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Grey matters in water recycling

A conservation project gives pupils an insight into real science and engineering, writes Raymond Ross

Do you know where your school's water supply comes from? What does it cost? And what about your SUDS? Could you see a way to recycling your grey water?

Six S2 pupils at Queensferry Community High in Edinburgh have been up to their necks in water for the past 10 weeks, in search of answers to these and other related questions as part of Go4SET, a Science, Engineering and Technology programme aimed at encouraging more pupils to think about a career in engineering.

The "Water and Your School Project" is part of an eco-competition where the volunteer pupils have been challenged to create a model designed to conserve water and stop water waste occurring at their school.

The first surprise for the South Queensferry pupils was to learn that their fresh water supply is pumped from as far away as Loch Lomond; the second, that their Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS) costs the school more than the fresh water supply.

Conservation then becomes the name of the game. The pupils made contact with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to obtain rainfall levels, collected the daily rainfall figures at their school and measured water use within the school, from the volume wasted by a dripping tap to the number of times the toilets are flushed on a daily basis.

Their model explores the possible use of grey water (recycled rainwater) for flushing toilets and watering plants in the science block.

Throughout, the pupils are mentored by a professional engineer, in this case Lucy Van Der Ven of Halcrow, a company specialising in planning, design and management for infrastructure development.

The project began with a visit to Halcrow to find out about the technology used by today's engineer. This was followed by a visit to a live project, the West Lothian Civic Centre in Livingston, a pound;40 million development.

"It's important that pupils see engineers at work. It makes it real for them and also dispels the image of engineering as something oily and dirty," says Ms Van Der Ven.

"They're learning just how computerised engineering is today and seeing how much design work goes into roads, bridges, buildings and water distribution. I think that was a bit of a revelation for them."

Janet Thomas, principal of craft, design and technology at Queensferry Community High, agrees.

"It's important to update the image of engineering and to give the pupils real insight into how a company works, alongside giving them experience of managing a project from start to finish with all the problem-solving and teamwork which that involves."

Ms Thomas takes her hat off to the pupils' enthusiasm.

"Most of the work is done in their own time, including writing up reports and personal log-books. They're always knocking on the staff base door to see what they can do next.

"The level of detail they've gone into is impressive," she says.

The pupils' motivation is apparent - both for the project itself and in wanting to do well in the general competition.

"Doing the work is good and we want to win," says Ewan Farquharson. "I've learnt a lot and, though I don't want to be an engineer, it's made me really want what I always wanted to be - an architect."

Danielle Fraser says: "It was good to see a lot of women engineers at Halcrow, and engineering does seem more attractive now. I thought the project sounded interesting and it is."

"It's fun to do and it was great seeing round the building site, a world of new experiences," says Sam Harper. "I thought it would be all men in protective clothing. But there's a lot of office work, project management and design work, and that's appealing to me."

Yesterday, after The TESS went to press, pupils presented their findings to a panel of three judges drawn from industry and education, competing with five other Edinburgh schools. Schools in Dundee and Aberdeen have already taken part in regional finals. Glasgow schools will compete on April 12.

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