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Mobile laboratories

Kingston University's lab in a lorry takes to the road to nurture school children's passion for science and technology

Posted by Hannah Oakman | October 20, 2016 | Technology

Budding scientists could soon be stepping in to the shoes of forensic crime scene investigators or robotics engineers as part of a Kingston University scheme taking state-of-the-art mobile laboratories on the road to schools across London. 

Kitted out with patient simulator robots, night vision goggles, 3D printers, forensic kits and virtual reality headsets, the University's lab in a lorry project will see academics from the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Computing working with University outreach officers to introduce pupils to innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities.

The two mobile laboratories, which began visiting schools across the capital in September, also boast the latest immersive technologies, including interactive sensory floors, enabling children of all ages to take part in educational games and activities that bring the subjects to life.

Kingston University's STEM outreach officer Dr Lisa Pritchard said: "The mobile labs are a great way of helping to get more children interested in STEM subjects and introducing them to the idea of going on to university from a younger age

"We want to make these activities fun and exciting, so that young people get bitten by the science bug early and start thinking about what they want to do after they leave school." 

The project is part of a £6.8m Kingston University scheme to deliver cutting-edge new science and technology facilities. Its Faculty of Science, Engineering and Computing secured £1.9m of Government funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) towards the project, which has also seen the creation of two new laboratories for students and an outreach centre at the Penrhyn Road campus that will be available for local schools and community groups to use.

During a pilot session of the lab in the lorry scheme at Teddington School in south west London earlier this year, students donned lab coats to carry out a scientific analysis of a crime scene. Working in groups, they collected evidence and used specialist equipment to analyse fingerprints, ink and clothing fibres to identify a potential match with one of three suspects.

Thandi Banda, STEM coordinator at Teddington School, said: “Activities like this really help children see three steps ahead and begin to think about where they could be in the future,” she explained. “Taking them outside the four walls of the classroom encourages them to tap into their creative side and demonstrates that STEM careers can be fun and innovative."

Among the students who took part in the session was year eight pupil Joe Richman, 12, who said: "I've never had my own lab coat or done anything like this before, it made me really appreciate what interesting work scientists do," he said.

Vice Dean of the Faculty of Science Engineering and Computing Dr Lucy Jones said: "Schools don't always have access to the kind of professional-grade scientific equipment we have at Kingston University, but through this project we can bring some of our fantastic facilities to them with these incredibly flexible and interactive mobile laboratories.

"The lab in a lorry allows us to make a real impact on STEM learning and approach outreach and community work in a novel way."

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