Department of Engineering / Events and Outreach / School and community outreach

Department of Engineering

School and community outreach

School and community outreach

Building life skills – Cambridge hosts regional final of robotics competition

Children and teenagers from across East Anglia descended upon the Department of Engineering for the regional final of a global robotics-based life skills competition.

The young people have to come up with a solution to a real-world problem and that’s what engineering is all about; it’s not just about science and inventing for the sake of it, it’s taking that and making it useful for humanity.

Alumnus Andrew Smyth

Billed as the ultimate science and technology challenge, FIRST® LEGO® League challenged the pupils to design, build and programme a robot to autonomously compete in missions.

The regional final attracted ninety 9 to 16-year-olds who had spent weeks preparing for the contest. They were also asked to create an innovative solution to a real-world problem, and the theme of this year’s challenge was hydrodynamics, designed to encourage the pupils to think about how we find, transport, use, or dispose of water.

The event was compered by alumnus Andrew Smyth, aerospace engineer at Rolls-Royce and Great British Bake Off finalist 2016.

Teams had two-and-a-half minutes to complete missions on the competition field in order to score points. They also had to make a five-minute pitch to the judges who quizzed them about their robot designs and innovative solution based on the hydrodynamics theme.

Compere Andrew Smyth during Bedford Modern School's competition mission. Credit: Form the Future CIC

Colchester Royal Grammar School’s Team Aquarius were crowned the overall champions after impressing the judges with their amazing robot design and project idea for recycling rainwater to minimise waste. They will go through to compete against 46 other regions in the UK and Ireland final in Bristol in February.

Team BingBangBong from Fulbourn Primary School won the Judges Award, and ‘Pizza, the Cambridge Robot’ from Cambridge Home Educating Families was awarded best robot performance. Awards were also given to teams from Bedford Modern School and Ipswich School for developing the most creative project and robot design, respectively.

The regional final was managed by Form the Future and sponsored by Qualcomm. The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is the operational partner for the competition in the UK and Ireland.

Mandy Workman, IET Education Manager – FIRST® LEGO® League, said: “The young people learn so many different skills like problem solving, critical thinking, presentation skills, team work, and conflict resolution. This is a life skills robotics-based competition that prepares young people for work in the 21st century workplace and we hope that sitting amongst all these teams are our future engineers and innovators.”

Andrew Smyth added: “Events like FIRST® LEGO® League are really important. It sets the context of what an engineer does. The young people have to come up with a solution to a real-world problem and that’s what engineering is all about; it’s not just about science and inventing for the sake of it, it’s taking that and making it useful for humanity.”

Engineering graduates create new technology blog

Four recent graduates of the University of Cambridge – three from Engineering – have created a new technology and science blog that promises to break down big technological ideas in a relatable way.

thefullapple is a technology and science blog with the mission of explaining today’s biggest trends in an understandable and easy-to-digest manner. The site expands on key terms that both academics and industry professionals are interested in and which will impact our lives and society as a whole. All articles are factual, referenced and cutting-edge, with plenty of resources for further reading.

Site founders (clockwise from top left) Arsha Nagrani, David Brückner, Sarah Barrington and Mihir Bhushan

The website’s founders are graduates Arsha Nagrani, Mihir Bhushan and Sarah Barrington from the Department of Engineering and David Brueckner from the Department of Physics.

The blog is targeted at both younger and older generations who want to understand more about the world of technology. From explaining complicated terms such as quantum computing and machine learning to answering why gin and tonic tastes so sweet, thefullapple posts on a variety of topics and is rapidly gaining momentum.

Follow thefullapple on Facebook at facebook.com/thefullapplenews, and to contribute or see your own research published, email the editors at thefullapple@gmail.com.

Addressing bias on National Women in Engineering Day

The Department of Engineering celebrated National Women in Engineering Day on June 23 with a forum on addressing unconscious bias and a visit from Cambridge TV to interview two female researchers about their work. 

Guest presenter Donna Carty of Challenge Training Consultancy was invited to speak at the Department to an audience of about 100 men and women in an event entitled ‘Addressing Unconscious Bias.’ The forum was sponsored by Taylor Vinters and TTP plc. and organised and hosted by Camille Bilger, PhD student in the Energy Group.

