ScienceGrrl began by producing a 2013 calendar showcasing the real work of a diverse mix of women in STEM, and some of the funds went towards sending a team from Oaklands School in Tower Hamlets to the Mission Discovery summer school, organised by the ISS Educational Trust.

With Tim Peake running a marathon in space this weekend (although note that Suni Williams did it first) and the RHS’ “Rocket Science” project seeds germinating in schools all over the UK, childrens’ imaginations are once again turning towards the ISS and space. But how does Mission Discovery build on this to provide young people with hands-on experience of science and technology, which will hopefully spark a life-long love of these subjects? Josh Woodcock, former Mission Discovery participant and then mentor, updates us in this guest post.

What is Mission Discovery?

Mission Discovery is a week long summer school for students. It lasts for 5 days and takes place in King’s College, London. The week consists of both interactive lectures and group activities hosted by experienced NASA personnel such as Michael Foale CBE and many other employees from various aspects of the organisation. Information on the influential figures you will be working alongside can be found on our Mission Discovery page at www.isset.org/mission_discovery

Team of students discussing their proposed experiment at Mission Discovery

Team of students discussing their proposed experiment at Mission Discovery

It’s an opportunity for students to work alongside these experienced personnel as well as world leading scientists from King’s College, London in the fields of pharmacology, physiology biomedicine and more. The week culminates in a group project where the students must in teams of 4-6 come up with a feasible experiment which could be carried out on the International Space Station (ISS), they must design the experiment fully using constraints set to them by NASA. The ideas will then be presented to a panel of experts where the winning experiment will be designed and built by the students alongside world leading Scientists so it can be transported to the ISS and carried out by astronauts.

The programme also focuses on improving inter-personal skills of young people by helping them socialise in an environment with like minded peers. There is a lot of scope for each student to excel and to realise where their talents lie before embarking on their future educations and hopefully careers in the areas of Science, Maths, Engineering or Technology.

Who benefits?

This summer school benefits everyone but primarily the students who participate. I myself have participated in this programme and found that it was a great environment to not only gain knowledge about Space and Biomedicine via the lectures, but also to learn a lot about myself. I felt that through the group activities I found where my strengths and weaknesses were – also working in groups is a massively important skillset and one that many students don’t have the opportunity to develop in school. I have since completed my BEng degree in Chemical Engineering and found that the skills I learnt at a younger age on this course were invaluable at all stages of my degree, as working with people is such a major part of any role or any learning. Prior to university, I also felt that a course like this really made my UCAS application stand out as it shows a real passion for STEM and shows that as a person this is something that you have researched and it gives you something fantastic to talk about during interviews at Universities.

This course is also of massive benefit to the Scientific Community as a whole, as the winning experiment from the week is designed by the students and then flown into space where it is carried out. Some of the winning experiments were carried out on the International Space Station earlier this year and the results astounded Scientists and have opened up future research areas and this is all from an idea of a young student who has a fresh perspective and fresh ideas which represent the future of Science.

Why am I involved?

Since completing my degree and looking at going into further education in my desired subject area, I reflected on what made me get into STEM and it was opportunities such as this one. It is of paramount importance that young people realise they are the future of Science and that everyone is capable of achieving whatever they desire.

Courses such as Mission Discovery help students recognise this and offers such a great motivation for people to get involved with STEM, which is a subject area very close to my heart. I have helped mentor students throughout a week of Mission Discovery and seen numerous students blossom and go on to study a Science subject in University which they wouldn’t have had they not had the exposure to this programme.

Dr Heather Williams
Heather helped establish ScienceGrrl in June 2012 and is ScienceGrrl's Director. Heather is a Senior Medical Physicist for Nuclear Medicine at Central Manchester University Hospitals and honorary Lecturer in the Centre for Imaging Sciences at Manchester University. She makes sure pictures of patients are top quality so the doctors can trust what they see, and tries out new and better ways of imaging the body’s functions. When she’s not working, Heather enjoys running, cycling and spending time with her sons.
Dr Heather Williams
Dr Heather Williams
Dr Heather Williams

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