This month’s A Level results showed a significant rise in the number of people choosing to study science and maths. Entries for chemistry alone were up over nine per cent from last year – that’s over 4000 extra students.
This is welcome news – science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills are important to our economy and society, and both universities and employers value them highly.
As Science Minister, I have a responsibility for not only getting young people from all backgrounds interested in science, but also raising awareness of the vast range of career opportunities available to those who study STEM.
This year alone we have committed £13 million for outreach in schools and public engagement. This includes events such as The Big Bang Fair, the UK’s leading national fair celebrating young people’s achievements in science and engineering. In 2011 over 29,000 people took part in the event – a huge increase from 20,000 in 2010 and 5,000 in 2009.
We have also committed to renewing support for STEMNET, an organisation that brings schools and members of the STEM workforce together to help young people understand the amazing range of careers that can come from studying these subjects. STEMNET has reached well over half a million young people, and no doubt inspired a great deal of them to think about studying STEM subjects at all stages of their educational careers.
STEM careers are wide-ranging and can be hugely rewarding. You could be inventing groundbreaking new products, developing problem-solving software, or even working on international science projects.
A great example of this is the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, which has been in the news a lot recently (you can read some of the coverage here, here and here) and that I was lucky enough to visit last year. It is a huge international undertaking, and one of the biggest and most ambitious science projects ever conceived. UK universities, research councils and industry have taken key roles in designing, building and operating the four LHC experiments and the enormous particle accelerator that lies beneath the Swiss/French border.
Teams of experts around the world – including some of the UK’s best scientists – are trawling through the data captured by vast detectors watching the debris created by colliding beams of particles at almost the speed of light. The goals are fundamental to our understanding of the world – they are looking for clues about how our Universe began and their findings could require the Standard Model of physics to be rewritten.
What has really grabbed my attention recently is that we all now have a chance to aid physicists on the project with the launch of LHC@home 2.0, whereby the LHC team will be tapping into the collective computing power of the public to help it simulate particle physics experiments.
I’m incredibly proud that some of our most talented scientists are taking part in the hunt for the elusive Higgs Boson. When the physicists are satisfied that they have enough data, I’m looking forward to celebrating this quite extraordinary feat of science and engineering with all the UK contributors.
But as exciting as the LHC is, it is only one of the many great projects UK scientists are involved in all over the world. There are always plenty of other fascinating opportunities out there, more discoveries to be made and more products waiting to be invented.
If you want to get a taste of this first-hand why not visit the British Science Festival in Bradford this September? It is one of Europe’s largest celebrations of science, technology and engineering, with plenty of activities including workshops, trips, debates and films. I’m really looking forward to seeing the best of what UK science has to offer, and I hope the Festival continues its fine tradition of conveying the wonder of science to the public.