Well, it’s been grand. From an uncertain start, this event has become the bright spot of my working day, the chats the place where I go when I need a quick sense of having done some good. I shall miss it.
I thank the organisers and moderators for the excellent job they have done in running the programme. Given how easily an on-line activity can descend into pantomime, it’s quite startling how well this one has worked. Thanks to my fellow engineers for answering the really difficult questions, leaving me to bat around the easy ones: I think you four did the real work and deserved to win. Thanks also to all the students for their openness and enthusiasm, and for the time they’ve taken from their busy school lives to think up good questions. Many of you have found the deep and significant questions, which is most impressive.
The real prize in all this is the chance to help, to educate a little and perhaps occasionally to entertain; work well done, as I’ve been reciting these last two weeks. However, since there is prize money, I should explain a little more what I intend with it. At Cambridge, at the Institute of Astronomy, there is public observing on our telescopes every Wednesday during the winter. It’s a popular gathering, but we have no way for visitors to take home pictures of what they see in the sky. I want to make it easy to take those pictures by coupling the visitors’ ‘phone cameras to the telescopes, using simple mounts that fit in place of the eyepieces. These mounts I will make by 3D printing, and the prize money from I’m an Engineer will nicely cover the development and printing costs. I wish that I could afford to distribute these mounts for free to all the schools that participated, but I fear that the money won’t stretch that far. However, if schools contact me through I’m an Engineer (in a few months’ time, when I’ve made the designs), perhaps we can work something out. Or just come to Cambridge, on a Wednesday next winter, and try your phone on our telescopes.
Finally, I would like to record that I myself have learnt a lot from I’m an Engineer. Firstly, I’ve learnt a lot about the science my work supports, and this simply by looking up answers for the questions in “Ask”. It is quite amazing how much science is now only a Google query away, and how much of that is well-written and easy to understand, even (I think) for school students. Secondly, and much more importantly, this event has been a chance to re-evaluate my life, and your questions speak to my deep fears at a time of doubt in my career. Was I right to switch from science to engineering? (Yes!) Could I have handled it better (yes) and does that matter? (No, not much.) Am I content with what I did? (Yes, ultimately.) You have eased my mind and for that I shall be ever grateful. To those of you who asked the question “can we do what you did?” here’s my final answer, the one I was not quick enough to bring up in chat. You can indeed do what I have done, but don’t settle for just that. You can do far better. I see your bright, sharp minds, your openness to knowledge, and your sense of wonder at the universe. Keep those things in later life, use them relentlessly, and there’s nothing you can’t achieve. Over to you now.
With thanks and happy memories,
Engineers! If you’d like the chance to win funding for your own STEM outreach, apply for the next I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here: imanengineer.org.uk/engineer-apply