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BLAST!

BLAST! (Broadcast-Linked Activities in Science and Technology) is an outreach project, based in the science faculty.

The Open University has had a close relationship with the BBC for many years and together they have produced a wide range of programmes. The science faculty in particular has been involved in successful series such as Rough Science, Science Shack, Ever Wondered About Food and Coast.

In 2005, Peter Taylor, Mike Bullivant and James Bruce from the Chemistry Department applied for a Wellcome Trust grant to develop (www.wellcome.ac.uk) develop and run events and activities related to the Science Faculty’s BBC broadcasts. The Wellcome Trust gave the faculty £187,000 which enabled us to employ a project manager (Emily Unell) for three years, as well as fund an initial year’s activities, including evaluation and costs.

This support has enabled us to fund a series of Rough Science: On the Road events at Science Centres, Museums and Festivals throughout the country. These events are designed for 7-11 year olds and their families and have been a great success. So far this year we have been to the Science Museum in London, the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, Cheltenham Science Festival and Science Live! in Durham.

At the Science Museum, one parent commented, “Informative and educational and fun. A good learning experience for children to make and test out a product from start (materials) to end product – as this rarely occurs especially in urban environments.”

As well as face-to-face events, we are interested in trying out new and innovative ways to engage people in science. We have already recorded a pilot podcast, which took place at Willen Lake in Milton Keynes where two OU scientists were given the challenge to make a rocket. This year we are also planning a series of teacher’s resources to be made available over the internet and interactive events for the forthcoming series of Coast.

Fundamental to the project is evaluation. Each activity – whether an event, podcast, etc. – is evaluated to find out its success in terms of science outreach. We believe that evaluation is integral to the project, both in terms of assessing an end-result and in terms of the development of each activity.