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School students explore big questions of science at Durham University

(19 July 2018)

Students from two schools in North East England explored how computers mimic the human brain and the size of the Universe on a visit to Durham University. 

Young people from Parkside Academy in Willington and University Technical College (UTC) South Durham in Newton Aycliffe, both in County Durham, spent a morning with postgraduate students from the University investigating machine learning and extra-galactic astronomy.

The event, held at the University’s Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics, was part of the University’s ongoing work to inspire young people about science and support local schools.

Taking science beyond the classroom

Dr Lorraine Coghill, the Ogden Science Outreach Coordinator at Durham University, said: “At Durham University we see it as part of our mission to take science beyond the lecture hall and laboratory.

“An important part of that is helping our postgraduate students to work with school students, engaging them with science in a real-world context. This half-day event followed two days of intensive training.

“We – and more importantly the teachers and young people involved – were really pleased with the results.”

'Invaluable experience'

Aileen Baker, Deputy Subject Leader for Science at Parkside Academy, said: “We have been working with Durham University for a few years now – it is an invaluable experience to take the students out of their usual environment and into the University.

“It is stimulating and challenging and gets them to think about what they can do with their science.”

One of the postgraduate students involved was Aidan Sedgewick, from Fishburn, County Durham.

He said: “I remember coming to an event at Durham University when I was at secondary school and really enjoying it.

“It is nice to now be able to do the same for these school students.”

Applying skills

The postgraduate students were all part of the Durham Data Intensive Science Centre for Doctoral Training, funded by the Science Technology Facilities Council, through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and Durham University.

These students, who are astronomers and particle physicists, spend part of their time working with industry to apply the skills they have developed in artificial intelligence whilst studying for their PhDs to find solutions to industrial problems vastly different to those they encounter in the world of fundamental research.