Discover Engineering @ Cheltenham Science Festival

Discover Engineering

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Exhibiting at an event like Cheltenham Science Festival brings its own unique brand of challenge for a group like ours, members of The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), working collaboratively in our spare time, fitting event logistics around careers and family. The festival is a departure from our usual activities, which focus on organising fascinating talks by eminent engineers and visits to great engineering sites (normally free to attend – great fun for the technical enthusiast!).

So why do we do it? It could be the pleasure of facilitating the delight a child feels on having built their very own ‘torch’ or making the connection between changing the angle on a toy wind turbine and the positioning of real-life wind turbines on a hill. Helping to ignite that spark of curiosity definitely plays a big part.

But an equal motivation is the need to bring engineering into real focus amongst young people. Today’s media tends to portray the engineer as either a wild haired man scribbling maniacally at a chalkboard layered with formulae or the boiler repair man. In reality engineers fall somewhere between these stereotypes, and include women, designers and all sorts of creative thinkers. The word ‘engineer’ really means ‘problem-solver’ and, with projected job openings of 7.74 million between 2010 – 2020, there are plenty of careers for young people to aspire to.

The 2013 State of Engineering report from Engineering UK shows that perceptions of engineering amongst young people are changing, with the proportion of 12 – 16 year olds expressing some understanding of engineering nearly doubling between the 2011 and 2012 surveys. Before we get too excited, the figure has doubled to a less than stunning 19.8%, which means that there is still work to do!

This year – in collaboration with the IMechE and Engineers without Borders – there will be a big block of engineering experiences for children at the Cheltenham Science Festival.

The range activities available for Youngsters from the IET stand will include:

* Making their very own mini LED torch
* Experimenting with electrical conductors and insulators
* Testing the aerodynamics of wind turbine blade designs

Hopefully our collective efforts will help shed some light on the mysterious world of engineering, and help strip away some of the misconceptions around this fascinating profession.