Engineers will soon be learning to tell stories – in a project funded by a Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious award. The ‘Digital Storytelling’ project will train early-career engineers in the art of personal narrative and film-making, capturing the stories and combining audio and still images using new technology.

“By giving the story tellers both the skills and editorial control over production” says the project leader Trevor Cox, Professor of Acoustics Engineering at the University of Salford “the participants gain insights into a different approach to communication, different from that traditionally used in engineering.”

The Academy is today announcing 14 awards totalling £355,000 to projects all over the UK to raise engineers’ skills in engaging with people outside their own profession. The successful proposals range from innovative interactive musical events at the science museum to seminars for engineers working in nanotechnology to engage with the ethical issues involved in their work, and to discuss these with public audiences.

Professor Phil Withers, who is a Fellow of the Academy, and his colleagues at the University of Manchester have won £30,000 to provide coaching for new PhD engineers to take their award-winning interactive exhibit “So you think you can design a jet engine?” into schools around the country. Their demo allows people to take a virtual 3D journey through a jet engine and featured at this month’s Farnborough Air Show.

While engineers at the University of Bradford will soon be learning to engage the public in a novel way, inviting young people and adults to ‘turn their fat to fuel’ by recycling cooking oil into biodiesel, at a bespoke small-scale plant to be set up at the University of Bradford.

The aim of the Ingenious funding programme is to increase society’s access to contemporary engineering, by encouraging today’s engineers to be proactive taking part in public dialogue on engineering and its impact on society.

The 2008 Ingenious Round 2 Grants
JACK BRADLEY, University of Bradford
“We turn your Fat to Fuel”
£23,750

The project will provide a postgraduate engineering student with in-depth practical experience in public engagement by setting up a small scale public-access recycling plant that will produce bio-diesel and small plastic artefacts, such as mouse mats and clipboards, from waste materials. The project will also engage other students and members of the engineering department academic staff in its development and delivery. The project will run a series of workshops that will be open to the general public and local schools in order to demonstrate renewable energy and recycling technologies.

PROFESSOR TREVOR COX, University of Salford
“Digital Stories for Engineers”
£24,712

Digital storytelling is a technique which can enable engineers to tell personal stories. This public engagement tool is a disciplined form of film making, capturing stories combining audio and still images using new technology. By giving the story tellers both the skills and editorial control over production, the participants gain insight into a different approach to communication, for instance they learn about the use of narrative structures different from that traditionally used in engineering. The benefits of this project are training of engineers, particularly those close to the beginning of their careers, development of the public engagement tool, informing the public and reviewing the learning with other public engagement professionals.

DR PATRICIA ERSKINE, University of Edinburgh
“Developing Engineering Expertise for Public Engagement and Rapport (DEEPER)”
£13,493

Universities and Funding Councils actively encourage researchers to engage the public with their work, but while there is great enthusiasm from early stage researchers, it remains a challenge for many mid-career and senior academics to participate. This results in disappointment for both speakers

and audiences, when important research findings are not delivered with the impact they ought to have. “Developing Engineering Expertise for Public Engagement and Rapport (DEEPER)” seeks to pilot a programme where support is built around engineers at this critical stage in their careers to provide guidance and practical support on presenting engineering material to non-specialist audiences.

DR STEFFI FRIEDRICHS, Nanotechnology Industries Association
“Advanced Workshop Course in Public Communication and Applied Ethics for Nanotechnologists”
£29,997

A 5-day advanced workshop course will be held at the University of Cambridge for engineers in the field of nanotechnology to: increase their awareness of the associated public communication and applied ethical issues; and encourage, support and train them in communicating confidently with the public, the media and politicians about such topics in their own fields of nanotechnology. During the course, participants will develop plans for novel public communication activities to be carried out at various popular annual science festivals held throughout the UK thus gaining practical experience and greatly amplifying the course’s impact.

SUE HORDIJENKO, British Association for the Advancement of Science
“A series of Engineering events at the BA Festival if Science 2008”
£29,090

The proposed project will comprise 12 talks, workshops and panel discussions that will take place at the BA Festival of Science in Liverpool during September 2008. All events will focus on aspects of the science, practise, and impact of engineering in society, and will enable engineers to fully engage with a variety of public audiences through debate.

JOHN JONES, The Engineering Education Scheme-Wales (EESW)
“EESW Ambassadors of Engineering”
£20,517

Six teams of year 11 and 12 EESW students will visit schools and companies to demonstrate their successful award-winning EESW engineering projects. The teams will show how they are able to communicate their findings verbally and in writing to engineers and peers and the general public alike.

