UCL Department of Biochemical Engineering


How many engineers does it take to make ice cream?

29 June 2016

Olotu Ogonah (right) and Ebenezer Ojo (left) have been working with The Brilliant Club to introduce Biochemical Engineering to pupils through school projects with the titles “How many engineers does it take to make ice-cream,” and “Taming the bristlebot.”

The Brilliant Club is a charity that works with highly selective universities to widen access for pupils from under-represented groups. They run The Scholars Programme in collaboration with PhD tutors to deliver programmes of university-style tutorials to small groups of pupils. The aim is to build a national movement that mobilises postdoctoral researchers to engage with challenging schools to address educational disadvantage more widely. 

How did you get engaged in the project?

Olotu: In the last decade or so there has been a lot of interesting research/data showing that the use of case studies/scenarios in the class room is a much more effective teaching style that the lecture based teaching found at most universities, especially when applied to diverse student populations such as we have here at UCL. By 2014 the UCL Engineering faculty has begun transitioning towards a case study/scenario based practice and I was part of the team that designed the first scenario based course for the Biochemical Engineering Department, which proved to be very successful (as measured by the students level of engagement and achievement). Based on our success I was  invited to a partake in a brainstorming session to come up with ideas for Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 learning packages aimed at engaging high school students from unrepresented groups into engineering. Luckily my suggestions were accepted and developed into the programs we have today. 

Ebenezer: I was involved in the delivery and fine tuning of the curriculum, specifically in the ice cream project, which is actually based on a scenario we run for our first year students. We packaged it in a way that made it accessible to pupils in key stage 2/year 5 & 6.  I was based in the schools as a tutor (which is a great way to engage with pupils directly), delivering the lesson plan and marking/evaluating the students’ coursework. I also helped two students to write articles describing the impact the program has had on them, one of which was accepted into The Scholar.

Olotu: This year was the pilot; we had hoped to limit ourselves to around 10 schools but when the prospectus was sent out the response was so positive that we expanded the pilot to over 300 students. Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback we have secured funding for the upcoming school year and the program will be rolled out nationally.

I am always looking at ways to make learning more exciting, so I asked myself; what would be a cool thing to do for a 10 year old?  Immediately I thought; ‘designing my own Ice cream!’ I approached Unilever, who has a history of supporting education in the engineering sciences  and are also a major presence in the ice cream sector, and pitched the idea of a design your own ice cream product competition.  They immediately agreed to come on board and next year all schools that take part in the KS2 program will be invited to submit suggestions for a new ice cream product. Unilever will select the winner and the winning product will be made in their Sharnbrook Pilot Plant and distributed to the students, families, and stakeholders of the winning school. There will be some publicity for the winning school as it’s a great opportunity to showcase the initiative to all the pupils who didn’t get the chance to take part and build enthusiasm for the following years.