From education to employment

Supersonic car to demonstrate the value of STEM

Attempting to design and build a car capable of travelling at over 1,000 mph (1,600 kph) may seem crass during a recession and when other issues appear eminently more important to our future survival. There are numerous worldwide challenges we face, not least of all who will come up with the answers to global warming, the development of new energy sources, food and shelter for all, and the need for more sustainable forms of transport? The answer is of course scientists and engineers, politicians allowing! And here lies the major problem, not just for the UK but an issue faced by many of the developed countries worldwide, where will these experts be found?

As outlined in a CBI report last month, the search for young people with skills in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects will increase. Nearly half of the companies surveyed reported having difficulty recruiting staff with STEM skills, with manufacturing and science-related businesses having the greatest difficulty. Even more companies expect to have difficulty finding STEM skilled people in the next three years.

The BLOODHOUND SSC (supersonic car) Project is being led by Richard Noble OBE, who has assembled an engineering team in Bristol to research and design a car with a design speed of 1,050 mph. The engineers are being supported by over 200 British companies, universities and research organisations excited by the thought of pushing our knowledge boundaries in science, technology and manufacturing.

But what has all this got to do with education? What makes the BLOODHOUND SSC programme unique is that all the research, design, manufacture and testing of the car will be shared with schools, colleges and universities throughout the UK. And that information will also include the problems faced by the team and where we didn’t get it right first time! Helping to develop the FE programme is Protocol National, which spotted that the project could be a real inspiration to FE learners and has come on-board as a car sponsor. Its enthusiasm originated with the BLOODHOUND SSC project featuring on their stand at the Association of Colleges annual conference last year, where over 200 colleges signed up to the education programme. Now it is part of the Education Team and helping to bring important FE input into the development of curriculum resources.

And to prove that the shortage of STEM equipped personnel is not just a UK problem – or just utterances of concern by industry seeking media attention – I have just attended the Intel Science & Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in San Jose California, right in the heart of Silicon Valley. Over 1,600 young people from 59 countries were showcasing their projects to a myriad of judges, including Nobel Science Laureates and industrialists, and competing for huge cash prizes and scholarships. Intel itself supports STEM education and teacher CPD worldwide to the tune of over $100 million every year. They do this because staying in the lead with new product development requires the most innovative and best minds. Intel is also the IT supplier to the Bloodhound project and involved through its Skoool website and Teach programme.

And how did the winning students from the UK Big Bang Fair perform on a worldwide stage? All four students, two with science and two with engineering projects, felt that despite the event taking place just before A Levels, the experience had been incredible, great fun, and certainly not to be missed! Simon Brookes from Balcarras School Cheltenham was placed fourth in the Energy and Transportation category, winning $500, but star of all the engineering categories was 18 year old James Popper, a student at Marlborough College, who scooped a host of major cash prizes and a university scholarship. Working with Intel and Protocol National we are launching a Bloodhound challenge for 16-19 year old students to attend Los Angeles for ISEF 2011, and show their innovative ideas that will help with the development of the BLOODHOUND SSC car.

The BLOODHOUND SSC Education Team (BET) has not created a whole new raft of initiatives but has developed a strategy to work with existing interventions and networks, thereby bringing greater coherence to the promotion of STEM in education. Industry, government and especially teachers and lecturers have for a long time wished to see rationalisation of initiatives, and this has been delivered by the Bloodhound Education Programme (BEP), resulting in greater partnership activity and joined-up delivery. The BEP is the first complete example of this coherent working methodology, and is about bringing an exciting new dimension to what is already available and encapsulating it within a BLOODHOUND SSC theme.

The engineering team has now finalised the car’s external shape thanks to Dr Ben Evans at Swansea University School of Engineering, and the support of Intel UK with their super computer clusters, which has accelerated the aerodynamic solution. Construction of the car has now started and the challenge is how to raise the £3.6 million required to complete the build programme. The challenge faced by the BEP is how to grow the bank of curriculum resources available on the website that will enrich teaching in the classroom and enable students to follow the programme in real time. This is where college lecturers can help by identifying areas of design engineering on the website, and developing resources that can be shared across UK colleges.

The schedule that the BLOODHOUND SSC team is working to is rigorous; car roll-out in September 2011, followed by low speed (circa 220 mph) runs in the UK and then it’s off to Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape of South Africa. For more information or to register yourself and/or your college please visit and be prepared for three years of excitement.

Dave Rowley is education programme director of BLOODHOUND SSC, which is passionate about industry supporting education to develop the next generation of scientists and engineers

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