Liam was voted the winner of the Sustainability Zone in November 2018. Here he writes about how he used his £500 prize money to develop a session for children and students to learn about climate change using VR headsets.
If you’d like the chance to win funding for your own public engagement work, apply for the next I’m a Scientist, Get me out of here: imascientist.org.uk/scientist-apply
I used the prize money to purchase virtual reality headsets to develop an outreach session with the University of Leeds. Whenever I taught the science or solutions of climate change, I was frequently told by children that they couldn’t visualise environments that are on the other side of the world, let alone how they are changing. So, I bought an array of Oculus headsets so that children can immerse themselves in coral reefs, stand on top of glaciers, or shake hands with great primates in the rainforests.
I have now developed a session – ‘The Reality of Climate Change’ – that will be taken on tour to classrooms, museums, and science events. Students will first visit environments in their natural, pristine state, before looking at the impacts that climate change is having on these ecosystems. Children so far have responded very positively, displaying a greater sense of empathy towards environmental change, and desire for climate action.
The I’m a Scientist experience taught me to be a better science communicator – and not just with children, but senior academics too. I was also so inspired by the curiosity and intelligence of everybody who asked a question. In my own work now, I try to ask as many questions as possible and explain things in the simplest ways.
Next up for the virtual reality session is to roll it out to as many children as possible! I’m still testing lots of ideas with different age groups to ensure the content is effective and relatable. Eventually, this will form part of the University of Leeds outreach programme, which reaches children from all backgrounds across West Yorkshire.