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DARTeC – Inspiring future generations

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The Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC) is an exciting place to work. Our DARTeC STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) committee members have been engaging with school pupils to inspire future generations.

What is DARTeC?

DARTeC is a £67 million research initiative at Cranfield which aims to get new digital systems within the aviation sector integrated and working together. Whether you are an air traffic controller that is going to be affected by the increasing number of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs) flying in your airspace, or an airline passenger trying to navigate your way through an airport security system, the research at DARTeC will help you. To enable us to deliver this research, we have a set of digital laboratories located in a brand-new building with a smart aircraft hangar next to the University’s research airport.

Setting up the STEM committee with our DARTeC partners

The centre provides an opportunity to help the next generation of potential engineers and technicians discover a career in aviation. As a result, we formed the DARTeC STEM committee with the mission to ‘help create greater equality and diversity within aviation through showcasing examples of exciting career opportunities to Key Stage 3 students’. We set ourselves the objective of developing a calendar of events starting in 2022 that enable young people to visit DARTeC and discover what we do.

Our first big event – International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) 2022

Cranfield is an INWED sponsor and supports the event every year. Our Events Team invited us to take part in a launch event in May for three local schools where we ran a short visit to DARTeC. The INWED theme of ‘inventors and innovators’ seemed like the perfect opportunity to get the committee involved. We ran a short session for those schools in May, and we were able to invite a much larger group of students from one school back to celebrate INWED with us on 23 June following a poster competition.

What happened on the day…

Our event on the 23 June was a wonderful success!

Mark Rutherford School in Bedford won the poster drawing competition from the May event and was invited back to join us in June. The students got involved in activities and demonstrations from our committee member organisations (plus a few others) within our DARTeC building.

Our colleagues from Boeing provided the students with the opportunity to get up close to one of their large B737 aircrafts, Cranfield Aerospace Solutions challenged everyone to make the best paper plane, Spirent Communications demonstrated the importance of knowing the positions of satellites and the Satellite Applications Catapult showcased the power of low earth orbit satellites to see famous global landmarks (such as the pyramids in Egypt). In addition, Heathrow Airport had line-following robots and a number of our University colleagues demonstrated how video communication within aircraft might be available in the future. The day ended with a competition to test what had been learnt by the students, of course everyone left as winners and we hope they were inspired to work hard in their studies and join the global aviation industry in the future.

How important is it for DARTeC to support diversity in the aviation industry?

When you have access to a facility such as DARTeC which will have a significant impact on the future of aviation research globally, the facility needs to attract the best future talent to lead the research programmes. Reaching and igniting that potential among young people from all backgrounds is key and we were really pleased to be involved. Reaching diverse groups of young people will be a goal for the STEM committee’s future event planning.

Learning to do outreach.

The INWED activity was the first time the DARTeC STEM committee had delivered an event and we learnt a lot from the enthusiasm and active participation of the students involved. In a way, this event helped us with research about how best to engage and inspire young minds.

What’s next for DARTeC?

It’s British Science Week in March which has the theme of “Connections”. This is perfect for DARTeC, so we’re looking forward to getting involved with this. We’re also really excited that DARTeC has been invited to host the IET Faraday School Challenge finals next July and our STEM Committee will be giving the attending students the opportunity to learn more about aviation the day before the finals.

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