During the forum, Donna explored how, despite the best efforts of companies and universities to ensure diversity, efforts can be undermined by unconscious bias – the unintentional preferences formed by our socialisation and experiences. These pervasive and often negative biases can play out in the workplace and affect all people regardless of gender, race or religion. In order to address these biases, Donna posited, it’s important to be aware of the micro-messages we broadcast and to step back by developing a constructive uncertainty surrounding the people with whom we interact.

As the theme of National Women in Engineering Day 2016 was raising profiles of women in engineering, the Department’s Women in Engineering website published several profiles of students and staff that demonstrate how women are forging successful paths at Cambridge in all branches of engineering and at every level.

Finally, Cambridge TV looked at the important roles of women in engineering by visiting the Department and interviewing Dr Jenni Sidey, University Lecturer in Internal Combustion Engines, and Camille for a story airing during the daily news programme. The video is embedded above.

WiE Forum: Addressing Unconscious Bias

Photo gallery: Women in Engineering Forum on Addressing Unconscious Bias

Contact us

We are passionate about Engineering. We want to raise awareness of the diversity of Engineering as a profession. Come and study Engineering with us. We offer:

  • Tours of the Department of Engineering for school groups
  • Hands-on activities for families, schools and community groups
  • Public lectures
  • Residential events

Many events are free, all events are challenging, stimulating and fun.

Information about forthcoming events is spread through our mailing lists. The Family Mailing List is a general list that receives information about activities suitable for a wide range of ages. This includes the Discover Engineering Family Workshops held on 5 Saturdays per year at the Department. The Teenage Families Mailing List is aimed at older participants and passes on information about public lectures and university admissions events. Anyone is welcome to join these lists, including those who work or volunteer with budding Engineers.

Contact us to find out more about our Outreach work and how it can help you or to join the mailing lists: outreach-officer@eng.cam.ac.uk

Women in engineering celebrated with inaugural competition

The Inspirational Women Engineers competition celebrating women in the field was held at the Department of Engineering. The winners were announced at an event during a lunchtime champagne reception. 

The competition was run by the Athena Swan team in order to raise awareness of the many amazing women engineers, past and present, and to help inspire others to pursue study and careers in engineering. Nearly all the engineering portraits that hang around the Department of Engineering are of male engineers; displaying the winning entries will help to redress the balance and counteract the ‘stereotype threat’ effect for the many women now studying and working in the department.

The competition attracted 60 nominations of women from all over the world and all engineering disciplines – from over 2000 years ago up to the very current achievements of Department of Engineering alumna Ruth Buscombe. Ineligible for nomination were women currently working or studying in the department, as this would have made judging an impossible task.

The quality of entries was excellent, and with so many interesting stories the judging panel found their task very difficult. After some discussion, first prize was awarded to Vere Whittome for his nomination of Margaret Hamilton.


Margaret Hamilton

Using one of the first chip-based computers with only 64k of memory, Margaret successfully wrote the code which enabled humans to land on the moon. Through her scientific papers and the work of the company she later founded she also made important contributions to ideas about fault-tolerance and reliability.

Vere, an undergraduate engineer in the department, was presented with his prize of an iPad by Professor Dame Ann Dowling, who also presented gift tokens for chocolate to the twenty runners up. Dame Ann, former Head of Department and Professor in the Energy, Fluid Mechanics and Turbomachinery division, now serves as President of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The winning and shortlisted entries have been designed and printed in-house and are on display in the Engineering Library. After the initial display, the posters will be framed and shown around the Department’s various buildings. The 60 total entries will be bound together in a booklet which will be available in the library.

There is already interest in running the competition again, and the hope is this will become an annual event.

To complement the competition posters we are currently seeking profiles of women engineers (both staff and students) from within the Department. We are aiming to publish these profiles to coincide with National Women in Engineering Day on 23 June 2016 to inspire potential women applicants by showing that women are forging successful paths at Cambridge in all branches of engineering and at every level. If you are interested or wish to know more, please visit this link

Local teenagers bridge the gap to a career in industry

Students from six Fenland schools are taking part in a programme designed to encourage students interested in engineering and manufacturing. 

