Social Responsibility


To infinity and beyond: collaborative STEM outreach in Cumbria

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 09:47:00 GMT

The Dalton Nuclear Institute’s Dalton Cumbrian Facility team has inspired hundreds of teenagers to pursue careers in science, engineering and the arts after delivering the highly successful Infinity Festival of Science and Technology in West Cumbria.

The Infinity Festival is a collaborative, multidisciplinary outreach initiative bringing together public and private sector partners including the REACT Foundation, NuGen, the National Nuclear Laboratory, Sellafield Ltd, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the University of Cumbria, UCLAN and the Well North programme.

Professors Danielle George and Brian Cox joined a host of other experts at the festival in September, calling for pupils to ‘follow their dreams’ and become the next generation of world-class scientists and engineers.

Cumbria is a relatively remote rural region. Despite its status as a centre for nuclear expertise it is home to pockets of high child poverty and low progression into higher education. Hosted at West Lakes Academy, the Infinity Festival aimed to encourage disadvantaged young people in Cumbria to pursue careers in STEM to support the region’s massive future investment in the energy sector.

The Dalton Cumbrian Facility (DCF) is the University’s state-of-the-art nuclear research base, part of the Dalton Nuclear Institute and a National Nuclear User Facility. Located close to Sellafield in West Cumbria it was designed in partnership with the NDA to provide R&D and skills support for the significant technical challenges involved in nuclear decommissioning.

Providing academia and industry with facilities and expertise to carry out high-end research in radiation science and nuclear engineering, DCF supports research excellence and impact but also contributes significantly to collaborative social responsibility initiatives in Cumbria.

Infinity Festival headline speaker Professor Brian Cox told the students that Cumbria has a world-leading industry that ‘warrants great talent’. But, he said, there is a shortage of scientists and engineers.

He acknowledged the importance of inspiring future scientists and engineers while they are young – and underlined that the schools, universities and industries are there to help them realise their potential.

The festival was attended by more than 210 students from 31 schools across Cumbria, 100 student ambassadors from the academy and a dozen students from St Paul’s Way Trust School in London, where the sister event to Infinity, the Science Summer School, has been held for the past 6 years.

Ninety-five per cent of pupils surveyed at the event said they found it interesting and exciting, while 85 per cent said they had been inspired to think about a career in science, technology or the arts.

This holistic outreach approach was novel, bringing together delivery partners that ordinarily provide independent interventions and producing an event that was much greater than the sum of its parts. Pupils were involved in design and delivery from the outset and the focus was on inspiring the whole school community; parents, carers and technicians were given the confidence, enthusiasm and information they need to support pupils’ aspirations.

Connecting with the Well North programme (also run from the University of Manchester), Infinity is now established as a beacon of good practice for STEM intervention in other rural regions. Post-event evaluation is ongoing, and the intention is to seek sustainable funding to continue a legacy of school based activity throughout the academic year culminating in the annual Infinity Festival.

The Dalton Nuclear Institute and the Infinity Festival partners would like to extend their thanks to all the researchers, technical teams and supporters who gave up their time to make this event such a huge success.

Find out more on the Infinity Festival website; watch tour video and see some of the images from the Festival.

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