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Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists Through Citizen Science

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When I was young I was probably like a lot of kids, - not really sure what science was, why it was important, and disengaged. I've since learned that science is one of the most engaging, inspiring and creative subjects on the curriculum. It's the part of the school day when the entire universe enters the classroom and young people have the chance to not only learn about the world we live in but also the challenges we face in the future.

Given the vast number of choices young people now have for career and education, it doesn't surprise me to learn that a study carried out by Kings College London showed that 80% of school kids have written off a career in science by the time they reach secondary school. However, we do have a chance to turn that around.

As someone who now lives and breathes science, I have become aware of the incredible number of exciting career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. It's now so important that we find a way to engage young people in these subjects before it's too late - and they write off a career in science all together. Engineering UK estimates we need 600,000 new STEM graduates in the next six years just to maintain current employment numbers and meet our growing energy demands as a country, making it crucial that young people are encouraged to go on to study it further.

Strangely the same research by Kings College London also shows that two thirds of young people actually enjoyed science lessons at primary school. So what's going wrong? Kings College say stereotypical perceptions of scientists are putting young people off. It seems many people believe you have to be Einstein, geeky or some kind of 'brainiac' to be interested in the subject, which is simply not the case. Science is a subject that surrounds us on a daily basis - it's accessible to everyone and you certainly don't have to be a 'scientist' to be interested in it. I'm a perfect example of this. I work in the scientific community without being an academic.

So how do we change these perceptions and get young people excited and interested in science? I believe citizen science is a good answer to this. For those who are unfamiliar with this, citizen science its term used when members of the public are given the opportunity to contribute to real life scientific research. A good example of this is the UK Ladybird survey, which invited people to record the different species they saw as part of ongoing research by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

If you give young people the opportunity to be a part of a real life science experiment it suddenly becomes exciting and relevant, showing them just how fun and accessible science can be. It all comes back to that age old saying of "Tell me and I will learn, show me and I will remember but involve me - I will understand." I've always had a passion for science, but if I'd been given the chance to get involved with something like that when I was younger, I may well have started my science career much earlier on.

I want to help young people feel that same passion for science that I have and that is why I got involved with The Great EDF Energy Experiment - a five year Citizen Science programme, which aims to inspire over 100,000 children and their parents to participate in a series of mass participation experiments. The first of these is The Bumble Bee Discovery, which challenges people from across the UK to map bumblebee numbers across Britain and what impact changing population numbers have on crop pollination. Young people and their parents will be invited to count the number of bumblebees they spot in their garden, school playground or local park and record results, which will be used by researchers from Centre for Ecology and Hydrology for their report.

It really is a fascinating project, which I'm proud and excited to be a part of. Not just because it creates more data about bee population numbers - good news for scientists trying to understand what's going on - but because it gives children and parents a chance to participate in real science, which something that often doesn't happen. It helps make science better understood as well as becoming a more integral part of all of our lives, crucial if we are to inspire a new generation of scientists.

Science isn't a subject - it's a way of thinking. It's a tool we use to understand the world around us. Students should be aware of the inspirational opportunities science has to offer, and what better way to do this then by getting them involved in a real life experiment by logging onto www.beediscovery.org.

Dallas Campbell Science Enthusiast and TV presenter
Research referenced in this release relates to the following papers:
ASPIRES: Science and Career Aspirations age 10/14 - Kings College London - Ten Science Facts & Fictions
ASPIRES: Science and Career Aspirations age 10/14 - Kings College London - What Shapes Children's Science and Career Aspirations age 10-13?

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