Science week: on the road | University of Oxford
OSB archive
OSB archive

Science week: on the road

Cath Harris

Forensic science, fossil dating and volcanic eruptions were among the topics investigated by more than 400 secondary school students at this year’s Oxford University Science Roadshow.

Students also created their own solar cells, calculated the power the cells were generating and proposed research projects that could develop their potential.

The youngsters, aged from 11 to 18 and from six Oxfordshire schools, also had the chance to study particle physics and hear how it may be used to help treat cancer. They also learnt about and the links between geology and climate.

Roadshow organiser Dr Zareen Ahmed-Stewart, of Oxford’s Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division, said: 'We are taking science, new equipment and ideas into schools and providing students with hands on experience. They’re always amazed at how science can be applied to everyday life.'

‘We’ve had lots of positive feedback from schools particularly those that find it difficult to come to Oxford. Many teachers are keen for us to run similar initiatives outside of the Roadshow.'

The event ran from 14-18 March and is staged annually during National Science & Engineering Week to give students an insight into science research at the university and broaden their interest in science.

This year’s Roadshow started at Matthew Arnold School where, guided by a technician and the Department of Materials' Schools Liaison Officer, Jayne Shaw, pupils constructed their own dye sensitised solar cells.

They compared the efficiency of different dyes and assessed how solar cell research may be developed. Their work was linked to ongoing research into photovoltaics at Oxford and elsewhere. This solar cells workshop was a development from a workshop earlier in the year which was supported by the National HE STEM Programme.

Jayne said: ‘I had a great morning and was made to feel very welcome at the school. The children were an enthusiastic and bright group. Several said how much they enjoyed the work with one saying “It was fabulous!”’

At the Oxford Academy and Burford School, students worked with Sarah Lloyd, Education Officer at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History,  to date the remains of fossils. They were shown how some fossils provide better evidence than others and the large amount of evidence needed to confirm initial findings about the age of fossils.

Sarah said: ‘The students enjoyed the practical element of the work and were surprised by the diversity of fossils they managed to isolate. Their teacher described the workshop as “totally captivating.”'

The Roadshow explored the world of chemistry at Cheney School where youngsters worked with undergraduates and graduates from the University’s Department of Chemistry.

They played forensic scientists in a game of Cluedo, analysing samples found at a crime scene to solve the mystery. Later, they created their own chemical rainbows by working out how to stack organic and inorganic solvents in order of their density.

Cheney students were also joined by experts from the Department of Earth Sciences who showed them a collection of rocks from different geological ages. The rocks revealed how the UK’s climate has changed and how the changes are related to the movement of the world’s tectonic plates.

‘One thing that particularly engaged many students was the moment when they realised that rather than being a boring homogenous grey lump the piece of rock in front of them was actually packed full of the fossilised remains of pre-historic creatures and told the story of an ancient tropical sea in the UK,’ said David Ferguson of the Department of Earth Sciences.

Students at Fitzharrys School in Abingdon got up close and personal with the exciting world of particle and accelerator physics. They learnt how particle accelerators can do everything from recreating conditions just after the Big Bang to finding new ways to treat cancer, as well as finding out how to drive the world's biggest machine - the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

At Banbury School, Professor David Pyle from the Department of Earth Sciences explained how volcanoes form, and how they erupt as part of the cycle of tectonic movement, which in turn is driven by heat deep in the earth.

Professor Pyle said: 'My morning at Banbury School was lively not least because they have such a vibrant science area. I talked about the latest on the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and spent time with Year 12 chemists chatting about careers in science. The students listened well and fired several questions at me. It was definitely time well spent.'