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

Department of Engineering

School and community outreach

School and community outreach

Year 12 Engineering Masterclass

On Saturday 14 May the Department of Engineering and Cambridge Admissions Office are running an Engineering Masterclass for academically able Year 12 students from any school/college. The aim of the masterclass is to give students a flavour of undergraduate study at the University.

The day will feature two taster lectures from members of the Department's teaching staff: 'How Wings Work' by Professor Holger Babinsky and 'Holographic Projection: Beyond Star Wars' by Dr Tim Wilkinson.

There will also be a talk on the Admissions Process in Engineering by Dr Geoff Parks, Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges, and a session on Cambridge Student Life with some current Engineering undergraduates.

Top honour for Engineering alumna

Sakthy Selvakumaran

A graduate from the Department of Engineering has been named as one of thirty young rising stars of the manufacturing world.

I am passionate about highlighting the exciting opportunities on offer to encourage young people to give real consideration to engineering and manufacturing careers.

Sakthy Selvakumaran

'Make it in Great Britain' is a Government initiative to help highlight and celebrate British manufacturing. The 'Make it in Great Britain' campaign has chosen thirty young rising stars of the manufacturing world - '30 Under 30'- of which alumna Sakthy Selvakumaran is one. The 24-year-old was described by the judging panel as being "a true high-flyer, standing out from her peers and demonstrating passion, enthusiasm and ambition in her role."

The young professionals were selected by a panel of expert judges and come from all walks of manufacturing. They include young talent from companies such as Pendennis Shipyard and GlaxoSmithKline as well as small and medium-sized enterprises such as The Paper Cup Company and Vantage Power.

All aged under 30, the finalists will now go on to act as ambassadors for the 'Make it in Great Britain' campaign, which aims to transform the image of modern manufacturing. They will have a special role in engaging with other young people, to ensure that the next generation is aware of the opportunities and careers in the engineering industry.

Sakthy graduated in 2010 and now works full time on civil structures as a member of the engineering team at Ramboll. She spent most of her holidays before graduating assisting with a number of projects including the assessment of bridge upgrades for the enlargement programme of the Docklands Light Railway. For her masters research project, Sakthy carried out an analysis of micro-hydroelectric power schemes in the remote Peruvian Andes, undertaking both desk research and working out in the field. Immediately after graduating, Sakthy worked in Spain for a year with Davis Langdon and with the charity, Engineers Without Borders UK, having won the opportunity through a 2011 Vodafone World of Difference Award. She was also part of a team awarded a Commendation in the Society of Public Health Engineers' Young Engineers Award 2011.

Visiting the Engineering Department's Baker Building to meet year 12 students attending a summer workshop, Sakthy told the aspiring engineers: "The opportunities here in the Department of Engineering are endless. Whatever you want to do you will find someone prepared to help you. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and experiences of my time in Cambridge."

She added: "There are a wealth of jobs in manufacturing - from the conception and design of new technologies and processes through to actually delivering and making them. I am passionate about highlighting the exciting opportunities on offer to encourage young people to give real consideration to engineering and manufacturing careers, which are a rewarding way of using your skills to create solutions for society's most pressing challenges. As a sector we need to encourage fresh talent into the industry."

An obvious advocate of engineering as a career, Sakthy encourages university applications from minority ethnic groups and youths from disadvantaged areas through mentoring and speaking at events and is thoroughly enjoying her role as a '30 Under 30' ambassador.

Paul Jackson, CEO of Engineering UK and one of the '30 Under 30' judges said:"I am always impressed at the level of young talent present in manufacturing and engineering, and over the years have met countless young people brimming with potential who have gone on to achieve great things.

"That is one of the reasons why I am supporting 'Make it in Great Britain', and why I was happy to be a judge for the '30 under 30'."

The 'Make it in Great Britain' campaign aims to challenge outdated perceptions of the UK manufacturing industry, which is worth approximately £137bn to the UK economy each year and employs 2.5 million people.

The Department's Institute for Manufacturing plays host to the next generation of engineers

Students tackle the crane construction challenge

The Department's Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) played host to 29 GCSE students from Chelmer Valley High School, Chelmsford as part of an outreach project.

