IDECAT and catalysis outreach
The IDECAT (Integrated Design of Catalytic Nanomaterials for a Sustainable Production) Network of Excellence (NoE) consists of the Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) of over 35 multinationals in the European chemicals sector around a core of academic researchers spread over 37 laboratories in 12 European countries. IDECAT, after FP6 transformed into the European Research Institute for Catalysis (ERIC), provides coordination and support to research, innovation and education, especially in the chemicals sector and catalyst technology. IDECAT/ERIC supports the enhancement of the visibility of Catalysis, and promotes this “brand” as a key interdisciplinary activity for the 21st century, which may results e.g. in the increased enrolment into chemistry degree programmes and public funding.
Much was accomplished in the field of outreach. Catalysis has been embedded in the science promotion activities in all countries involved. Close collaborations and exchanges have been set up with chemistry teachers, media and policy makers. Material has been developed and exchanged between universities to support the promotional activities, for example lectures, workshops, demonstration materials, experiments.
In 2008 IDECAT organised a meeting to exchange best practices in the promotion of science and set up a common strategy for the future. One of the key enablers identified was high quality promotional material on catalysis, aiming at the general public and, more specifically, at children aged between 12 and 18 years, who are at the stage of deciding their educational and career directions.
To increase the momentum of and finances for this activity, the CTOs of the Industrial Board were involved. Illustrative of their strong commitment is the decision of DOW Chemical to support, because of the "unusual strategic relevance of this project", despite just having lost a third of the company after the collapse of the banking sector.
High quality outreach material for free
“Awesome video, it's going to help me a lot in my chemistry test tomorrow, thanks.” - A comment on YouTube
The award-winning animator Marc Breakwell has produced the video. As a result, the quality proved sufficient to interest the "X-Box generation". The quality is unequalled on YouTube, and is expected to remain at the high-end, for at least two decades. The video explains that sustainability of both energy and resources is inextricably linked to catalysis. In addition, its relevance in healthcare and environmental issues is highlighted. The video is scientifically correct and highly suitable for educational purposes. The video was released in eight languages (Polish, Italian, German, French, Finnish, Dutch, English, and Spanish) on 5000 DVDs and on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/proftromp/videos. All material is released under open license, including all shots and animations that can be used for other educational purposes.
This project has aligned European outreach activities. High-school students, multinational companies, academics, teachers, politicians, policy makers, European governments, outreach officers, national outreach organisations, and the European citizens at large identified a shared need for high quality promotional material, and this need has been met. Europe has been made more aware of the importance of catalysis and technology as a whole to prepare for the grand challenges of the 21st century.
Use of the DVD
"Clear, significant, and designed and drawn with talent." - Jean- Francois Le Marechal, coordinator of Lyon Nobel conference
For most promotional activities at the different universities in the different countries, the video is primarily shown from the DVD (or copy thereof). The DVD is shown at science and open days at most of the IDECAT/ERIC universities; reaching hundreds to thousands of people per activity (e.g. the Science Family Day in Southampton has about 2000 visitors a year). Noteworthy is the use at the conference-series “Tomorrow… Towards a selected chemistry” organised in Lyon. At this event, Nobel Laureates talk to high-school students. In 2011 the video was used to introduce catalysis to 400 students (aged 14-17 years), during a face-to-face session with the Nobel Laureates Ei-Ichi Negishi and Yves Chauvin. In many university teaching activities, throughout Europe, at BSc and MSc level, in Chemistry as well as related disciplines (e.g. Engineering Science), the movie (or parts thereof) is used during the lectures and made available in full on the university-specific e-learning sites.
Increase in worldwide popularity on YouTube
The video was found embedded in many other websites, including several Japanese websites, World News, Repsol, Facebook, the Dutch National Science Foundation (NWO), ERIC. YouTube statistics show that the Spanish version does quite well in South America, whereas the English version does better in Europe and India. A remaining bias with the video statistics on YouTube is that views of the DVD or the movie on other e-sources do not add to the statistics and, as explained above, is likely to greatly exceed the YouTube numbers. Nevertheless, the statistics suggest the number of views is growing exponentially.
Impact beyond the project
With only 15.000€ spend on the recordings and animations combined, and an additional 1000€ to add translations as subtitles, this outreach achievement sets a clear example for the full technology spectrum.
To analyse the impact of this activity and outreach in general, IDECAT included an evaluation. Student acceptance onto the chemistry degree programme of the University of Southampton doubled over five years. 90% of the increase could be predicted from the number of prospective students exposed to outreach. A further analysis on all technology degree programmes in the UK found that the big changes in student acceptance are arguably related to outreach. Also the bursting of the IT bubble and the television show “Crime Scene Investigation” had a considerable impact on student acceptance into ICT and forensic studies.
The video is released under an open license, and the outreach evaluation was submitted to the a peer-reviews academic journal. As such, they are stored in a “public memory”, meaning the accomplishments remain “hot” and ready to use. When new funding is available, dissemination through both social media and to networks of chemistry teachers, with additional educational material to further deepen the knowledge of students, is envisaged. Also a YouTube “chemistry television channel" and a website with “technology teaching resources” are under discussion.