DR VINAY KATHOTIA, Royal Institute of Great Britain
“Engineering Masterclasses”
£30,000

This project will work with engineers and help them to develop and deliver in-depth, discussion- and demonstration-rich masterclasses which give 13–15 year olds an intense hands-on experience of engineering. During the subsequent series of Saturday masterclasses, students will have the chance to learn about the latest developments in engineering; take part in hands-on engineering activities; and discuss the wider societal and ethical implications with the engineers..

DR DONAL MCNALLY, University of Nottingham
“Public engagement in the mechanical engineering curriculum: automotive and road safety for primary schools”
£28,661

This project will pilot a novel method of bringing training in Public Engagement and Engineering Communication into the demanding curriculum of an accredited Mechanical Engineering degree. The undergraduates will be mentored and supported by a number of experts from the motor industry, academic research, primary and science education and the news media. The outcome of this training will be a series of exciting and innovative primary school activities based on the topic of ‘engineering road safety’.

KATRINA NILSSON, The Science Museum
“Bring on the Music”
£29,820

The Science Museum proposes a series of innovative public events that will use the accessible theme of music to engage a non-specialist audience in direct and open dialogue with engineers.

DR AMANDA NOLTE, The Oxford Trust
“Engineering Engagement”
£29,250

The Oxford Trust will work in collaboration with 6 local engineering organisations. Engineers will be trained in how to communicate to non-specialist audiences and will put that training into practice by developing an activity. The activity will then be delivered to a public audience on two occasions and rigorously evaluated both times. This will enable learning from the first occasion to be applied to the second occasion, and for learning from the project as a whole to be applied in future projects of this type.

DR GEOFF PARKS, Cambridge University Engineering Department
“Discover Engineering”
£21,170

Discover Engineering' will be a programme of interactive workshops, developed by Cambridge University engineers, designed for families with children aged 7-12, linking popular hands-on activities with contemporary engineering, exploring its creativity, relevance and fun. A series of 6 workshops will be hosted in the Cambridge University Engineering Department. Each workshop will enable Cambridge engineers (post-graduate, undergraduate, staff and alumni) to share their enthusiasm for engineering with a non-specialist audience

DR HEATHER REA, Heriot-Watt University
“E4 = (Engineering)4 = Engaging * Exciting * Enthusing *”
£30,000

E4 = (Engineering)4 = Engaging * Exciting * Enthusing * Experiencing is a proposal to create a post-graduate public engagement team. The team will comprise of four PhD students, one each in Electrical/Electronic, Mechanical, Chemical and Civil/Structural Engineering. The team’s remit is to develop and deliver engineering related activities to museums, schools and other venues for a year. E4 will provide the opportunity, impetus, and support for the team to develop their communication, creativity, networking, project and event management, teaching and leadership skills

ALICE TAYLOR-GEE, The BA
BA Media Fellowships
£7,794

The BA Media Fellowships create a greater awareness and understanding of the workings of the media among practising scientists and engineers. This application is to specifically recruit two engineers who will be offered to a media host (for example The Daily Mirror or Science Media Centre) who will mentor the chosen fellows through a placement. The scheme's impact extends beyond the summer placement as the Fellow will be better equipped to communicate their research and expertise to the public and their colleagues.

PROF PHILIP WITHERS, The University of Manchester
“So you think you can design a Jet Engine?”
£30,000

We have developed award-winning communication tools that use the Jet Engine as a way of engaging both school children and the public to consider engineering and its societal impact. Working with museums, schools and professional communicators, this project will train and enable young (PhD) engineers to i) develop public engagement tools, ii) use them to raise public awareness of the challenges facing engineering and iii) engage both school children and the general public in environmental debates.

Notes for editors

  1. The Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious grants programme, funded by the Office of Science and Innovation within the DTI, offers funding to promote open debate and dialogue between citizens and engineers on engineering issues of public interest and concern.

    The Programme aims to encourage:

    Awareness: to raise public awareness of the rich diversity, nature and impact of engineering;

    Development: to provide engineers with learning and training opportunities in public engagement and to look at their work in a wider context; and

    Change: to encourage open debate and dialogue between citizens, engineers and policy makers on engineering issues of public interest and concern.
  2. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Lesley Paterson at The Royal Academy of Engineering. Tel. 020 7766 0684