My name is Emma Goulding and I’m a controls engineer for Siemens Aeroderivative Gas Turbines (AGT). This is a technical role where I support the fleet of AGT engines through operational support, software testing and software coding. I started my career as an apprentice in 2012, and very soon after that registered as a STEM ambassador, carrying out STEM events for local schools. I recently led the Siemens AGT ‘Innovation Month’ STEM outreach programme, where over 150 students from more than 5 different schools and clubs took part in the STEM sessions hosted by Siemens AGT.
This Siemens initiative allowed the business to engage with local schools and to host sessions encouraging young people to get excited about STEM. The project also gave Siemens the chance to showcase some of the opportunities that a STEM career can offer.
To coincide with British astronaut Tim Peake visiting the International Space Station, we gave our STEM sessions a ‘space’ theme, focusing our main activity around the Mars Rover, ‘Curiosity’. The engineers and scientists at NASA faced enormous challenges in landing the rover on the red planet, and we wanted to present this challenge to the children we worked with, giving them a sense of the incredible work involved in delivering the spacecraft safely to Mars.
We started out by highlighting the purpose of the Curiosity rover mission, as well as giving detail about the rover itself. Together, we discussed how Curiosity was delivered to the surface, before talking in more detail about the effects of air resistance, forces, velocity, acceleration and damping – all things that NASA’s engineers had to consider to land. However, the big question still remained: “How do you land a 900kg rover on a planet’s surface, when it’s currently in space?” This led to discussions as to what considerations were needed when designing the rover itself, with students thinking about weight, parachute devices and even material types.
Next up, we set the students a challenge – to create their very own miniature spacecraft. The task was relatively simple; using assigned materials, each team was to construct a ‘landing craft’, with a raw egg as a passenger. When the craft was dropped from height, the winner was the design whose egg hadn’t cracked!
We placed the children into teams, and gave them each the same amount of materials. Accompanying the materials were worksheets, helping them to follow the ‘mind-set’ of an engineer. The sections included space for writing about their designs, what they observed when testing their spacecraft, and a section for noting down any improvements they made to their initial plan.
This activity worked really well, and delivering a technical engineering talk before the activity really helped the students understand what was required when they were creating their designs. It was also very interesting to see just how much care and responsibility they felt they had when entrusted with protecting the egg. This seemed to give the students a huge sense of importance to the project, which meant they gave it their best shot. As an engineer, this was great to see!
Successful engineering relies on teamwork
Whilst this activity was great for practicing hands-on engineering skills and encouraging creativity and logical thinking, it was also equally important for us to foster good team-working relationships between the students. Successful engineering projects depend upon how well groups of people work together. This was something we built on with each of the teams, asking them what they thought of each other’s ideas, and how they could combine their ideas to build something brilliant!
From a personal perspective, I really enjoyed leading this activity. Its great fun working with younger people and seeing them get excited about engineering. I also find that the questions that are often asked by the children are always very interesting, and often makes me wonder about the very same things myself!