Chelmer Valley High School is delighted to once again work with the IfM. Our students have thoroughly enjoyed all the activities and they now have an informed and more realistic impression of what engineering is all about. It was on a previous visit that one of our students Richard Stephens, was inspired to read engineering at Cambridge and we were very proud to hear he recently gained a 1st class honour’s degree from King's College and is going on to study for his Masters.

Suzanne Mycock, Director of Engineering at Chelmer Valley

The fourteen and fifteen year-old students from the specialist engineering college enjoyed a day of fun activities. The students took part in a session that used the ‘just in time manufacturing’ or ‘JIT’ game to help understand the key points and processes of manufacturing and the fundamental differences of JIT manufacturing - setting up new systems which support only making what you know a customer actually requires.

Tim Minshall, Senior Lecturer in Technology Management, who recently received the Cambridge University Pilkington Prize for exceptional teaching, gave an enthusiastic and insightful presentation ‘What engineers really do’.

The students enjoyed lunch and a punt on the River Cam before returning to the IfM to face the crane construction challenge; a hands-on task which required skill and good understanding of key engineering principles to build a load bearing crane, using only paper and cardboard tubes as raw materials.

Suzanne Mycock, Director of Engineering at Chelmer Valley, said: “Chelmer Valley High School is delighted to once again work with the IfM. Our students have thoroughly enjoyed all the activities and they now have an informed and more realistic impression of what engineering is all about. It was on a previous visit that one of our students Richard Stephens, was inspired to read engineering at Cambridge and we were very proud to hear he recently gained a 1st class honour’s degree from King's College and is going on to study for his Masters.”

Outreach at the Department of Engineering aims to introduce children to the fun and excitement of engineering in a university research environment. Provision is made for students and staff to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists while developing their skills in communicating engineering ideas to a non-specialist audience.  The Department of Engineering develops and provides engineering resources for children, parents and teachers to use at home and in the classroom.

How wings really work

A 1-minute video released by the University of Cambridge sets the record straight on a much misunderstood concept - how wings lift.

I start by giving the wrong explanation and asking who has heard it and every time 95% of the audience puts their hand up. Only a handful will know that it is wrong.

Professor Holger Babinsky

It's one of the most tenacious myths in physics and it frustrates aerodynamicists the world over. Now, the Department's Professor Holger Babinsky has created a 1-minute video that he hopes will finally lay to rest a commonly used yet misleading explanation of how wings lift.

"A wing lifts when the air pressure above it is lowered. It's often said that this happens because the airflow moving over the top, curved surface has a longer distance to travel and needs to go faster to have the same transit time as the air travelling along the lower, flat surface. But this is wrong," he explained. "I don't know when the explanation first surfaced but it's been around for decades. You find it taught in textbooks, explained on television and even described in aircraft manuals for pilots. In the worst case, it can lead to a fundamental misunderstanding of some of the most important principles of aerodynamics."

To show that this common explanation is wrong, Holger filmed pulses of smoke flowing around an aerofoil (the shape of a wing in cross-section). When the video is paused, it's clear that the transit times above and below the wing are not equal: the air moves faster over the top surface and has already gone past the end of the wing by the time the flow below the aerofoil reaches the end of the lower surface.

"What actually causes lift is introducing a shape into the airflow, which curves the streamlines and introduces pressure changes - lower pressure on the upper surface and higher pressure on the lower surface," clarified Holger. "This is why a flat surface like a sail is able to cause lift - here the distance on each side is the same but it is slightly curved when it is rigged and so it acts as an aerofoil. In other words, it's the curvature that creates lift, not the distance."

Holger is quick to stress that he is far from the only aerodynamicist who is frustrated by the perpetuation of the myth: colleagues have in the past expressed their concerns in print and online. Where he hopes his video will help debunk the myth once and for all is by providing a quick and visual demonstration to show that the most commonly used explanation cannot possibly be correct. The original video, created by Holger a few years ago using a wind tunnel, has now been re-edited in high quality with a voice-over in which he explains the phenomenon as it happens.

Holger's research focuses on the fundamental aspects of aerodynamics as they relate to aircraft wings, Formula I racing cars, articulated lorries and wind turbines. One of his visions is to design a wing that will enable aircraft to fly faster and more efficiently. Using a massive wind tunnel within the Department of Engineering, Holger and his team have been modelling the shockwaves that are created on aircraft wings and that restrict the plane's top speed.

