Imperial College London designs an invention space for disadvantaged teens

The Elsevier Foundation partners with Imperial to support a high-tech makerspace next to the college

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Makers in action: Students build a spectrometer out of Legos at the Imperial College of London.

For many teens, seeing a 3D printer build, layer by layer, the design they just completed on a nearby laptop is an awe-inspiring experience. These days, members of Imperial College London’s outreach team, armed with 3D printers and robots, are frequent visitors at neighborhood festivals in London’s White City neighborhood, where the college is building a new 23-acre campus.

A young student receives guidance at a maker event at Imperial College London.White City is characterized as among the 10 percent most disadvantaged areas in the UK, with an unemployment rate twice the London average. As part of its commitment to the regeneration of the local area, Imperial’s community engagement team, led by Dr. Maggie Dallman, Associate Provost of Academic Partnerships and Professor of Immunology, is looking to excite the creativity and wonder of local young people by creating a unique space called “The Invention Rooms” for community-driven innovation. Located on a busy thoroughfare in west London, this space will comprise a series of workshops and public interaction spaces.

Within The Invention Rooms, a new Reach Out Makerspace will enable local young people ages 14 to 18 to create new prototypes based on their own ideas through a series of “maker challenge” programs.

In 2016, the Elsevier Foundation partnered with Imperial College to provide $300,000 over three years to support the Reach Out Makerspace. This space will be co-located with an Advanced Hackspace for Imperial’s creative technologists, encouraging interaction and mentoring with the teenagers participating in outreach programs. It will be equipped with 3D printers, scanners, computer-aided design, development boards and laser cutters for making, coding and digital fabrication. Ultimately, the goal is to help local young people feel more connected to their peers, engage in creative and constructive after-school activities and realize their potential in a dynamic and nurturing environment.

Elsevier CEO Ron Mobed said:

As an Elsevier Foundation Board Member and Imperial College alumnus, I am very impressed by the work Imperial does to ignite the scientific imagination of school students — especially in disadvantaged areas. Talent is everywhere, and we think it’s imperative to nurture curiosity about science and technology in the next generation.

Dr. Maggie Dallman, OBE, is Associate Provost of Academic Partnerships and Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London.The Invention Rooms is Dr. Dallman’s brainchild: “Imperial has always worked with schools across London, and in developing The Invention Rooms, we are building on extensive experience with STEM outreach,” she said. “We’ve found that working with 14- to 18-year-olds delivers excellent results.”

The Invention Rooms developed out of the concept of making, or “hacking,” which is now happening across Imperial in a series of advanced hackspaces:

We were impressed by how successful this has become, fulfilling a need to develop ideas and put them into practice. I felt that there was an opportunity to throw our doors open and make such facilities and support available to the local community. Our goal was to give creative young people the right outlet and encourage them see the potential in their ideas.

Dr. Dallman and her colleagues see the maker challenge programs as “curriculum enrichment,” offering an experience that isn’t available to most young people in school and giving them the chance to meet and learn from Imperial student role models:

Scientists, in my experience, love talking about their work. So we started having them talk to school children about their research, to huge success. Schools are especially keen to have role models for young girls. A few years ago, a young female student came up to me and said, ‘I’m here because of you. You came to my school and it inspired me apply to Imperial.’ It’s actually a huge responsibility. We’re not just acting on our own but representing a huge community.

The maker challenge grant to Imperial College is part of a larger Elsevier Foundation program called Diversity and Inclusion in STM, which includes several partnerships to help underserved children. In Amsterdam, the IMC Weekend School offers 10 - to 13-year-olds from Amsterdam’s disadvantaged urban communities the chance to learn about the world of science, health and journalism hands-on professionals. In New York, the city’s most underserved youth can attend the Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program of the New York Academy of Sciences, which is expanding with funding from the Elsevier Foundation.

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