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STEM Ambassador Week

Period: 18-24 May 2020

Welcome to our Showcase STEM Ambassador Week!

This week we have a different format for you. Each day we are going to be hearing from a STEM Ambassador about how they are using science and technology in their day-to-day jobs and to inspire you with our special challenges.

This week we have two week-long challenges for you, and we have a range of experts online to answer your questions via Ask An Expert community.

Let's get started!




STEM Introduction

What is STEM?

Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths - or STEM are key areas that affect all aspects of our day-to-day lives. When you study maths and science at school sometimes they seem a bit irrelevant but this week we are going to show you how important they are, and how they are used in our daily lives. Perhaps you will be inspired to consider a career in STEM or even study one or more of the subjects at college or university.

Getting Involved!

This week we have two week-long challenges for you, and we have a range of experts online to answer your questions via Ask An Expert community.

Your questions can be about this week's challenges, any aspects of STEM or any of the topics we have already covered in previous weeks.

Girl with Robot
How Can I Help You?

Your Challenge - Should You Wish To Accept It!

We are inviting you to take part in our STEM Challenge as part of STEM Ambassador Week!

There are two challenges to choose from, you can, of course, do both if you would like. You have all week to work on your project, all entries should be submitted by 17:00 Monday 25 May 2020 - plenty of time to refine your designs - and of course, search in the recycle box again for your build!

The challenges are:

Tay Road Bridge (By Russ Hamer - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Photograph by By Russ Hamer - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Challenge 1: New Tay Road Bridge

The first challenge is to design and build a new Tay Road Bridge.

Red Squirrel

Challenge 2: Red Squirrel Drey

The second challenge is to design and build a Red Squirrel Drey which is safe from Pine Martens.

We have provided an activity worksheet for each project to download.

The most important part of any design and build project is the planning stage, so have a good think about what you are going to do and draw some designs so you are sure of what you want to achieve.

You will have an opportunity to Ask an Expert if you have any questions.

Please use Ask an Expert if you need to - but also call your extended family and ask for help and ideas if you think that would help.

Why not send us a photograph to update us on how you are getting on? Or even a video explaining how you came to your final decision.

We cannot wait to see your challenge entries!

Send Your Project Photograph!

Thank you to Russ Hamer for this his photograph of the Tay Bridge shared under the CC BY-SA 3.0.

Ask An Expert

This week we also have a range of STEM experts on-hand who can answer your questions by e-mail about your challenge entry or any aspects of STEM or the topics we have already covered in previous weeks.

To ask a question use the question form below. We are waiting for your question right now!

Ask Your Question
What is your question?

Thinking about the future? Visit the Dundee and Angus College Career Information page for some ideas.

Dr Francesca Iezzi

My name is Francesca Iezzi, and I am the Public Engagement Officer for the School of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh.

My tasks include:

  • Leading and coordinating the outreach activities of the School (i.e. all activities aimed at communicating the School’s research and sharing our passion for Mathematics with the wider community)
  • Coordinating the Mathematics Outreach Team and leading students' skills development
  • Designing and running activities for the public and producing educational resources

Before moving to Edinburgh I completed a PhD in Mathematics: my research was in an area called “Topology”, which is concerned with the study of shapes.

You can read more about all the Outreach activities we run, and you can read more about me.

Maths in the Kitchen

Have you ever wondered how many times we encounter Maths in our everyday life? Well… much more than we think… and NO, it is NOT ONLY when we see NUMBERS!

I guess in this lockdown period many of you have enjoyed baking and cooking (if you were lucky enough to find flour at the supermarket!).

Today, we will see how we use Maths while cooking, and specifically, we will go beyond measuring and adding up numbers when reading recipes. We will see how important shapes are when we bake. Watch the video to find out more, and look at the activity if you want to get creative...

Francesca Iezzi
Dr Francesca Iezzi
Dr Francesca Iezzi
Mathematics Engagement Officer, University of Edinburgh

Shapeland Activity Worksheet
Shapeland Activity Worksheet (PDF)

Willie Bell

Hi, I am Willie Bell and recently retired after 40 years in Information Technology (IT).

Why and how did I go into an IT career?