It’s about encouraging all young people to fulfil their potential and pursue a rewarding career path.

Matt Diston, Widening Participation Project Coordinator

The University's annual Fenland Engineering Taster Events are hosted by Metalcraft , a cutting-edge manufacturer and major employer in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.

Metalcraft makes equipment for international clients in energy, medical science and other industries – one of its most high-profile projects was at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

Back in Chatteris, the company also offers a traditional engineering apprenticeship, drawing most of its recruits from local schools. The University of Cambridge has been working with the firm to inspire and encourage students in local schools for several years.

In the first quarter of 2016, The Fenland Engineering Taster programme engaged 92 Year-10 students from six schools: Neale Wade Academy (March), Cromwell Community College (Chatteris), Ely College, Witchford Village College, Thomas Clarkson Academy (Wisbech) and Sir Harry Smith Community College (Whittlesey).

​The full-day events comprise a bridge-building challenge overseen by outreach teams from the University and its Engineering Department, followed by a tour around Metalcraft’s workshops with the firm’s Apprentice Coordinator, Neil Kirby.

Participants are asked to build a bridge across a 1m gap using only paper, key rings and steel nuts and bolts. After receiving a crash course in bridge design, each team competes to build the bridge with the highest strength-to-mass ratio. Each team’s bridge is tested to breaking point by hanging masses to it.

In late February, it was the turn of eleven students from Thomas Clarkson Academy. Among them, Dylan soon took responsibility for quality control, telling his teammates: “Make sure the paper is rolled tight or it won’t be strong enough”. Across the room, James concluded: “This is much better than double maths”.

Metalcraft’s Neil Kirby comments: “This programme not only introduces Year 10s to engineering basics, it also gets them thinking about what they want to do when they leave school. Metalcraft stays in contact with local schools all year round and it’s great to be working with Cambridge University to encourage local teenagers to aim high.”

Matt Diston, Widening Participation Project Coordinator at Cambridge University says: “This is one of the really successful aspiration-raising projects run by the University in the region and we are committed to doing even more. Our work isn’t just about inspiring students to apply to top universities, it’s about encouraging all young people to fulfil their potential and pursue a rewarding career path.”

The Fenland Engineering Taster Events are run as part of the University’s Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Schools Outreach Group (CAPSOG).

In 2015, members of the group arranged over 51,000 interactions with students from 134 local primary and secondary schools to give students potentially life-changing educational opportunities.

CAPSOG’s members include the Department of Engineering, the University’s eight Museums and Botanic Garden, the Cavendish Laboratory, the Millennium Mathematics Project, St Catharine’s College and several other Offices.

Student projects find a home as new Oatley Garage opens

The Oatley family in front of the garage

Student projects such as Full Blue Racing and Cambridge University Eco Racing have had to build in any area they could find – with no easy storage solutions for cars between competitions – until a generous donation from the Oatley family has provided for a dedicated space for these projects. 

We wanted to thank the Engineering Department at Cambridge for what they did for our son, Joe, setting him on a brilliant career path.

Geoff and Jean Oatley

The Oatley Projects Garage officially opened in a ceremony on 15 February by benefactors Geoff and Jean Oatley. Also present were son Joe Oatley, Department of Engineering graduate (1987) and now CEO of Cape plc., international provider of support services to the energy and mineral resources sectors; Joes wife Jane, graduate of the Department of Veterinary medicine; and several other family members.

The garage’s electric door opened to reveal ‘Evolution’ the Eco Racing Team’s solar car returned from the World Solar Challenge in Australia, alongside the Full Blue Racing Team’s FBR16 (Formula 1 car). The student team members were able to thank Geoff and Jean personally, and explain how valuable the new garage is to their projects; this is their first ever garage area on site – it will save the project teams huge amounts of time and money.

The Oatley grandchildren Sam, Sophie and Patrick tried out both cars and later built their own mini solar cars in the Dyson Centre for Engineering Design under the supervision of Outreach Officer Maria Kettle.

