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Don Clark

New community lab to inspire next generation of scientists

A number of companies at Discovery Park in Sandwich have formed a unique collaboration in order to establish a Community Lab, and are calling for other businesses to get involved.

The idea behind the new facility is to provide local schools with hands-on access to science equipment not usually available to them, but which are taught as part of national science lessons.

Teachers and students from local schools will be able to use the Community Lab to carry out experiments supporting their learning, as well as benefit from time with working scientists. It is hoped that in addition to supporting the curriculum, the scheme will break down stereotypes and inspire the scientists of the future.

Using East Kent College (EKC) laboratory space, groups of up to 16 students will be able to access a range of specialist scientific instruments and equipment, including:

  • A bench top NMR for organic molecule structure determination
  • An FT-IR spectrometer for material identification
  • Synthetic chemistry equipment
  • Access to six industry standard fume cupboards
  • Research grade light microscopes
  • Access to ‘Lab in a Box’ equipment such as PCR (polymerase chain reaction) which copies or amplifies small segments of DNA or RNA for analysis and thermal imaging cameras

Don Clark, an analytical chemist with Pfizer, has been instrumental in establishing the schools facility as part of the company’s academic outreach work.  He said, “We identified that schools lack even the most basic equipment and saw an opportunity to engage with the scientists of tomorrow by providing access to materials needed to teach essential parts of the curriculum.

“The amount of money spent on practical science varies greatly from school to school, and it is not uncommon for local schools to have less than £2 per student to spend per year on additional materials. It is no surprise then that there are fewer chances to get hands on in the classroom or lab.”

“Schools will be able to come in to Discovery Park and actually do some real chemistry, with real scientists. We’re hugely excited by this idea and don’t know of anything like this in the UK.”

The Community Lab project team is working with EKC, Kent and Medway STEMNET and six science teachers from local schools including Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Castle Community College and the Spires Academy to map out how the community lab will work, plan experiments and identify how teachers and students will be able to access the facilities.

Kimberley Anderson, Discovery Park’s corporate relations manager, said: “We’ve galvanised a team of likeminded people and plans for the Community Lab are taking shape, however there’s so much more we can do. We’re asking for other companies or individuals based here or further afield in Kent to be part of this unique project that will inspire the next generation.

“Community Lab, and the students accessing it, will benefit greatly from time and experience the many talented scientists based at Discovery Park can provide – whether that’s helping establish the lab or supporting on an ongoing basis.

“We also need equipment – even out-of-date equipment is perfectly suitable for classroom use and could be donated to the Community Lab. Or if you are a business that would like to support the initiative financially we welcome funding.

“We have something really special here at Discovery Park – talented scientists that are willing to pass on their skills and are energised to inspire future generations, companies who understand the value of outreach work, education establishments based on site and space to host events.

“We have an opportunity here to connect education with the workplace and are very excited to get this project off the ground.”

The project group aims to have the Community Lab up and running for the new school year in September 2016. Anyone interested in supporting the project should contact don.a.clark@pfizer.com

Issued by Pillory Barn on behalf of Discovery Park

About Kent & Medway STEM

Kent and Medway STEM are all about inspiring the next generation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.  Canterbury Christ Church University operating as Kent and Medway STEM holds the STEMNET schools network contract for Kent and Medway and provides information and links to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Enhancement and Enrichment activities.

Posted on 29/03/2016