I was always interested in science at school, and engines as my father had a transport company. I was attracted to studying Electronic Engineering at colleague or university, but failed my Higher Physics prelim due to playing too much rugby, working with my father and not studying enough! I did managed to get my Highers in Maths, English and History.

After a conversation with my Maths teacher, who was also my careers advisor, I applied for a Trainee Computer Programmer job at Sprague an American Electronics company in my home town of Galashiels. I thought that computer programming looked “cool”, and computing seemed to be a good choice for the future. My father thought I was mad, but my mother was more supportive.

What type of companies were operating and how did my career pan out?

Now this in 1979, ten years before the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee would invent the World Wide Web (WWW). Google had not been founded and no one had PCs, tablets or mobile phones. The only way to chat to your friends was ask you mum or dad to use the landline phone or go and see them face-to-face.

How a web browser works

IBM, Burroughs and ICL all made mainframe computers, and they filled rooms the size of football pitches. You created your code via punched paper cards, input your data via magnetic tape and got the output via printed stationery or magnetic tape . The IBM computer below was 1,000 times the size and 100,000 times the price of your mobile phone, and had much less processing power!

Microsoft Windows, Android or IOS were still lightyears away.

IBM Mainframe

After 15 months as a trainee programmer at Sprague Electric I spoke to two individuals who had gone to Heriot Watt University and Napier College, to study Computer Science. This sounded interesting and the chance to move away from Galashiels to the big smoke, Edinburgh, was exciting. Fast forward to graduation in 1983 from Napier, and I joined Ferrari Defence Systems as a programmer in COBOL and Assembler languages on ICL computers. Not quite missile guidance computer systems, but still pretty interesting.

Late 1985, I joined Bank of Scotland and gained even more experience as a Programmer, then Designer, Project Manager working on IBM computers, but still no Apple or Microsoft! I gained looks of technical and behavioural skills working in great IT and business teams, with some of the best technology.

In 2000 I joined an IT services company Sopra Steria for three years, and then joined HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland ) Bank In 2003. I remained there, through the takeover by Lloyd’s Banking Group in 2009 leading IT teams across the UK and India, and until my retirement in 2019.

A total of 40 years in IT.

What Did I Enjoy?

  • Computer programming (“coding”) was great fun to create your own code, build larger programs/solution.
  • Observe the amazing development of new techology, for example, PCs and development on MS Windows, Increased speed, Reduced size, Reduced prices, volume grow.
  • Working with great people in large and small diverse teams. There was always a good mixture of women and men in teams, a broad ethnic mix And various disable colleagues. IT could accommodate a diverse workforce.
  • Travel thought UK, Indian several times and USA.
  • Good job security and opportunities, especially in the UK including Scotland.
  • Becoming a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) Ambassador and visiting schools to promote IT.

Why Would You Go into a Technology Career?

  • Really interesting work to show your creative side (blends science and art).
  • Good career prospects to be employed or self employed.
  • You don’t have to go to University. Many companies recruit Software Engineering or Cyber Security apprentices proving you don’t have a degree. You get paid work, training and SVQ qualification from level 5 to 12.
  • If you get the grades, Scotland has a brilliant choice of Universities with a superb reputation for their computer science courses. Dundee and Abertay are right up there!
  • Opportunity for travel.
  • Very easy to work remotely (very relevant in our current COVID-19 pandemic).
  • Easy access to technology in schools via coding clubs or at home via self study.

Let's Get Coding!

Have a go at coding with:

Snap, it free, safe and easy to download... See

IBM Mainframe

Or try HTML (HyperText Markup Language) - See to give it a try.

Willie Bell
Willie Bell

Sarah Clark

Hello! My name is Sarah, I am a process engineer, and my job is to design and operate the oil and gas platforms offshore to take oil and gas from the seafloor and turn it in to products that we use every day.

Before I talk about the details of my day job, I wanted to talk about school!