This video supported lectures Holger gave as part of a series of University of Cambridge Subject Masterclasses aimed at Year 12 school children: "It's important to put out this video because when I give this lecture to school kids I start by giving the wrong explanation and asking who has heard it and every time 95% of the audience puts their hand up. Only a handful will know that it is wrong."

Hands-on engineering fun

Hands-on enginering fun at Cambridge Science Centre

Members of the public are being encouraged to Build It! in a celebration of British engineering at the Cambridge Science Centre.

As an engineer myself, I know just how much the feel of building things inspires people.

Dr Chris Lennard, CEO of the Cambridge Science Centre

Pioneers from the Department of Engineering are amongst the experts presenting a new programme of innovation at the Centre's 'Build It!' exhibition which celebrates hands-on engineering.

Visitors - adults and children alike - can drop-by to explore 10 new exhibits, meet developers of innovative technology from around Cambridge and get hands-on by building intriguing devices and fascinating machines.

Many of the workshops and exhibits will help visitors come up with designs they might want to try out at the spectacular 'Chain Reaction' event in early November.

Since opening earlier this year, the Science Centre in Jesus Lane has had over 10,000 visitors - significantly more than projected. The 'Build It!' exhibition is a major update to the exhibition floor.

Dr Chris Lennard, CEO of the Cambridge Science Centre, said: "As an engineer myself, I know just how much the feel of building things inspires people. We have a very supportive space where families can drop by to learn some engineering principles and try out creative designs of their own.

"In addition to our engineering themed exhibits and workshops, the summer programme is packed with special events hosted by researchers and local companies, a great reminder of the fantastic developments happening right here on our doorstep."

Included in the summer programme are:-

Meet the Innovators: Want to know how to build great machines, gadgets and buildings? Over the summer the centre will showcase a number of local companies and researchers who will exhibit their work and explain the science behind it. Organisations presenting during the summer include the Department of Engineering, the Cambridge Eco Racing team, ARM, Mathworks, Microsoft Research and more.

Robo Building: Have you ever wondered how you control the way a robot moves? How a robot balances itself or follows a line? How a quad-copter flies in a straight line? The Centre will be running special workshops on robotics. These two-hour sessions will be a chance to get involved in building some amazing robotic creations with experts. Some of these robots might even get to feature in the Science Centre's 'Chain Reaction' spectacular in November.

Paint A Circuit: Make your own interactive greeting card with no wires! Discover how, with some special liquid-metal ink you can make your own simple electronic card with a flashing light.

Catch the Burglar: Build a security system to protect your treasure! Can you engineer a switch to sound the alarm when burglars try to break in? Then try being the burglar. Can your team make off with the jewels?

The 'Build It!' workshops and events lead up to the Centre's annual Chain Reaction event to be held on November 9 at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. Now in its third year, this popular event will see families and school groups building a massive chain of crazy interlinked contraptions nearly 100m long.

This year's Chain Reaction event will also include a special performance of the Crisp Packet Fireworks show by the Naked Scientists.

Further details about 'Build It!' exhibition and the 'Chain Reaction' event can be found at

Cheesy fun for Dyson outreach event

Standing (from left) Alex Robinson, Tom Dyson, Fraser Atkins, Wai-chuen Cheung; kneeling Will Vernon (left) and James Blood

Melted cheese and boomerangs were the order of the day when students from a Cambridge secondary school visited the Department to see demonstrations of cutting edge Engineering projects.

This has really changed my perception of engineering - I hadn't realised what a wide ranging subject it was, or how creative an engineer can be.

Natalia Adamson, year 10 student

The final day of term saw recipients of this year's James Dyson Foundation Undergraduate Bursaries hold an open morning for year 10 students from Parkside School. As part of their award, the final year Engineering students are expected to present their projects to other young people in a manner which will inform, educate and inspire them. Invited guests included some of the academics involved in supervising the projects, along with Tom Dyson, brother of James Dyson the inventor, industrial designer and founder of the Dyson company and the charitable James Dyson Foundation.

