Harper Adams University: Nuffield Placements stem sixth form students’ interest in research

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The students – from colleges and schools across both counties – have worked alongside Harper Adams staff as part of the Nuffield Research Placement programme. The programme is aimed at students who would be the first in their family to attend university or who are from low-income backgrounds. The students are encouraged to spend two weeks working alongside researchers in a wealth of environments working on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.

This can include offices, museums, research centres, laboratories or fieldwork settings – as well as universities, such as Harper Adams, where students have applied themselves to a range of subjects, from entomology to engineering.

Six projects took place at Harper Adams.

Working with Tom Leigh in microbiology was a student from St Joseph’s College, Newcastle under Lyme, who investigated the environmental and health impacts of plastic alternatives.

The effect of essential oils on plant pests and their natural enemies was investigated by a student from Newcastle-under-Lyme College, working under the supervision of Dr Joe Roberts.

Another student from Newcastle-under-Lyme College worked with Jane Cooper to investigate the effect of cold storage on the nutritional qualities of maize silage.

Other projects include the effect of dietary xylo-oligisaccharides on faecal over shredding of bacteria in pigs supervised by Dr Stephen Mansbridge; developing a reliable and reproducible method to determine oil content in linseeds with Ellie Clowes, and finally, programming a robot to solve a maze puzzle with the Nuffield team.

Harper Adams Student Recruitment Engagement Officer Zena Rittenhouse – who has worked alongside University lecturers and technicians to offer each student a project – said: “It has been great to welcome our Nuffield Research Placement students on to campus – and to both share with them the work we do, and to get them involved in their own research project.”

Participating students across the country are expected to devote around four to six weeks in total to their placement – with independent study taking place in the weeks running up to their real-world experience.

Once they had undertaken this independent learning, each student then worked on the Harper Adams campus – using the laboratories and drawing upon the knowledge of University staff.

Each student has to write a comprehensive scientific report and produce a scientific poster to submit to Nuffield. Posters are displayed at a celebration event, at which students receive certificates to mark their participation. Selected reports from across the UK are also put forward for either Gold Crest Awards or the Big Bang competition.

One of the students left a message for their supervisor after their visit, and said: “I just wanted to thank you again for being such a welcoming and helpful supervisor. I have absolutely loved the last two weeks and being at Harper has made me realise that I really want to pursue a career in science.”

Thomas Leigh, one of the project tutors based in the University’s Elizabeth Creak Laboratories, said: “We have been running STEM outreach projects in the Harper Adams Laboratories for several years, and it’s always extremely rewarding to introduce students to the world of scientific research and help them to carry out a scientific investigation.

“The projects in the laboratories give students the opportunity to take the skills they have developed in class and apply them to solving a real research question, as well as learning a range of new practical and problem-solving skills along the way.”

Zena added: “Welcoming our Nuffield students onto campus – and working alongside them to develop their reports has been a privilege.

“Developing an appreciation of STEM subjects – and their real-world applications – is not only rewarding for the students who work with us, but for our staff, too.

“Sharing an appreciation of the subjects we cover – and the changes which studying them can make to the world – helps to develop the next generation of scientists and technologists.

“Watching that appreciation develop, and showing students there is a route into a rewarding career in STEM subjects, really does make a difference.”

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