National award for project to bring chemistry to life in schools

A project that uses real-world research to bring chemistry to life for school students has been recognised with a national award from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Led by researchers at the University of Birmingham, ChemBAM links topics from the UK national curriculum to online experiment toolkits designed to help students use chemistry to understand topics such as water treatment, cancer prevention, DNA mutation or nuclear waste treatment.

Since its launch in 2017, the ChemBAM website has received more than 80,000 visits from all over the world. Teachers and pupils across the UK are now using the resource, including links to ChemBAM activities on online homework assignments. Contributors to the site have included industrial chemists, alumni of the University of Birmingham as well as staff and students.

The project’s success has been recognised with 2020 Inspiration and Industry Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry’s (RSC).

“Chemistry teaching in secondary schools does not always showcase how important chemistry is in every day life,” explains Dr Zoe Schnepp , of the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemistry. “Through ChemBAM activities, students are engaging more fully with the subject and understanding the broader impact of chemistry in society - rather than limiting their engagement to a grasp of periodic tables, atoms and laboratory chemicals.

“We’ve had great feedback from both teachers and students taking part in the project and we’re thrilled to see ChemBAM’s success recognised by the Royal Society of Chemistry award.”

To ensure the most disadvantaged pupils are also able to engage with the project, the team developed ChemBOX, a kit of resources initially delivered to 10 schools in Birmingham with high pupil premiums and low rates of pupils accessing higher education. Researchers and students from the University of Birmingham visited the schools to help deliver the sessions and also to talk directly to students about their own research.

ChemBOX has since been expanded to include schools in the Humber region, where the team has worked with the Phillips 66 Humber oil refinery to train teachers from schools in Grimsby and Scunthorpe to deliver ChemBAM experiments.

Dr Nicola Rogers, now at the University of Warwick, helped develop the ChemBAM project. She said: "Being part of the ChemBAM project has taught me so much about barriers to education and Chemistry. Going in to schools and having the opportunity to talk with young people, and have them ask me all sorts of questions about my work in research, and University in general has been a wonderful experience. I hope to continue to add to the resources and various projects from research activities in Warwick.”

Following the success of this programme, the team secured funding from the Royal Society of Chemistry to deliver ChemBOX Alumni, which enabled a group of undergraduate chemistry students to be trained to deliver ChemBAM classroom sessions in their former secondary schools.

“These sessions have been particularly inspiring for pupils because they recognise the returning student as being somebody they can connect with and aspire to be like,” says Dr Schnepp.

The ChemBAM team has ambitious plans to continue developing the project, aiming to involve research from universities and industries across the world and make ChemBAM a continually expanding chemistry outreach resource.

Dr Schnepp adds: “By inspiring a passion for chemistry in our future generations of school students, we can not only improve enjoyment of the subject, but inspire more students to go on to study chemistry in higher education where they can start to apply it to tackling real-world challenges.”


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