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Students from Inverkeithing High School design their structures

School pupils from Inverkeithing High School and Liberton High School have been designing structures of the size of one single human hair to solve current engineering challenges.

Our project “Small Plumbing!” aims at empowering young people with engineering and problem solving skills and enthuse them with microfluidic technologies to solve real-life problems.
Dr Maiwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas, Heriot-Watt University

This exciting project, funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, aims to introduce school pupils to the wonderful world of microengineering, train engineering researchers in public engagement and challenge stereotypes about engineering.

The project is led by Dr Maiwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas and Dr Helen Bridle from Heriot-Watt University. Dr Kersaudy-Kerhoas commented: “Our project “Small Plumbing!” aims at empowering young people with engineering and problem solving skills and enthuse them with microfluidic technologies to solve real-life problems. We want them to become actors and future technology leaders, not just consumers of these new technologies”

Researchers from the university visited the schools and described to pupils a current challenge related to their research. Together, the teams designed a microfluidic solution to the problem. Microfluidics, or “lab-on-a-chip”, allows for the manipulation of fluids in channels the size of a human hair. Since fluids behave very differently at this scale, these devices offer access to novel phenomena and are predicted to revolutionise healthcare in the coming years.

Example projects included devices that could be used for remote diagnostics, testing for counterfeit drugs, analysing water quality and separating blood cells for medical therapies.

Other projects focussed on artistic outputs with pupils choosing to create snails, Christmas trees and a cartoon comic strip out of microfluidic devices.

Scott Davidson, Chemistry teacher at Inverkeithing, said: “This has been an excellent opportunity for our pupils. It has introduced them to an exciting new area of engineering and they have had the opportunity to interact with engineers, who have all been brilliant role models. The kids, and even the teachers, have been fascinated to see what microfluidics is”.

In the next stage of the project, the school pupils’ designs will be manufactured at Heriot-Watt and tested in the schools in April. The winning schools’ teams will present their work at a Science Festival in June 2015.