Several members of the Department of Engineering were present at the opening, including Professor David Cardwell (Head of Department), Mr Philip Guildford (Director of Research), Dr Claire Barlow, Dr David Cole, Dr Paul Heffernan, Dr Richard Roebuck, Dr Hugh Shercliff, Dr Ronan Daly, Dr Simon Guest and Tom Ridgman, as well as representatives from student teams Full Blue Racing and Cambridge University Eco Racing.

“We wanted to thank the Engineering Department at Cambridge for what they did for our son, Joe, setting him on a brilliant career path,” said Geoff and Jean. Their gift not only provides for the cutting-edge garage-cum-workshop for student projects but enables the Department’s outreach work with the local community.

The Department of Engineering hosts or is associated with a number of student-led societies in addition to Full Blue and Eco Racing, such as Cambridge University Spaceflight, the Cambridge Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Team, Engineers Without Borders, the ecohouse initiative, Cambridge University Autonomous Flight and Cambridge University Entrepreneurs. More information about the Department’s student-led societies can be found at the link to the right. 

Oatley Projects Garage Opening

Gallery: Opening of the Oatley Projects Garage

Engineering at work in the 2016 Cambridge Science Festival

The annual two-week Cambridge Science Festival will feature several events represented by members of the Department of Engineering. 

The Cambridge Science Festival provides the public with opportunities to explore and discuss issues of scientific interest and concern and to raise aspirations by encouraging young people to consider a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Each year, the Festival welcomes visitors to hundreds of events and receives extensive national and local media coverage. Over 170 event coordinators organise talks, interactive demonstrations, hands-on activities, film showings and debates with the assistance of around 1,000 staff and students from departments and organisations across the University and research institutions, charities and industry in the eastern region. In addition, more than 150 people volunteer their time to act as stewards to ensure visitors have a safe and enjoyable Festival experience.

Running from 7–20 March and with more than 300 events, this year’s programme examines the growing interaction between humans and technology. Following are a selection of events which feature the breadth of research performed by faculty and students from the Department of Engineering.

Intelligence and learning in brains and machines

Professor Zoubin Ghahramani
Professor of Information Engineering

What is intelligence? What is learning? Can we build computers and robots that learn? How much information does the brain store? How does mathematics help us answer these questions? Professor Zoubin Ghahramani takes us on a journey exploring these questions and leading us to the field of machine learning: the invisible algorithms underlying many of the tools we now use every day.

Tuesday, 15 March
6pm – 7pm
Mill Lane Lecture Rooms

Dambusters, Colditz and climate change: the Blitz spirit

Dr Hugh Hunt
Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration
Department of Engineering

Colditz Castle and the Dambusters raid are two of the most iconic events of World War II. Based on his experience, Dr Hugh Hunt looks at the engineering challenges faced by Barnes Wallis in his design of the bouncing bomb and by the prisoners of war who never flew the glider they built in the roof of Colditz. Can this ‘Blitz Spirit’ help us tackle climate change? What would a modern-day Barnes Wallis dream up?

Saturday, 12 March
3.30pm – 4.30pm
Mill Lane Lecture Rooms

Biomimetic materials: rethinking how we build stuff

Dr Michelle L Oyen
Reader in Bioengineering

Looking at the city skyline, it’s easy to identify the two materials best loved by civil engineers: steel and concrete,energy intensive and heavy. In comparison, natural building blocks are light with a low energy input. Dr Michelle Oyen explores natural building blocks and asks can we rethink how we build our future cities?

Wednesday, 9 March
8pm – 9pm
Mill Lane Lecture Rooms

The James Dyson Foundation Engineering Challenge

Join engineers from Dyson to reconstruct a Dyson machine head and take part in other short engineering challenges. Presented with the James Dyson Foundation.

Saturday, 19 March
Noon – 4pm
University of Cambridge Sports Centre

How to train your robot

Rachel Garsed
Research Student
Department of Engineering

Philip Garsed
Research Associate
Cavendish Laboratory

We live in a world surrounded by computers, and increasingly also robotics. But how do we get these machines to do what we want? Find out with Philip Garsed and Rachel Garsed in this fun and interactive demonstration, as they try to program their (suspiciously life-like...) robot to carry out a simple task.

