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Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

On Saturday 23 March, we welcomed over 750 visitors to the department for Cambridge Science Festival, inviting them to explore our research, meet our scientists and take part in hands-on demos and experiments.

From 11am-2pm, visitors to the West Cambridge site could drop in to discover how chemical engineering and biotechnology impacts our world. The day was led by Dr Ljiljana Fruk and supported by over 50 volunteers from the department, including students, researchers and support staff.

“I've been involved in the Science Festival for several years now,” said Dr Fruk. “There are several benefits, one of which is to get a chance to talk about your science. It makes me think about my science differently: you get to answer questions that you never expected or have never had from your own peers. People put your own research in context. Honing your communication skills is very important and it puts your research into perspective.

“It's challenging because you have to talk about your work in a lay language, but I also feel that science plays such an important role in shaping the life of the public and it's very important that we talk about it more.”

A team from our Centre for Doctoral Training in Sensor Technologies demonstrated how 3D microscopes are used to reconstruct biological samples and how water scopes can be used to detect malaria in blood samples. Visitors could also take part in interactive experiments exploring the chemistry of colour, the process of biocatalysis, use NMR to study food composition, make energy with the help of bacteria, and find out about the applications of (nano)materials in healthcare and energy.

‘Science speed-dating’ gave people the chance to chat to our researchers in more depth: asking any burning science questions and finding out more about careers and opportunities in science. There were talks from Dr Katherine Smart, Anthie Moysidou, Dr Eric Rees and Vassileios Mappas, as well as an interactive workshop by Dr Fruk on ‘Molecules that changed the world’. There was also a dedicated kids’ zone, with a ‘molecular’ ball pit and sensing puzzle mat, and the department café was open for visitors to rest and recharge.

“I found the whole thing very fulfilling,” said Ioanna Mela, post-doctoral researcher in the Laser Analytics Group, who helped out with science speed-dating. “To be able to interact with kids of different ages and see what they want to know about chemical engineering, from the very basics of what is chemical engineering, how do you become a chemical engineer, to questions such as 'why does my cat lick the grass?', was a really fun experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“I think it's important for many different reasons but what is really close to my heart is that you have kids that come from backgrounds where they wouldn't necessarily have exposure to science, engineering or research generally. To make sure that this is something that's accessible, that everyone can do, and is open to every single person, regardless of your background, is super important to me.”

“The value for us as a family is that we've brought our children here,” said Mike Ayala, visiting with his wife and kids. “I wanted them to see that science is normal, this is where you've got to go to learn and make something of yourself. Biochemistry is a big growth field and the world is your oyster for anyone who wants to go out there and learn something. I've had great conversations learning a lot of things. I think with the synergy of everyone that's working here together, new good things are going to come out.”

“I've always had an interest in communicating scientific ideas to people who don't have a scientific background without losing any information or turning that information into mis-information,” said Georgeos Hardo, a Masters student in biotechnology working in the Sustainable Reaction Engineering Group.

“At the end of the day, it's the taxpayer that pays for a lot of scientific research and they want to see what's being done with that. You can't expect them to read the publications that you're publishing so you need to get out there and show them: look what we've found, this is how it's useful for you and this is how it's going to benefit your life. And also people just like to see fascinating stuff because humans are interested in things in general. You need to show people what's being done so they can get interested in it and go and do it themselves.”

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