We have done quite a lot in terms of Outreach, this year, but nothing comes even remotely close to the Big Bang Fair.

In a nutshell, this is a massive event aimed at inspiring young people about STEM – i.e., Science, technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It took place at the NEC in Birmingham (a big place for a big event!), and involved thousands of school kids flocking from all across the UK to engage with more than fifty “exhibitors” – Warwick University included. In a coordinated effort, together with the Warwick Manufacturing Group, Warwick Racing (a student-led project!), and various bits ands bobs from across the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Medicine, we (Warwick Chemistry, that is!) put together a series of activities focussed on Sustainable Energy. We had a “battery plinko”, a “hand crank vs solar power” race, an actual electric racing car, some incredible on-the-fly spectroscopy (with… guitars involved – true story!) and of course some computational stuff as well!

To be precise, I had a collection of systems ranging from polymers, to various allotropes of carbon, to big proteins, all of them relevant in the context of sustainable energy and all of them available for the kids to play around with in… Virtual Reality! The kit was put together via a mix of actual research equipment (you can’t see it in the pic, but there’s about £7,000 worth of last-gen GPU under the hood!), various outreach bits (including a Meta Quest 2 headset which run continuously for three days – quirky cables and a fair bit of luck involved!), and ChimeraX as the software of choice.

It was amazing.

We talked structure, we visualised hydrogen bonds, we created maps of the electrostatic potential in real time… fantastic stuff, and the kids genuinely loved it. There’s much more that we could do, and I hope I will be able to involve some fellow computational colleagues into this madness as well, next year… watch this space!