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It’s a Matter of Crystals – Dr. Monica Ciomaga Hatnean

I was one of the recipients of the Public Engagement Fund in 2017/18. The award was used to prepare a series of workshops on the science behind crystals. To put together the materials/demonstrations, a range of chemical compounds was purchased, and single crystals of the materials have been grown in the laboratory; magnetic balls and plastic sticks kits were also acquired to be used in demonstrations on crystal structures of materials.

The workshop was designed to incorporate, on one hand, general information on crystals, crystal growth of materials and the importance of studying crystals and their physical behaviour, and on the other hand, a series of practical activities. The hands-on activities included building crystal structures in order to understand the internal arrangement of chemical elements inside crystals, examination of a portfolio of various crystals (minerals and other chemical compounds grown in the laboratory), description of devices based on some physical properties of crystals of materials. At the end of the workshop, I gave the participants a set of instructions and materials (salt powder) to grow their own crystals at home.

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The activities were firstly delivered, in a one-day format, as part of the Physics Department work experience week, to 3 girls of Year 12. My desire to inspire children to pursue a career in Sciences motivated me to organise two 1-hour workshops, together with 2 schools from Coventry. At the National Mathematics and Science College, I engaged with 13 pupils of Year 12, in a series of hands-on classroom activities, while at the Sidney Stringer Academy, I gave a talk to 120 pupils (Year 11, 12 and 13) on my scientific background and my current research work. In partnership with Coventry Library, I delivered 1-hour free practical workshop to 8 people (6 children aged 16+ and 2 adults), engaging in practical activities. The last 1 and 1/2-hours workshop of the series was incorporated into a one-day event organised at the University of Warwick. The event “Molecules and Materials: Current research and curriculum links” was designed for Chemistry Teachers (4 participants) and aimed to highlight the research work that is currently carried out at Warwick and its relevance/links to the Chemistry curriculum and Chemistry Olympiad.

This outreach/public engagements series of workshops has allowed me to showcase my research work on crystals of various materials, with emphasis on the significance of current research for future applications. The feedback was very positive, e.g. Kate, from the National Mathematics and Science College, wrote that it is important to study crystal “because some of the properties can be useful to apply in industries + it’s impressive”. All the participants were pleasantly surprised by the hands-on aspect of the workshop and most of them would have liked for a longer workshop to learn more information. Organising these activities helped me to focus my attention on the practical aspect of my work, and how to stress on the impact of studying crystals and their properties to a non-scientific audience.

Find out more about Monica here

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