Science - Science at high speeds

24th August 2012 at 01:00
Accelerate enthusiasm for STEM with the help of Formula One

I could feel the vibrations through my bones. The deafening noise of the engine filled my ears. It was easy to pretend that I was driving a Ferrari in a nerve-racking Formula One (F1) race.

In fact, I was "driving" an F1 Ferrari simulator at the Science Museum in London. My coach for the day was Felipe Massa (pictured above), a Ferrari F1 driver, who told me that not only does he train on a simulator but that engineers use information from these virtual races to tweak the real thing to perfection.

"Ferrari engineers talk to me all the time to gather feedback on the performance of the car and it's important that I understand what they are telling me," he says. "I don't just drive - I need to understand the engineering and science as well."

Every aspect of an F1 car is subject to precise calculations and a thorough understanding of the science - from the chemistry in the combustion of the fuel to the physics behind the aerodynamics of the chassis.

As I climbed into the simulator I was reminded of the amazing features of an F1 car. It gets more grip the faster it goes, as the spoilers are designed to produce a downward force so strong that, in theory, it would allow you to drive upside down along the ceiling of a tunnel. (A great way to explain air resistance.)

It is also a terrific way to bring home to pupils that a career with dynamic companies such as Ferrari, Shell, Rolls-Royce, and so on could be well within their reach. Graham van't Hoff, chairman of Shell UK, wants to encourage learners to pursue a science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) career.

"The industry needs to attract more students towards STEM A levels, degrees and careers by demonstrating science and making it interesting for people to relate to," he says.

Shell has some exciting outreach programmes for schools. At Charles Dickens Primary in South London, 75 per cent of children expressed an interest in science after taking part in a programme, up from 20 per cent beforehand.

One day, some of your former pupils could be developing the next generation of biofuels or increasing the energy efficiency of industries. All the Ferrari and Shell scientists and engineers told me that their passion for STEM subjects began with an inspiring science teacher. And that's quite a challenge.

Alessio Bernadelli is a TES subject adviser. He can be found on Twitter at @TESScience.


Watch alessio's video of Felipe Massa discussing the science behind Formula One.

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