The Bursaries were established in 2011 to support fourth-year undergraduate student projects in Engineering Problem Solving and Design. The awards are targeted at projects which offer excellent opportunities for outreach work in schools and include individual bursaries of up to £1,000.

Students Wai-chuen Cheung, Fraser Atkins, Will Vernon, Alex Robinson and James Blood made presentations to the school students which involved demonstrating how wings work, projectile motion, solar powered cards and 3D printing. Paul Mallaband presented his project on Arduino electronics separately during an off-site school visit. Demonstrations and hands-on practical sessions saw the Parkside students simulating the effects of a 3D printer by using syringes full of melted cheese and tortilla wraps before moving onto building their own solar powered vehicles and mastering the tricky art of origami to create their own paper boomerangs.

Will Vernon commented: "I really enjoyed interacting with the students, it was great fun to hear their ideas and thoughts on the lecture subjects. I found it quite tricky to present to them on a new topic, and to explain the relevant engineering principles in a simple and understandable way but I was very impressed by how some of the teams approached the 3D printing task by coming up with very different and sometimes ingenious ways to build the tallest tower that none of us had thought of."

Alex Robinson, a member of the Cambridge University Eco Race team, showed how to build a basic car which could be powered by a solar cell and was impressed by how engaged the young students were with the task. He said: "I was impressed with the cars produced - the students obviously thought through the design, with some choosing to make three-wheeled versions to save weight, or even a four-wheel-drive version using two kits. I was surprised how involved the students were with the activity, as they were all very keen to get a working vehicle by the end, and clearly enjoyed testing them. Hopefully they could also see the links to real-world engineering design challenges."

The morning session was summed up by Fraser Atkins who concluded: "Seeing the enthusiasm of the students was incredibly rewarding and I sincerely hope that it has led to some of them considering engineering in the future."

Parkside student Natalia Adamson was in full agreement. She said:"This has really changed my perception of engineering - I hadn't realised what a wide ranging subject it was, or how creative an engineer can be."

Applications are currently being considered for next year's James Dyson Foundation Undergraduate Bursaries, when six more Engineering students will engage in challenging projects and inspiring outreach activities.

Building Bridges with HE Partnership

Cromwell Community College students build a truss bridge

Students from an East of England community school competed to build the best bridge during a visit to the Department of Engineering.

These things don’t come up in the course of a standard school day.

Mr Jonathan Fox

The visit was the first of many which the young pupils from Cromwell Community College will be making over the next few years as they take part in the University’s Higher Education (HE) Partnership programme.

Working in teams of 5, the students designed and built truss bridges out of paper tubes, nuts and bolts. The bridges were tested for load capacity and also scored for visual appeal.

Students were assisted with their designs by Maria Kettle, the Department's Outreach Officer, and by Matt Diston, HE Partnership co-ordinator.

Maria also led a tour of the Department, including the CAD workstations, wind tunnels, mechanical and electrical workshops, and the language unit, where students can study Chinese, French, German, Japanese and Spanish, equipping themselves to work in many parts of the world.

“School students don’t study engineering,” Maria said, “and if they don’t know any engineers they don’t get many chances to see the creativity and teamwork involved in an engineering career.

“We hope that this visit has given a small taste of the range of activities which engineers carry out in their work.”

Jonathan Fox, Co-Ordinator of Cromwell Community College’s “Succeed” programme, said: “Events like these are important because they help to widen our pupils’ awareness of why they are at school, and of what can be available to them in the future.

“One of the best bits about the day for me is actually the bus ride home – I hear conversations start about university, about future plans, and about what big brothers and sisters are doing. These things don’t come up in the course of a standard school day.”

Cromwell pupil Sophie enjoyed the visit: “I came to look at the university. I’ve never been to one before, so I wanted to look around. I’ll definitely come back on another event.”

In concluding the day, Matt told the group: “Every single one of you is here today because you have shown the potential to continue into sixth form and on to university. Not all of you might have thought about where that will take you yet. But you are here today because you have that potential. Trust me – you won’t be the first people to have that doubt but that is why you are here.”

HE Partnership is a collaborative project continuing the university’s work with local schools initiated under Aimhigher. Schools engaged in the HE Partnership are those which have significant cohorts of students from backgrounds with little or no family experience of higher education. There is a particular focus within the programme on younger learners.


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