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Interview with Kent College NSEW Competition Runners Up

 May 29 2013 | Views: 2125

Kent and Medway

Kent & Medway STEM (KMS) interviewed the team behind Jeans Blue from Kent College, to talk about their eco-friendly; British based solution to the synthetic indigo dye industry. The team included Barnaby Lamper, Claudia Sanchez Jimenez, Hannah Stone and Jack Balsdon who won Senior Engineering & Technology Runners Up and were a passionate team keen to share their competition experience with us.

KMS: First of all, Congratulations on your title of National Science + Engineering Competition - Senior Engineering & Technology Runner Up.
Can you tell me how you came to represent Kent College?

B: Well we started off with the young engineering thing-
H: Young Engineering Education Scheme.
J: The school has always been involved with it so me and Barnaby wanted to get involved with it this year.
H: Yeah because every year they normally have a project that other schools erm… like does, but this is the only year that we entered into the Big Bang. So this is the first year we tried it out
B: Yeah and we didn’t quite know what we were doing did we Hannah?
All: (Laughing) No!

KMS: Okay so tell me about the project
B: Well originally we didn’t have a project because were originally looking for a sponsor from, was it Cummins? So we asked Kent Uni if they could give us a project and they sent us Jenny.
H: So the school had to sponsor the project but then the university supplied the mentor, so it was kind of a mid-way between the two instead of doing it all independently.
B: And Jenny our mentor- Craft Dye so she-
J: Dr Jenny Oliver.
B: So she grows woad plant in her garden and then cut it up and the craft method to dye blue indigo. And she suggested we try to industrialise this method.
H: To make it compatible- no competitive with synthetic indigo which is used to dye jeans at the moment. The problem with synthetic indigo is that it is a by-product of the fossil fuel industry.
J: Yes so you’ve also got the fossil fuel side of things like the CO2 emissions and stuff but there are also other environmental impacts. So with synthetic dying it’s done in a lot of third world countries where environmental laws are quite lacks So all the pollution from the factories is pumped straight into rivers.
H: There’s a river in Kathmandu where they pump the pollutants in and it is blue.
J: And the indigo by-products are carcinogenic.
H: Yeah so the cancer rates have gone up dramatically in that area. There is a lot of health and safety issues because there is not that much regimentation. So we started with this little craft method and then we looked further into it and we found there was this whole host of issues associated with the synthetic market. It opened a whole new realm that we could get into.
B: Originally we were dissecting the craft method and finding which methods could produce indigo solution the best conditions to produce the indigo.
H: We went to Kent Uni and broke down the craft method into its individual components and then through experimentation we optimised each individual stage to try and make a product that was blue enough to kind of compete with the synthetic. We used colour imaging, so we took a photograph of the filter paper, one with the synthetic indigo on and one with our sample.
B: And compared with the photographic colour intensity percentage wise. And we found that the blue optimising the maceration technique was comparable to the synthetic sample using the filtration and we could create something that could compete with the synthetic

H: Can I just give you brief overview of the craft method? So at the moment you get woad leaves, which is the same family as the cabbage. So you can grow it in England, so it can support British industry as well. So you harvest it, you cut it up- which is the maceration, you put them in water that is 70 degrees for 10 minutes so you-
B: And with some –
H: Sodium carbonate-
B: Just to make it alkaline.
H: So you filter it off and you are left with a solution which has the indigo precursor in it.
B: No. At that point after the after the 70 degree water at alkaline temperature you’ve got the indigo precipitate out of the solution. So you aerate to get the precipitate whereas the maceration is cutting to release the precursor.
H: Then once you’ve got the solution you aerate it, so you put air through it. And then you also illuminate it, then finally you do a final filtration that leaves you with the indigo dye on the filter paper.

