In 2011 Bloodhound SSC (SSC stands for supersonic car) will attempt to smash the land speed record set by Thrust SSC 13 years ago and push past 1000 mph for the first time.
But while the news surrounding Thrust burned brightly and then rapidly faded away; the Bloodhound team hope that once the dust settles this time, the real story will only just be beginning. Bloodhound’s prime objective is to inspire the next generation of British scientists.
The project was the brain child of car mad Science Minister, Lord Drayson. He wanted to find a way to engage schoolchildren with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Lord Drayson targeted 5-19 year olds with a comprehensive educational programme, but more recently a team led by UWE’s own Dr. John Lanham proposed extending the project to encompass university students.
“All of the plans stopped at 18 or 19…but we realised that there was an opportunity to use the open education model that Bloodhound was advocating to engage university level students in the project.”
Drayson and funders agreed and now “UWE is the hub” of the Bloodhound Higher Education programme, Bloodhound@University.
Running parallel to programmes in schools, Bloodhound@University allows “students [to] follow the programme, warts and all, as it happens,” according to Education Programme Director Dave Rowley.
“Many high tech projects are either covered by national secrecy laws or company confidential restrictions, very few university students have access to such leading edge information.”
The recent closure of Reading University’s Physics department and figures suggest that Science and Mathematics university courses are being hit hard by falling student uptake and job losses.
Bloodhound@University has been welcomed by the Government, who hope that it will boost the industry both now and in the future.
“About 40-50% of those that graduate with STEM degrees end up in the Finance sector or certainly don’t stay in STEM areas,” stated John Lanham, who now leads the Bloodhound@University project. “The hope is that Bloodhound can reverse the downward trend.”
If applications to UWE and other universities involved in the project are anything to go by this hope is being realised, with a marked “increase in applications across the design and engineering areas,” says Lanham.
The likelihood is that Bloodhound will streak past the land speed record and a great deal of good will be done towards the health of STEM subjects in Britain along the way. But what happens if it all goes wrong?
“We want to hit the headlines, but for the right reasons,” explains Lanham. “You can never remove all of the risk” but “wherever possible we will remove as much risk as can be done.” “It’s about engagement. Even if the car doesn’t actually break the record we can still have a successful outcome.”
Whether this could be achieved if an accident happens is far more debatable, but what all behind the project agree on is that the risk is worth taking, as Rowley explains, “the UK…does not create enough scientists and engineers, and it is these professions that will sort out the challenges the world faces in the future. No one else will come up with the answers!”
Lanham sums up the Bloodhound spirit, “We know that we are not going to solve these problems by building a car that goes ridiculously fast speeds across the desert. But if we can show people that this was a really difficult problem and we’ve solved it, then we can show people there are other really difficult problems out there that we can also solve.”