In 2015 Royal Society awarded Mark Higginnson from Bailey’s Court Primary School in Bradley Stoke, and UWE researchers Dr Debbie Lewis and Dr Jon Winfield a Partnership Grant to establish a project to introduce year 5 pupils and the staff to Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs). MFCs are a new technology that use bacteria to produce electricity, and the children worked in groups to build their own MFC.
They then collected soil from the playground to inoculate their MFCs. Following this, the pupils nurtured their MFCs proudly over the next 12 weeks (despite the smell!) to maximise the amount of energy produced to enable powering a real-life application at the end of the project.
During the 12 weeks the pupils began to understand many of the following: the concept of renewable energy with MFCs as an example; bacterial metabolism and how it is possible to utilise by-products for practical applications; how to plan different scientific enquiries to answer questions; learn about a variety of scientific equipment and develop practical skills; record data accurately; and report and present findings. The project also include a visit to the university’s campus where the pupils got to see ‘real scientists’ at work to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.
Critical to this project was to also leave a legacy that the school could continue to deliver in subsequent years. The project is now in its third year, typically running over a shorter period (5-6 weeks) but principally delivered by the school teachers. However UWE remains actively involved to launch, support school where necessary and close the project in the ‘Grand Finale’. The school children who participate each year continue to be invited to campus and showcase ‘their research’ to UWE staff also. The project has even received international recognition with article of the project, in which the pupils actively contributed, was published in The Washington Post!