A group of school children talking to one of the PhD researchers at the SlowCat exhibition stand

Loughborough’s researchers inspire the next generation of scientists at London Schools’ Climate Kick-Start Event

A Loughborough team of scientists and engineers who are designing and preparing catalysts for a greener future took part in a London-wide schools programme to empower young people to help tackle climate change.

Doctoral students from the SlowCat research cluster joined the School and College Liaison Widening Participation and Outreach team at the London Schools’ Climate Kick-Start Event on Thursday 17 November, at the London Stadium on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Over 1,000 students explored interactive exhibits from researchers and business demonstrating how innovative technologies can support the transition to net zero. Now in its second year, purposefully scheduled after COP27, the event helps students make informed decisions prior to choosing GCSE subjects, in response to the growing demand for green skills, as well as helping the public understand their carbon footprint.

The initiative is supported by the Mayor of London, Let’s Go Zero 2030 and Bloomberg L.P., and hosted by the Local London Careers Hub that supports schools across nine boroughs in East London to improve their careers provision and connect with industry, in partnership with global IT and business consulting firm CGI.

SlowCat doctoral students presented work selected earlier this year for the Royal Society Summer Science and British Science Festival that focuses on how the world would look without fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are used to create the vital ingredients, known as platform chemicals, that go into a surprising range of products we use every day.

The Loughborough team – led by Professor Sandie Dann and involving academics and Doctoral Researchers from Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Materials Engineering – is designing a new generation of catalysts that will be needed to convert biological waste into these useful products in a post-petrochemical world.

One of the research projects that the SlowCat team is currently exploring involves the utilisation of carbohydrate rich waste waters from ice cream factories to produce eco-friendly, bio-based, sustainable plastics. Catalysts are being developed to convert carbohydrates into polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a polymer resin used in fibres for clothing that we wear every day!

Sam Wallbridge, one of the doctoral students participating in the London Schools Climate Kick-Start, says: "SlowCat’s research is so relevant to some of the most important issues that we are facing in society now. Sharing our research with the public – and hopefully inspiring future scientists – is such a rewarding part of the job."

Anna Milewska, Senior Outreach officer responsible for widening participation in London, says: "The London Schools' Climate Kick-Start was a great opportunity to inform and enthuse students about Higher Education. Having the SlowCat doctoral students on hand to bring to life science that’s tackling climate change made the event a huge success."