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Science

A look at Engineering For Change

The most important part of ‘Engineering for Change’ is making the change happen whilst we’re still students. In some ways we can be limited by our theoretical classes and the benefit we get from the practical experience is as valuable as the benefits of the work we do. Being at a point in our lives when we’re still students allows us to bounce ideas off each other, be part of the same community (and spend long nights coding together!).

Our projects are designed such that the effect is long-lasting, and that the knowledge and expertise behind them can be accessible by all and not held by ourselves. Ultimately, faced with the global climate crisis we all must play our part to combat it and at E4C we can all play our role – not only to carry out the projects, but to set us on a path to thinking more about sustainability in our everyday life. Whilst our projects can’t compete with and aren’t “revolutionary”, that isn’t what’s needed to tackle the climate crisis – it’s effort made, a positive attitude, and time shared working by everyone for everyone. If you want to know more about our projects, keep reading!

Winds of Change is a student-run project, which was set up by Engineering for Change with the goal of building a 1 kW wind turbine in Edinburgh.

The aim is that it would produce free, green energy for a local community project. The project is split into 10 teams (Blades, Circuits and Battery Storage, Emergency Brakes, Generator, Location and Environmental, Publicity and Communication, Resources and Accounts, Sponsorship and Funding, Structural and Housing and Flat Pack Turbine).
The big turbine designed will be donated to an organic farm of Cyrenians, a homelessness charity, for providing heat to keep their vegetables warm in the poly-tunnel through winter. This year an extra goal of building a small flat packed turbine, that would be used for educational and demonstration purpose was introduced.

Engineering for Change’s Precious Plastics project seeks to help students build practical workshop skills by building a range of plastic recycling machines. This project is based upon Dave Hakken’s open-source blueprints which detail the mechanical and electrical make-up of four basic machines; named the Shredder, the Extrusion, the Injection, and the Compression. To-date, this project has completed the construction of the shredder (which unsurprisingly shreds plastic waste), and is now well underway in building the Injection.

The long term goal of this Precious Plastics mission is to construct all four machines, and create a sustainable student ecosystem in which students can recycle plastic waste into meaningful products! We hope that in realising this goal we will help many students understand the importance of sustainable resource consumption whilst providing them the opportunity to get a hands-on experience with engineering for good.

Project DIEM works with schools in Edinburgh to organise STEM workshops that help kids understand the practicalities of science. DIEM aims to help students make use of easily available materials to perform experiments and enhance their learning experience.

It gives young children the chance to find out how interesting practical science can be, and how much fun it is. When the DIEM team is not organising workshops, they continue to develop their existing workshops – finding out what works in classrooms and looking for new ideas on how to get kids passionate about the different aspects of STEM subjects. The project now has eight workshops that get taken around the city. The next steps are to distil all these workshops into one simple universal manual so that they that can be easily delivered in schools by anyone anywhere using basic and cheap materials.

Engineering for Change has also embraced aquaponics – a sustainable farming method that uses recycled water to grow plants and fish in a balanced eco-system – here, in Edinburgh as well as in Cambodia.
Aquaponics is efficient in land use, reduces the need for fertilisers and recycles the water in the system. Our team build systems from scratch to reshape the way we grow food in urban areas! Our system, here in the city centre, has been built and maintained by students for the last two years. We are currently carrying out improvements such as building a wind barrier, adding an electrical box, and altering the syphons used. The system has been cycling, and we plan to add fish very soon!

We have also been working with The Kings Building Permaculture society to design a system for their local garden. The plan is to start building a new system soon.

Project Cambodia sends a team to the Community First NGO every summer at their farm school in Sen Sok – Cambodia. This summer will be the 6th year that we send a group of students from the university, the continuity of the project was one of the primary goals and we have now built a strong and trusting relationship. At the farm school we help with the daily farm activities from feeding the animals to assisting with the crops.

Our main activity however is the assembly of aquaponic systems in local families. Aquaponic systems let you farm fish and plants in symbiosis and efficiently in a small area.

One of their great advantages is that water is recycled in the system with the very few losses being due to evapo-transpiration. All the volunteers return home with an invaluable experience of life in rural Cambodia; it gives them a lot of insight and they learn things that university could never teach.

Engineering for Change runs a fantastic Project in Romania which works closely with the Roma community. This minority group has sadly been marginalised, leading to the children facing discrimination while at school, which means that some do not attend from a young age.
‘F.A.S.T Romania’ is a brilliant charity that we are lucky enough to work with, they aim to provide equal opportunities to hundreds of families in the central region of the country. They run a holiday programme which not only provides a safe place for the children to play, but also a fun learning environment. As a team of four volunteers, we aim to share our passion of science, technology and engineering through fun interactive games with the children.

The Engineering for Change’s Project Peru is working with a local NGO, EcoSwell, to build a more sustainable water sanitation system for the community of Lobitos. The sanitation problem in Lobitos grows everyday: the current wastewater plant lies in collapse, leaving wastewater to accumulate into the surrounding environment. This creates bad smells, breeds diseases, and threatens the main economic activity of this coastal village: fishing.

The project consists of building floating Vetiver pontoons. The Vetiver plant, originally from India, cleans wastewater by absorbing toxins, chloroforms and bacteria into their roots. Laboratory tests confirm that the plant is then safe to use as food for livestock.
Once the sanitation system is effective, the water passing through Lobitos won’t emit unpleasant smells, children will be allowed to play near the water safely, and tourists will find the area more enjoyable.

Image: Engineering For Change