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Researchers from the Bristol University’s EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Composites for Innovation and Science (ACCIS CDT) led an outreach event with a difference for Year 7 students at the Crypt School in Gloucester.
The event, which was organised to mark the official opening of the Crypt School’s new £1.8 million engineering block, involved a range of external engineering companies and academic institutions, including EDF, Delphi Diesel Systems, GE Aviation, Reinshaw, Royal Navy and the Universities of Bristol and Leicester.The University of Bristol was represented at the event by staff and students from the ACCIS CDT, the University’s cutting-edge centre for composites research and education, which was established in 2009 following a £7.1 million award from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. It was the first event of its kind coordinated by the ACCIS CDT’s recently established student-led public engagement committee. The aim was to educate the school’s students about composites and specifically to introduce them to some of the ground-breaking research being done in the ACCIS CDT through a series of talks and hands-on practical activities.The ACCIS CDT team ran four sessions, each lasting just over an hour, over the course of the day. Each session accommodated 16 students, making a total of 64 participants.Each session started with introductions from the staff and students, alongside some background information about the University and the CDT. Dr Richard Trask, a Reader in Multifunctional Materials, then gave an introduction to composite materials, explaining why and how they are used.Participants were then given to chance to test the properties of some composite materials for themselves in a practical experiment led by PhD student Simon Bates.Two blocks of ice, one reinforced with drinking straws and the other with sawdust, were the test specimens, alongside a benchmark block of pure ice. After hypothesising how these blocks would react to a hammer blow, participants donned protective equipment and three volunteers enthusiastically tested the three blocks to destruction. The experiment successfully demonstrated how even low volumes of reinforcement can drastically improve the toughness of an otherwise brittle material.Dr Alberto Pirrera, Lecturer in Composites Structures, then considered a particular composite application – a bridge. He introduced participants to some basic structural concepts and showed them examples of novel bridge design. The students were then let loose with marshmallows and spaghetti and tasked with building their own bridges in small groups. After evaluating the various designs, a prize was awarded to the students deemed to have built the best bridge.Next, two PhD students gave talks about their research. Simon Bates discussed his work on protecting lifeboat crews from wave impacts, which included a live 3D printing demo. A few lucky spectators received 3D printed wristbands to take away.Shashitha Kularatna then demonstrated to the students how virtual reality, motion tracking and haptic feedback technologies can be combined to train composite laminators and explained how this could aid the standardisation of hand lamination. Participants got a chance to use a Leap Motion Controller, which senses the movement of the users’ hands and fingers so they can interact with a computer in a whole new way, and a Samsung Gear VR headset, sophisticated head gear that gives the wearer the illusion of moving through a virtual environment.At the end of each session, the student who had contributed the most was given a special prize in the form of a carbon fibre trophy.More information: www.bristol.ac.uk