Sunday, 15 March 2015

Fantastic Plastic! Fantastic Success!

In the last week of February RSC Belgium organised a demo lecture tour of schools and a public lecture with Prof Dr Averil Macdonald emerita professor at Reading University and her famous 'Fantastic Plastic' lecture. The tour visited five schools: the European Schools at Mol, Brussels Laeken, Brussels Woluwe and Brussels Ixelles, and the British School of Brussels -  where we also held a public lecture on the evening of 26 February.

The lectures were a fantastic success with a total audience approaching 1000 students, RSC Belgium members and friends. Feedback from teachers at all the schools venues indicated that the lecture had certainly made an impact on the audiences and moved many to think more seriously about their future options for a science career.

Prof Macdonald (below) is Professor of Science Engagement at the University of Reading and is also a leading advocate for encouraging young women to get interested in science and engineering and seek science-based careers. Amongst many other roles she is a Trustee of the London Science Museum and chairs the UK Expert Group for Women in Science.


She has recently published a report on the issues around encouraging women into science, technology and engineering (STEM) - and why the current messaging is not right. Most girls decide that jobs and careers in science are “not for people like me”. The report shows why STEM outreach and engagement activities have a limited impact on girls and other young people who are under-represented in the STEM workforce and recommends a fresh approach.

You can download the report here.

Top lecture
Prof Macdonald's lecture explores the links between Lego™ blocks, zero pollution cars, disposable nappies, liquids that flow up hill, and false legs! She also shows how this links with the perfect recipe for slime - and shows how science and innovation can be used to make you a Millionaire!

Prof Macdonald's lecture gives a brief overview of the great variety of physical properties of plastics that make them suitable for various intriguing and surprising applications. She then introduces the concept of polymers consisting of long chain molecules, their ability to exist as solid and liquids and their ability to exhibit the properties of both (as in slime).


Lively demonstrations show the effects of increasing temperature, cross linking molecules, "tangling up" the polymer chains, and dissolving them in liquids. Some examples are given to show how by controlling what happens at the molecular level, the characteristics of the final material are determined. Averil focuses as much on enterprise and business opportunities as she does on the chemistry and properties of polymer molecules with plenty of interest for both budding engineers and entrepreneurs! And our audiences clearly loved it!

Big thanks
As well as huge thanks to all the schools, RSC Belgium acknowledges the invaluable help and expertise of Fabio Lucaccioni and Istvan Marko from Univerisite Catholique de Louvain in procuring and preparing the chemicals used in the lecture tour, the staff of the chemistry department at BSB for providing glassware and other vital equipment, and a special thank-you to our own Dr Ian Carson who took on the lion's share of organising and facilitating this very successful venture.

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