Objects of Invention, a learning project at the Museum of the History of Science is one of three projects to be been shortlisted for a national award for their public engagement work in the national Engage Competition run by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE).
Objects of Invention was the brainchile of Chris Parkin, Lead Education Officer at the Museum, who wanted to find a way of capitalising on the Museum's remarkable collection of inventive artefacts while enabling young engineers to gain experience in public engagement, bringing their knowledge and enthusiasm to the Museum's diverse audiences.
A total of 18 engineers, mainly graduate students, were involved in the project including a strong contingent of biomedical engineers. After a series of training sessions in methods of public engagement and museum object handling which were supported by the Joint Museums’ Volunteers Service, the students devised activities for a family day in March which coincided with National Science and Engineering Week 2013, an event which attracted a near record single day audience of over 2,000 visitors. This was quickly followed by a schools’ event and two further days for schools in June which together attracted over 160 secondary students from local schools. Activities ranged from experimenting with gyroscopes and Stirling engines, to steam pumps and mobile medical devices.
Teachers accompanying the school groups were very enthusiastic and commented on the positive effect on their students: ‘It was good to have people working in the field to share their knowledge with the students which encouraged their view on engineering’.
Although the emphasis was on current engineering applications, the students were able to relate their ideas about engineering to historical ancestors in the collection which include, amongst other things, the earliest radio devices invented by Marconi and pieces of Charles Babbage’s extraordinary mechanical computer from the Victorian era.
Being shortlisted for the NCCPE award is a remarkable achievement given that over 230 entries were received. Applications uncovered a broad range of high quality activity inspiring and involving public audiences, and covered a diversity of subjects – from exploring the universe to understanding the atomic world; from representations of childhood to supporting innovation in early years learning; from community organisations working alongside university researchers to using drama or comedy to animate research.
John Womersley, Public Engagement Champion for Research Councils UK, said “It is great to see so many examples of the valued contributions that UK researchers make to society. When people think of public engagement, what usually comes to mind is the need for researchers to share their findings. Of course that's hugely important, but the entries to this competition show a much richer range of two-way engagement that can bring much deeper benefits both to research and society.”
Paul Manners, Director of the NCCPE said "As part of our work to inspire universities to improve their support for engagement, the competition aimed to find and celebrate excellent practice from across the UK. We have been delighted by the high quality of entries, which has raised the bar on what can be achieved through an engaged approach to research. The culture of the academy is changing, as researchers recognise the value of engagement, and we hope the competition provides an opportunity to inspire more people to get involved.”
The winners will be announced at the national Engage Competition Awards ceremony on 11th June 2014, at the Natural History Museum (NHM). The competition forms part of Universities Week, a week-long celebration of public engagement with research that is taking place across the UK from the 9th June. As part of this some of the finalists will be showcasing their work at a free event at the Natural History Museum on June 11th from 6-10pm.