 years!

Sustainability in the manufacturing process was key as Witney-based company Abbott ran a virtual sandwich-making Start-Up activity, generating ideas about production and transport, locally-sourced ingredients and shelf-life, packaging and waste. We heard about the impact of global climate change on indigenous populations with Vertex Pharmaceuticals, such as the effect of drought for the Maasai people in Kenya, and discovered the work of black environmental scientists, especially relevant during Black History Month. Students were ‘fully charged’ after a talk by renewable energy company Faraday Institution and practised skills in CV writing, presenting and critical thinking with GKN Automotive.

It was fascinating to hear about new technology and research on tackling climate change. We learnt about the UK’s largest fusion reactor at Culham, and the MAST Upgrade experiment tackling plasma exhaust. With energy prices rocketing, a timely hands-on session with Habitat Energy predicted usage over the national grid, peaking, for example, when we switch our lights on in the evening – so think twice about making that cup of tea after work! At the end of the week, our students were optimistic about the many ways in which this problem is being tackled using new technology, adjustments to processes to make them more efficient and building awareness. The passion of those looking to make that change happen – and happen quickly – was inspiring.

Finally, our young people had the opportunity to put forward their questions for Low Carbon Hub to bring to COP26, and to send their own message to politicians and companies. Student’s questions included: Are they planning to add climate change and other environmental issues to Education, to teach young people about the issue? Are there any plans of banning single-use plastics? Other suggestions were: An international traffic light system that indicates a products carbon footprint, so it’s easier for consumers to be eco-friendly, and an annual school day where all classes get together to come up with ideas to help solve climate change. Watch this space!

“Thank you for an amazing week – I really enjoyed learning about the companies doing their bit for climate change and it’s really helped me understand more about how broad the STEM subjects are!”

Our STEM Insight Weeks are free to attend, find out more and how to apply here.

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