“You edit a magazine about chemical engineering?” repeated the man fixing my washing machine, “Blimey, that sounds really boring!”
It’s refreshing to meet someone so willing to wear their heart on their sleeve, and of course all the more pleasing to have spent the next half hour proving him completely wrong. The truth is that chemical engineering touches almost every aspect of our lives, it’s just that so few of us realise it.
Two weeks ago, on 22 February 2016, IChemE invited chemical engineers to Stand Up and Speak Out for Chemical Engineering. Over 60 chemical engineers crowded in the basement room of The Albany pub on Great Portland Street, London, to discuss advocacy for the profession, how to get chemical engineering stories in the media, and discuss the challenges and opportunities that face us when doing so.
The event welcomed a plethora of talent to its expert panel – and saw Jonathan Webb, BBC, Jason Palmer, The Economist, Colin Smith, Imperial College London, Ellie Chambers, British Science Association and Yasmin Ali, E-ON. As well as giving a traditional panel discussion, answering questions from the floor, the experts also got on their soapboxes (literally) and were given four minutes to give their own experiences of engineering and the media.
The evening ended with attendees pledging to ‘Stand Up and Speak Out’. All who pledged will become involved with the IChemE Media Envoy programme, which helps members to tell their stories through the media and give expert comment on current issues.
Today, Yasmin Ali – one of the evening’s expert panelists – gives her feedback on the event, and looks forward to the next steps for chemical engineering and public engagement.
It took me four years of studying chemical engineering, then a few years of work, to realise the magnitude of our reliance on engineers. They beaver away quietly, meeting our daily living expectations and demands. Despite this, we moan and groan on the odd occasion that our train is late, if the internet connection slows down, or when the water from the washing machine in the apartment above decides to pour through the ceiling into the kitchen.
I am always impressed by the ingenuity of our chemical engineering community to find ways to communicate about our work, so when I was contact by Erik Engebretsen a member of a team of PhD students, lecturers and industrial partners based at UCL (University College London) about their public engagement work I was immediately interested.
In 2011 the idea to start the initiative came from a suggestion by Ralph Clague and Ellen Dowell (the curator of Einstein’s Garden at the Green Man Festival) that it could be possible to power a small tent of electronics at Green Man using just green energy.
Ralph then began searching for UCL students interested in taking on the idea as a summer project, aiming to find a way to build a hydrogen cell system that could provide emission free power for Einstein’s garden.