KMS: Do you want to tell me about the chronological process of the competition.
C: Initially we had a completely different project to do until we met Jenny and then we went to the workshop in December in the University of Kent and we did what Hannah just said about improving the craft method by parts by illumination and the final filtration. And then we thought that we needed to gather some more funding and then we spent the rest of the year writing up the report in order to show them the method.
H: What we also did in our project, what we found out of the experimentation stage- we found that time that you harvest the woad and the time that you do all this craft method has a direct effect on the yield and the quality. So we wanted to decrease this time, because the quicker you do it the between the indigo, so what we did, we designed a tractor that the farmer could drive around the field and all these processes could be simultaneously occurring in the back. And at the end of the day the farmers could just detach the big container for the indigo precipitate in the solution so it would just need the final filtration. Because the time that you filter it finally, doesn’t actually have an effect on the quality.
B: Yes, so the indigo precursors are instable but the final indigo precipitate is very stable, so getting from one to the other is important and after that it will stay the same nearly indefinitely.
H: Yeah, so we found even if you- We tried cutting the leaves and leaving them over night-
B: Yeah overnight you could see the difference in the indigo you got, overnight you were getting hardly any.

KMS:  Can you tell me if you took on specific job roles?
J: We did in the end, in the writing up; initially it was just all just testing and stuff.
H: We did have areas that we were more suited to, so Barnaby could do the Chemistry so that could inform the experimentation stage.
B: Yeah, trying to work out how and what was going on.
H: And then Jack would look at the economics, so he would try and compare and how much would it cost overall to make the machine and in the future would it be something that could compete with the synthetic market. There are over 1 million pairs of jeans that are died with this dye, so would we be able to find something for the financial market.
B: Claudia was our scribe.
C: Well I got the information that everyone gave me and I basically tried to piece it together.
H: I was trying to oversee everything because you want to make sure the report looks like it’s been written by one person and not got lots of voices in it so I would try and read through everything and-
B: Yes but you were also on- you designed the tractor as well.
H: Yeah I designed the tractor as well.

KMS: Where you friends before the project?
H: We have quite a small year so; I didn’t really know Claudia-
C: I didn’t really know anyone!
H: Claudia came in sixth form so I got friendly with Claudia through this which is really nice.
J: We had to spend a lot of time with each other in the end so we got to know each other quite well.

KMS: Was it a team made in heaven or were there some troubles along the way?
B: It never quite a team made in heaven. I had to get dragged through a couple of deadlines by my feet.
J: Yeah thanks for that!
Mrs H: Yes on the Facebook page I saw lots of ‘Whats going on Barnaby!’
H: It was quite hard to balance it with school work as well so we would come in on Saturdays to just get everything, everyone in one place. So on when we were preparing for the celebration day we came in on a Saturday and managed to get all of the displays done. We would have a fixed time that we would all meet and have to have certain things done to try and regiment it.

KMS: Can you tell me individually what you are thinking about in terms of career path or further education moment?
B: Okay I am hoping to go to Imperial to study Chemistry.
J: I am hoping to study Geoscience at Durham University.
C: I have an offer from St. Hugh's Oxford to study Anthropology and Archaeology.
H: I have an offer from Bristol to study Neuroscience so they are quite broad.

KMS: I wanted to know if this project has informed any of those aspirations.
H: I think it has made me more interested in the practical side of things. Because I was first of all looking at courses that were not practically based but the Neuroscience course has like 9 hours of lab work a week. Which is quite an interesting-
B: How many brains are you going to get through!
H: I know! I think in like a broader sense the writing the report is quite useful skill that is transferable to university because we are going to have to be submitting things and working to deadlines and working with people. Which is quite a good thing to get.
B: Yeah, I mean considering: Did this project get me into a University? It has been interesting to do on the side; it’s been informative but no direct correlation-
H: Because we had to kind of choose the whole university thing before.

KMS: Did you have your interviews before?
B: During.
H: I didn’t really get interviewed but I did have to submit this whole thing while it was all going on for UCAS.
J: I was asked about the project and every interviewer was really impressed by it.
H: I think we all wrote it in our personal statements which obviously, well evidently gave us help.
B: We (Claudia) had to send ours off in October.
H: I wasn’t working towards the Oxbridge deadline so I was able to do the project and do the preliminary round before I wrote my statement which was quite useful. Because they could differentiate you from other people because you’ve actually done something, like evidence of working as a team.

