An innovative project that uses live shows to help inspire young people about engineering will be given a prestigious medal today by the Royal Academy of Engineering. Lord Robert Winston, an Honorary Fellow of the Academy, will present the Academy’s Public Promotion of Engineering Medal this evening to Cardiff-based Science Made Simple for their Engineering Explained initiative, which looks at the relevance of engineering in all aspects of our lives – from music, playgrounds, and even nappies – through to the supersonic car project Bloodhound.

The silver medal will be presented to Huw James from Science Made Simple at the Academy Awards Dinner at London’s Imperial War Museum, which will be attended by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh as Senior Fellow of the Academy. Previous winners include Johnny Ball, author and TV presenter Adam Hart-Davies and TV presenter Kate Bellingham, but this is the first time an organisation has won. The company, which is based at Cardiff University and has a team of five science communicators, developed the four one-person Engineering Explained shows in response to declines in the number of students taking up engineering and the need for better understanding about the role of engineers in society. Engineering Explained shows have since been performed to over 17,500 people at schools and events throughout Britain and overseas.

Huw James of Science Made Simple says: “I’m delighted to accept this award for Engineering Explained. The shows are designed to inspire young people about just how exciting engineering can be as a career choice and the extent to which it affects all aspects of our lives. Our interactive performances have been well-received by a wide variety of audiences and always get people talking and asking questions. They help to get the message out there that engineering is not something done by a stereotyped group of people, but is part of everything we do and offers a wide variety of rewarding job opportunities.”

Adam Hart-Davies supported Science Made Simple's application with this statement: "Their consistent, enthusiastic and imaginative promotion at all levels in schools must have made at least as great a contribution to young people as all the BBC broadcasts on engineering. They may be small, they may be young, but my goodness they are making a difference."

Dr Lesley Paterson, Head of Public Engagement at the Royal Academy of Engineering, says “Wendy and her team have done the promotion of engineering proud and I am delighted that ‘Engineering explained’ had been awarded this year’s Public Promotion Medal. By acknowledging that engineering is a complementary but distinct discipline from science, Wendy and her team have developed and delivered an engaging set of interactive shows and activities to feed the minds of young people, that uncovers the engineering in our everyday world.”

Engineering Explained shows are designed to be exciting, dynamic and interactive, to help spark interest in even the most skeptical viewers. From Cradle to Grave’ (for 11-16 year-olds), for example, includes a live ultrasound scan of the presenter, and explains how medical engineering can improve the quality of life for people throughout their lives. This presentation has had fantastic results in engaging a teenage audience. Another performance, the ’Who wants to be a superhero?’ show (for 7-11 year old students), features interviews with several female engineers in their workplaces and has been extremely successful at changing misconceptions that girls (in particular) have about engineering.

The shows have reached over 17,500 people across Britain, and ‘A Rough Guide to Engineering’ (for 11-14 year olds) has recently toured Libya by special invitation of the British Council. Recently the team have developed “Bloodhound – Supersonic Car on the Road” for the supersonic car team where students can find out how jet engines work, the sheer scale of the forces acting on the car as it passes the sound barrier, and how engineers can overcome the problems they face by thinking logically (in partnership with STFC and Swansea University).

Science Made Simple was set up in 2002 by physicist Wendy Sadler, with a mission to inspire people about science by using interactive presentations and visual demonstrations for schools and the public. The team has won several other awards, including Welsh Woman of the Year (Science and Technology) 2004 for Wendy Sadler, WISE Excellence Award (Women into Science and Engineering) 2004, IOP Young Professional Physicist of the Year award 2005, EU Descartes Prize (Laureate) for innovative action in Science Communication 2006, Institute of Acoustics’ Award for Promoting Acoustics to the Public 2007 and UKRC Woman of Outstanding Achievement Award 2008. The company also acts as consultants to the Research Councils and provides training to scientists. It also has strong links with Cardiff University, which helps to communicate the findings of the researchers through their innovative, interactive shows.

Notes for editors

  1. The Engineering Explained initiative is supported by three large engineering institutions; The ERA Foundation, The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (the IET).
  2. The strategic vision of the ERA Foundation is to contribute to the economic vitality of the UK by supporting activities that will help bridge the gap between research and exploitation in the broad field of electrotechnology.
  3. The Institution of Engineering and Technology is one of the world’s leading professional societies for the engineering and technology community. The IET has more than 150,000 members in 127 countries and offices in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific. The IET provides a global knowledge network to facilitate the exchange of ideas and promote the positive role of science, engineering and technology in the world.
  4. EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing around†£740 million a year in a broad range of subjects – from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering.
  5. 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.