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RI Masterclasses 2020

Inspiring young engineers with Masterclasses 2020

This year is the 8th consecutive year that the Royal Institution Engineering Masterclasses have been run by WMG, University of Warwick.

The masterclasses aim to raise awareness of the breadth of engineering. There are many careers open to young people in engineering, and there is a high demand for engineers in the UK. But, often children (and some adults) can have a narrow view of what engineering is with many schools not even including it in their curriculum.

How does it work

Each year local schools are invited to nominate two Year 9 students to participate in sessions, with a total of 24 students selected to participate in the series. Each engineering masterclass series consists of a set of six Saturday morning masterclasses focusing on a different aspect of engineering. Sessions are interactive and involve hands-on engineering activities led by WMG teaching and research staff, with several of the session leaders’ active researchers on WMG HVM Catapult projects.

Example sessions.

Crash structuresCrash Structures from Recycled Materials: Why crash structures are needed, the forces involved in collisions and how energy can be safely dissipated

Peter Wilson and Phil Jemmett

Material Matters - Batteries: The structures and properties of materials found inside of batteries, and an Insight into battery researchinsight into battery research in WMG HVM Catapult

Mel Loveridge and Eve Wheeler-Jones.


Computer Aided Design and 3D printing: Introduction to computer aided design, identifying key features for a lolly drip tray, and designing this in CAD

Diane Burton


The Power of Process: An insight into how teams of engineers can design and build products effectively considering team structure, roles and efficient processes

Mairi Macintyre


Autonomous Vehicles - a taste of things to come: Exploring how autonomous vehicles can successfully navigate roads and avoid obstacles.

Valentina Donzella and Umang Parek


Software and Control: Technology that is used regularly, and many manufacturing processes are controlled by software, here software is written to generate a pattern that can be stitched by a digital embroidery machine

Helen Luckhurst and Margaret Low


The Masterclasses are also supported by undergraduate engineering students who are employed as student ambassadors. They are an integral part of the series, providing continuity across the different masterclasses and bringing their enthusiasm and knowledge about engineering to each session.


This year’s ambassadors were Harry and Jack Adams, Tara Sharp and Adam Wickett.


Virtual masterclass

Sadly, due to Covid-19, the final masterclass – on software and control - could not be run in-person on campus. Instead it was facilitated virtually on two weekday evenings by Helen Luckhurst, Project Officer at WMG HVM Catapult, and Professor Margaret Low, Director of Outreach and Widening Participation at WMG.

This was the WMG Outreach team’s first virtual delivery of a workshop. Students built their programming and pattern design skills in the first half of the session by using a series of video tutorials, created by Helen Luckhurst. Then, they applied their skills to create an embroidered pattern design for a coaster. While using these, students asked Helen questions through an online discussion board. Helen was also able to view and test the programmes that had written on the Turtlestitch website. Margaret acted as moderator for the discussion board, checking and approving students’ posts. After running the first session, changes were made to the wording of some instructions and the discussion board layout for clarity. It was notable that students learnt from each other’s examples of how best to communicate using the online environment.

Examples of workHere's some examples of a student’s work, showing the code and virtual design created during the workshop:

Virtual designs

Feedback from students and parents

89% of students that participated in the virtual session enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to their friends

78% of students used positive words when asked about the virtual experience itself

"It was a great opportunity and experience for my [child] to participate in the Masterclass programme. [They] did not know what to expect but came away with an appreciation and enthusiasm for what the world of Engineering may offer in the future. Also for [them] to experience being on a university campus was a real benefit. [Their] favourite session was exploring crash structures using eggs. Thank you to WMG University of Warwick and all those involved." - parent.

"This is a great initiative." - parent.

[My child] loved these sessions. [They] are usually not very good at sticking with things but [they]couldn't wait to attend on a Saturday morning” – parent

Feedback from student ambassadors

Growing up I learnt about maths and science, but it would have been very beneficial to learn about how these can be applied in the real-world within engineering. I wish I could have been given an opportunity similar to this when I was at school!”

As a student ambassador I also learn from the sessions, and my role includes helping to run the activities. This perspective gives a different insight into the subject areas, and it is always interesting to see how the Year 9 students approach the problem-solving. Their creativity can lead to some very innovative solutions!”

How to apply

Nominations for the 2020/21 RI Masterclasses open in October 2020, with the workshop programme running from January to March 2021. Teachers can nominate two pupils – one male and one female. Details on how to apply will be shared with schools during the Autumn term.