KMS: Do you have any advice that you would give to a team submitting next year?
B: Do something that you enjoy working with. Don’t see it as a chore because it’s extra to your work. Which won’t go as well as if don’t enjoy it.
H: So if I had started doing some really chemistry based thing then I wouldn’t enjoy it so I would have just shut off. But this was quite broad.
J: It was something different as well. It was new to us it was quite interesting.
H: Yeah no one where we went even knew that this was an issue, the whole synthetic indigo dying industry. So yeah it was quite interesting.
J: So get involved with a project that you know you’ll enjoy working with.
H: Its quite broad as well you don’t want to be shut off in these small parameters where you can only investigate this or this.
B: Yeah I mean Jenny’s original was ‘Do you want to make some Indigo’ and from there we defined what we wanted to get out of it. We had looked into entering the Google Science Fair but for some reason they won’t allow teams of more than 3 people.
J: So there has been a lot of interest from people saying you’ve got to get it patented.
H: People were like: “You’ve got to get this patented”
B: Well there is nothing to paten-
H: That’s the issue
J: The idea-
B: Well yeah we were encouraged to make it ours.
H: When we went to the celebrity judging stages all people were like “Get your name on this… are you going to go into this when you are older” We were like “Um…no?” We just didn’t know.
B: This was just a side project.
H: We didn’t know how big this was.

KMS: Do you think you will patent it now?
H: Well it’s quite hard; we can’t really patent an idea can we?
B: We improved a method that anyone could do in any number of other ways. We haven’t got exact optimum conditions; we’ve got an idea for a tractor.
J: Yeah it would be interesting to speak to a company, if it was theoretically possible to put it into action.
B: The most we could get would be getting the problem known, the problems with synthetic indigo.
H: But we never know where it’s going to like… well Barnaby is doing Chemistry so it might be an issue that he could look into again. You never know it could open up again.

KMS: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
H: I think maybe the thing about girls doing engineering, because I got asked that quite a bit.
J: That was weird at the Big Bang Fair.
H: Everyone kept asking us like; “What is it like being a girl?” But to be honest I do not think it has made that much/any difference. Everyone was like “Are you shocked that something like only 9% of girls are in engineering?” or if girls have been put off because it is boring. But we haven’t because engineering is so broad of an idea that I think anyone can access it. It doesn’t matter what sex, what age or what you are interested in.
Mrs H: I think that was clear at the Big Bang Fair, so encouraging more people to go to the Big Bang Fair.
H: To try and get rid of the stereotypes that maybe some people associate with STEM.

KMS: When you started the project did you even consider it as a problem?
J: No.

KMS: What about at the Big Bang Fair; were there many all-girl or mixed teams?
C: No there were other girls there, I think it was mostly when people asked that we started to realise that it wasn’t common for girls to join. But apart from that we didn’t even realise.
B: Who was it that quizzed you about it girls in engineering?
H: Kate Bellingham yeah, everyone was like “Has it made a difference to you?” but no, not really. We were able to find our individual roles in the project.
J: If you’ve got the skills to bring to the group then it doesn’t matter.
B: Yeah why choose to make it a problem.
Mrs H: I think a big part of it was communication, the difference from the first fair to the Big Bang Fair.
H: Yeah because at the first one I would just be reading notes and not really presenting but by the end of it we knew it in so much depth.
B: Everyone coming round with a different question each time.
H: It wouldn’t be the same question sometimes it would be completely off the wall and we’d have to somehow try and bring it round-
B: To something that we knew.
Mrs H: I think that’s why they did so well, they took it all on board and it was the communication skills.
H: No one really knew about this issue so there was no expert in it so we were like the experts.
B: What’s this problem? Let me tell you!
Mrs H: It was a fantastic project and it’s something to be proud of. I think the message to get out to other schools considering going to the Big Bang Fair and entering the National Science and Engineering Competition; whatever your idea or project just try and communicate it clearly.
H: You never know where it is going to take you because we never thought it was going to get this far.


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