Saturday, 12 March
11am – 11.45am
Mill Lane Lecture Rooms

Pecha Kucha challenge

Graduate engineering students take on the challenge of sharing their research with you in just six minutes forty seconds. Will they succeed? Join us for just one talk or stay for as many as you like – they can be addictive!

Saturday, 19 March
2pm – 4pm
Institute for Manufacturing

Robogals workshop

Learn to programme Lego Mindstorms robots with Robogals Cambridge. Robogals is a student organisation aiming to increase female participation in engineering. The workshop is aimed at girls, although everyone is welcome.

Monday 7 March and Wednesday 9 March
5.30pm – 6.30pm
Department of Engineering

CHaOS and Robogals: robots at Crash, Bang, Squelch!

Join CHaOS and Robogals Cambridge for robotics workshops. Zero experience is required, as we’ll  teach you all the basics so you can start making your own robots do amazing things in no time at all.

Saturday, 12 March
10.15am – 3.45pm (several sessions available)
Department of Zoology, New Museums Site

Fixed-wing aircraft

Make a model aircraft that uses the energy stored in a rubber strip to drive it through the air. Optimise your design to manage this limited energy source and achieve a stable flight. Join engineers from the University of Cambridge Department of Engineering for an exploration of how wings work and how aircraft and birds control their flight.

Saturday, 12 March
10am – 4pm
University Centre

Primary rocket launch pad

School groups from years 5 and 6 are invited to the Department of Engineering to explore 3D geometry by making a rocket launch pad structure. The event finale is launching paper rockets with compressed air. Well-made rockets will land on our roof!

Open to school groups for pupils aged 9–11
14 – 18 March
Department of Engineering

Registration is now open for all events at the Cambridge Science Festival website.

Department's sculpture awarded protected status

Construction in Aluminum by Kenneth Martin

A 1967 sculpture at the Department of Engineering is among 41 post-war public sculptures listed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England. 

Situated in front of the Department of Engineering’s Baker and Inglis Buildings, Kenneth Martin’s Construction in Aluminum resides on Trumpington Street in Cambridge. The piece represents a formula used in jet propulsion and was made in Department workshops with the assistance of Cambridge engineers. It is part of Martin’s Oscillation series – works inspired by physics and music.

The work is included among 40 other sculptures given added protection, each designed to bring public spaces in England back to life after World War II.

Kenneth Martin (1905–1984) was an English painter and sculptor, who together with his wife Mary Martin and Victor Pasmore was a leading figure in the revival of Constructivism in the 1940s. Primarily Martin made mobiles save from the Oscillation sculptural series throughout the 1960s. These all consisted of bars stacked and sometimes progressing up in regular steps, at other times stopping or jumping. Martin likened this to the rhythms of jazz.

Work Experience at the Department of Engineering

Each year, the Department of Engineering offers a small number of work experience placements to school students who must be at least 15 years old when the work experience takes place. We offer a range of work experience routes, some roles support the work of this huge Department, others are suitable for high fliers aiming to study engineering or related subjects at university. We ask all work experience applicants to provide contact details for their school and to prove their right to work in the UK.  Please note that work experience opportunities at the Department of Engineering are limited, we cannot offer places to everyone but we do our best to match people to pathways.  Places are allocated at our discretion.

If you are interested in work experience but do not ordinarily live in Cambridge, you must make your own arrangements for accommodation during your time in Cambridge.  You will not be offered a placement unless you have an adult who lives locally and who is prepared to act in loco parentis for you, we will require written agreement from this person that they are willing to undertake this duty and full contact details for them.  Finally, we will require letters from both your school and your parents stating that they understand these arrangements and that they are happy with them.

The Department of Engineering is particularly keen to receive applications from people considering the traditional engineering apprenticeship route. The Department would also like to work with creative students who enjoy maths. We especially welcome applications from female students.

In 2018, work experience placements will take place during the week commencing Monday 9th July.   The closing date for applications for the 2018 round of Work Experience placements is Monday 8th January 2018.

To apply for a work experience placement at the Department of Engineering, download and complete the application form below. Please send your completed form to hr-office-t@eng.cam.ac.uk.

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