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University of Sussex uses robots to inspire new female engineers

Institution also aims to increase engineering appeal with design competition

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The University of Sussex is using robots to inspire the next generation of engineers –especially girls - as part of its engineering department's 50th anniversary celebrations.

Sussex is staging three ‘Robogals’ days where school girls will get to work with the university’s robots.

The pupils will learn how to help the robots to find their way round mazes using sensors and race them towards a light. They will also build and programme their own robots using Lego Mindstorm robotics kits.

Students at Felpham Community College recently held the first Robogals day. At the end of the robot race, Francis Poole, a third year computer science and artificial intelligence undergraduate, said that it was important to get girls interested in engineering “because at the moment 50% of the population is largely left out of the industry”.

Susie Coleman, a third year computer science undergraduate at Sussex, added: “We want to show them that this kind of work can be accessible and fun.”

Research at Sussex recently found that girls can match and even exceed boys’ performance on coding activities, given the right tools. Women are, however, underrepresented in Britain’s engineering and computing work force.

Kate Howland, lecturer in interaction design at the University of Sussex said: “It is hugely important that young people, and girls in particular, get a sense of the exciting and creative activities that can be done in computer science and engineering. The university has a strong track record in turning out some of the top engineers of our time and we want to ensure that we have just as many women represented as men. ”

There will be three different Robagals days held in June around the South East of England before students must finalise their GSCE options.

The University of Sussex is also launching a new competition, challenging schoolchildren across Sussex to invent “something they’d like to create if they were an engineer” – in partnership with Primary Engineer, a not-for-profit organisation which works to encourage children to consider a future in engineering.

The South East England Special Leaders Award is designed to motivate all children to view engineering as a “real and attractive option” as they grow up. The award challenges pupils aged 5-19 to research and learn more about engineering and its impact on the world around them. Students must meet and interview practising engineers from a wide range of fields before creating their engineering design. For example, pupils from Ifield Community College recently visited the University Mobil 1 Sussex Formula Student Team, which is competing with rival universities to build a racing car. The pupils toured the team’s headquarters and then visited the university’s product design facilities.

The competition runners said that by showcasing the creative side of engineering, as well as the breadth of career opportunities, they aim to appeal to children “who do not fit the stereotypical profile of a budding engineer”.

The winning entries will be exhibited at the University of Sussex on 4 -5 July 2015. The exhibition is open to the public.

To find out more about the competition click here


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