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How 3D digital technologies can inspire young people to pursue STEM careers

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa)

The UK Government’s commitment to nurturing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education was further cemented in this March’s spring statement. UK Chancellor Philip Hammond outlined a series of initiatives aimed at helping to nurture vital skills that employers need to create the workforce of the future.

In particular, Hammond highlighted the Government’s mission of “returning technical and vocational skills to the heart of our educational system.” The hope is that the launch of T-Level qualifications in September 2020 will give young people the opportunity to achieve a qualification equal to three A-levels, whilst getting ‘on-the-job’ experience.

It’s undeniable that STEM education will remain core to fostering the future workforce and innovation in the UK, and help tackle global environment, sustainability and resource challenges. However, despite efforts to date, undergraduate enrolments in STEM subjects represent just under a third of enrolments in all subjects. So, what more can be done to inspire the next generation?

Inspiring the next generation

This question was particularly front of mind this month as young people and students gathered at the Big Bang Fair at NEC Birmingham to celebrate science and engineering. The event was underpinned with a common theme – environmental sustainability. The opening saw a pair of synchronised swimmers, who attempted to perform their routines in a swimming pool filled with plastic pollution to demonstrate the difficulties faced by marine life.

Meanwhile, Dassault Systèmes invited young people attending the event to compete against each other in an interactive ‘ocean clean-up’ activity, a challenge set to free a tank of water from plastic debris in the fastest time. Based on a project we worked on with The Ocean Cleanup, its aim was to demonstrate how 3D design and engineering software can be used to tackle global environmental issues.

Today, there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently littering our oceans, accumulating in areas known as ‘ocean garbage patches’; the largest of these being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. Dassault Systèmes’ involvement with The Ocean Cleanup initiative began back in 2012 when 17-year-old Boyan Slat took part in our SOLIDWORKS for Entrepreneurs Program, after famously documenting the extent of plastic pollution in our seas. Together we helped Boyan (now CEO of The Ocean Cleanup) develop ‘System 001’, a solution which uses X-Flow (a Dassault Systèmes technology) to rid the world’s oceans of plastic pollution.

Our interactive Ocean Cleanup activity attracted 6000 students throughout the course of the event, and was won by The Cooper School in Bicester, who recorded a time of 17.3 seconds to narrowly beat Montsaye Academy, Rothwell, and win a year’s subscription to our SOLIDWORKS 3D computer-aided design (CAD) and engineering program. By participating in the activity, students learned about the importance of STEM skills, and how they can be applied to inspire positive global change.

Combing real and virtual worlds through digital technologies

The Ocean Cleanup project is just one example of how access to 3D design and engineering software can inspire young people to make positive change for a better future. Using Dassault Systèmes simulation and 3D visualisation solutions, Boyan was able to explore his solution through a school science project. His design featured a 600 m-long floater, which sits on the surface of the water attached to a 3 m-deep impenetrable ‘skirt’ below; the system is fully reliant on natural forces, with any electronics used (e.g. light) powered by solar energy.

The future generation live in a world where virtual and real collide using our technologies. The use of VR and 3D printing has revolutionised the way we can develop everything and anything. More than 90 per cent of tomorrow’s electric vehicles are being invented on Dassault Systèmes technologies. Our virtual applications are being used to design, model, simulate and build innovative products and solutions that are changing the way we live. We used a touch screen to show the visitors how we can use platforms like Solidworks, CATIA to deconstruct a vehicle, alternate its components and test the finishing product, in our very own virtual world build. We provide people with a 3D medium to model, modify and create anything, from an SUV to a Star Wars X-Wing.

By putting digital technology in the hands of young people, students can transform ideas into reality and ‘see’ their innovations brought to life. Digital technology closes the gap between experimentation and learning so that young people can imagine new ways of seeing the world, of inventing, learning, producing and doing business.

Fueling agents of change with STEM education

While learning through technology is not new, today’s teachers and parents are increasingly looking for blended and active learning experiences inside and outside classroom walls. The introduction of new technologies and software in the classroom has been recognised as an essential part of providing students with skills fit for the future workplace.

Dassault Systèmes partners with institutions worldwide to develop enhanced teaching methods that help transform STEM education and contribute to the workforce of the future. Currently, over six million engineering students use the company’s technology in an educational context at 42,000 academic institutions worldwide. For example, the University of Leeds, use the software to prepare students for careers in design and manufacturing industries.

Tutors at the University of Leeds introduced the software during degrees so that students can be better placed for the real working environment once they complete their courses. For example, the software has been put to use the to develop complex mechanical models for their Intelligent Pneumatic Arm Movement project.

As the UK Government puts further investments into STEM education and talent, it has never been so important for us to look at how we encourage the next generations to take up STEM subjects in school and university. It is evident that by putting technology in the hands of students, we can inspire young people to continue their STEM journeys beyond schools and foster a future cohort of agents of change across the world.

John Kitchingman, EuroNorth Managing Director, Dassault Systèmes (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa

John Kitchingman is the EuroNorth Managing Director for Dassault Systèmes.