I was rubbish at maths and science, and every subject, when I was in primary school and early high school. I really struggled to understand what I was doing, but I wanted to be better. My dad would help me a lot, and would sit with me to coach me through my homework. He gave me really good advise that when doing a calculation to write down everything I know at one side of the paper, and everything I don’t know at the other side of the paper; sometimes this gave some inspiration about that formula I was going to use if I was really struggling! The other piece of advice he gave me was to write every step down. A lot of the time, the final answer only has a couple of marks, and you get more marks from the working, even if you make a mistake! Strategically, this made a lot more sense to get most of the marks, and actually, I often got the right answer because I would realise my mistakes. This approach, plus ensuring I did my homework, and a little bit more each day, meant I moved from the bottom classes in 2nd year high school to the top classes within 6 months, and I was able to stay there, continue improving, and doing Highers’ and Advanced Highers’ in 5th and 6th year. As I had pretty good grades, especially in maths, physics and chemistry, I decided to do chemical engineering at university.

Back to my day job! There are a lot of people involved in making products from oil and gas, and I am just one of the pieces of that puzzle. How it works is first we build a platform, like the one below, to receive the fluids produced from drilling.

Clair Ridge Platform
Figure 1: Clair Ridge Platform (source:

These fluids contain: oil & gas, which we want, and also lot of other components that we don’t want like water, sand, sulphur dioxide and others; so, we need to treat the fluids so we can send them onshore safely for refining and make in to useable products.

The fluids go through lots of processes, and each platform is slightly different, but typically they will be separated in a huge vessel called a separator. Gas, because it’s light, will separate quickly and leave via the top of the vessel. Oil and water will flow to the bottom. These two liquids will separate out over a certain amount of time because they have different densities, which makes them weigh differently. Water is heavier, so it sinks to the bottom and oil floats to the top and is skimmed over a weir (like a wall) to another part of the vessel to leave.

Separator Internals
Figure 2: Separator Internals (Source:


If you put cold water and cooking oil in a bottle with the lid on, give it a good shake and then leave it alone for a couple of hours, you’ll see they will separate. Water will drop to the bottom, because it’s heavy (heavier density) and oil will sit on top of the oil because it’s lighter (lighter density). Make sure the lid is on tight before you shake this! But we know that it’s not as simple as that, right? We know there will still be some liquid in the gas, some water in the oil, and some oil in the water, this is what we called entrainment, so what do we do?

Normally there are lots more types of separation before we can export the oil and gas to onshore. The additional types of separation could be another separator (like above), or other machinery like hydrocyclones (which spins the liquid really fast to separate oil, water and solids) or produced water treatment to make the water really pure (so the liquid might go through something like a giant sponge or sieve), or a gas dehydrator (where the gas will be passed through a vessel like a hairdryer taking all the moisture away).

My job is to make sure all the machinery is designed and operated in a way that we can make the oil and gas as pure as possible offshore, before we transport it to onshore. Once the oil and gas are ready, we export it onshore to a refinery, via huge pipeline. Lots of platforms will use the same pipework and same refinery, so that’s why the pipeline needs to be really big, to take all the gas and oil at the same time.

The whole process can take many hours and we are constantly producing, so we need to think of safety and the environment. Lots of teams, including process engineers, therefore work together to make sure what we are doing offshore is safe, to protect the workforce and protect the environment, both the air and the sea and all the sea life.

So, what do you think we use oil and gas for every single day?

Some examples I have listed below:

  • Oil for cars & planes
  • Heating our homes and offices
  • Cooking at home and restaurants
  • Making electricity
  • Plastics
  • Fertilisers and pesticides for our gardens and fruit/veg
  • Curtains
  • Jumpers
  • Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Lipstick
  • Footballs

This list is not exhausted, there are literally thousands of items that we used every single day that is made from oil and gas!

Any Questions?

I hope you have found my journey in to engineering to be interesting, if you have any questions please write to the Science Centre and I’ll be happy to answer them!

Sarah Clark
Photograph of Sarah Clark on an Offshore Platform
Sarah Clark
Sarah Clark
Process Engineer, Offshore Industry

STEM Challenge Judging

It is the holiday weekend, so we will see you on Tuesday, however, our judges have started reviewing your challenge entries.

Remember: You have until 17:00 Monday 25 May 2020 (extended by popular demand) to send your entries in for our two challenges.

Good Luck!

See you on Tuesday with a return to our normal format with lots of daily activities for our Planet Earth Week!

Earth Drawn To Scale

Also see our other Home Learning Topics information and our Learning Resources.

If you have enjoyed these activities please share them with your friends and family.