Outreach Activities

The School of Chemical Engineering is dedicated to raising awareness of chemical engineering amongst young people by working closely with schools, colleges, teachers and career advisors.

Engineering is a practical application of the science that all students learn at school, and a vast industry. Chemical Engineering is a hugely profitable business involved with the scaling up of chemical reactions to an industrial scale. Whether that is the biochemical action of yeast in baking bread, the cleaning of nuclear reactors, or the production of green fuel, the application of maths to this task is a vital part of the scaling up an engineering process in the real world.

Outreach Sessions

Jon Wood is an experienced science communicator and has been an outreach fellow based in the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemical Engineering since 2013. He has put together outreach sessions designed to cover topics at an appropriate level for the audience. All these sessions are delivered free of charge, via Zoom, made possible through the Michael F. Byrne Fund at the University of Birmingham. They can be tailored to your audience and timings given are a recommended guide. Please email Jon at J.B.Wood@bham.ac.uk to book one of these session or to find out more.


Chem Eng, who cares?- All ages

What role does Chemical Engineering play in your life? What do we make, and who would enjoy it? An interactive session where we chat about toothpaste, breakfast cereal, tablets, water, and brewing the perfect cup of tea. How has chemical engineering journeyed from its fossil fuel origins to contribute to pursuing renewable energy?

Careers talk, suitable for all ages. Takes about 20 minutes and is quite conversational. It’s nice for students to be on camera, but not essential.

How to Make an Epic Bath Bomb- All primary years 

What makes bath bombs fizzy? How do we make them using things in the kitchen? What does each ingredient do? Join in with a guided workshop, making your own bath bombs. When we make products they have to be put together in the right order and because bath bombs work on a chemical reaction, they are no different. We have to add the ingredients in the right order to make them work. Scientific thinking!

Hands-on workshop, 50 minutes. Ideal for small group work. You will need the ingredients on the teacher prep sheet: powdered citric acid, bicarbonate of soda, cornflour, Epson salts, a little food colouring and some oil (sweet almond or olive).


From Kitchen to Space- Year 9/10 

Using electrolysis to generate hydrogen gas isn't just used in the International Space Station, it’s possible in your kitchen. This guided, ‘design and build’ workshop emphasises engineering habits of mind, as groups build simple electrolysis cells. Topics covered: water as a polar molecule, anions, cations, secondary reactions, hydrogen fuel cells. A teacher sheet is provided for a full walkthrough in preparation of this workshop.

Hands-on workshop, 50-60 minutes. A design and build session for classes divided into small groups, each requiring: 9v PP3 battery, disposable plastic cup, two drawing pins, salt, water, bicarb, access to a hot glue gun or sticky tape/Blu-Tack. Teacher supervision recommended.


Food Processing- Years 9-11 

Processed food gets a bad rap, yet pretty much everything we buy has been processed in some way. After looking more closely at how homemade and industrial bread baking methods compare, we’ll examine everyday food packaging to find where the engineering processes are.

What does ‘Packaged in a protective atmosphere’ actually mean? Why aren’t most lemons suitable for vegans? How are organic apples processed? The session ends with the debate question that given all food is processed, what are students prepared to accept?

Dry workshop, 50 minutes. Students can be encouraged to bring in empty food packaging to investigate their own foods, alongside the examples brought by the workshop lead.
Examples include: milk, cereals, waxed lemons, organic apples, pre-packed salad, and minced-meat.


The Science of Fizzy Pop- Year 10/11

Our favourite drinks are formulated to give them the flavours and fizz we love. We look at how drinks are made, and how carbonisation changes acidity. Using Henry’s law, a little maths, and some knowledge of the periodic table, we calculate how many grams of CO₂ go into a bottle of pop. Students should be comfortable rearranging simple equations, and have knowledge of calculating the molecular mass of something using the periodic table.

Dry workshop. 30 minutes. An interactive chat about fizzy drinks, then a guided exercise where students will perform simple calculations using Henry’s law. We apply the maths to a practical chemistry investigation.

The Rural Water Problem- Year 12/13

You’ve been asked to design a water supply system for a village in a remote mountain area. Following an initial survey, students will explore the maths of providing the pipeline in the most efficient and economical way. We’ll use the Hazen-Williams formula to calculate pressure loss to choose the right length of the right size pipes.

Dry workshop, 60 minutes. A lesson in linear algebra. Students should be comfortable manipulating mathematical expressions and using matrices to solve simultaneous equations.

 Taster Course in Chemical Engineering

The School of Chemical Engineering also hosts a Taster Course for year 12 students on campus. For more information about this event please visit the Taster Course webpage.