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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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First test drive of the MR sensor for outreach [20090213|16:43]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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We tested our mini-magnetometers out today on 12 A-level students - that's 17-18 years old - from a comprehensive in Hackney. For those for whom the description and location doesn't provide a clue, that means a state school in a deprived area of London in which most of the inhabitants are not white.

As usual, giving the talk ("Measuring Magnetic Fields in Space") and guiding them through the practical ("Testing a Magnetoresistive Sensor in 3D") was both draining and satisfying. These students were, on the whole, delightfully keen and clever. Four of them were girls, and they banded together to do the practical. One of them even answered two of my questions during the talk, which few students, male or female, are brave enough to try. And she was right both times. The teacher told me afterward that she's normally quite shy. They were emboldened, I think, because the colleague who gave them the lab tour is also female and quite bouncy.

The group consisted of six Year 12 and six Year 13 students. The Year 13 students managed to do the whole practical and determine the magnetic dip in the Earth's field. They had no trouble plotting the data on graph paper, nor with the concept of a vector measurement. The Year 12 students struggled a bit more, but they got there eventually. I'm supposed to do this again at the school in Teddington next month with the Year 9 & 10 students, so this has taught me that I'm going to have to scale back my expectations.

We got the chance to chat to a few of them to find out what they wanted to do. Most of them agreed that chemistry was their favourite subject (yay!) and several of them wanted to be engineers. One boy stood up and gave a little speech to thank my colleague and me before we left the lecture theatre. I spoke to another boy at great length about the practicalities of operating spacecraft. He wants to be a chemist and has applied to several universities. He shook my hand (again, a bold move for a student) after we dropped them off at the Junior Common Room for lunch. I wished him good luck.

Anyway, they were delightful. We'll be running a similar session again in two weeks.

The woman who organises these visits is appallingly bad at keeping to the schedule and at coordinating the actual visit. First of all, she wasn't able to accompany the group and she didn't designate a proxy. The students were nearly half an hour late. (I half expected this, as it happened the last time I agreed to do one of these events for her.) They also got lost on the way to the building. When we finished at lunch, no one turned up to take them to the JCR. They had another lecture after lunch and the organiser hadn't told us if someone was going to guide them to the correct building. If it weren't for the satisfaction I get interacting with the students, I would refuse to deal with her in future.
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