Aurelija studies Biochemistry at UCL, and has volunteered with the Gillespie Science Club.
What do you do as a volunteer?
I started to volunteer at the Gillespie Science Club around Christmastime during my first year of my undergraduate degree. The main aim of the project is to communicate science to primary school pupils using as many interactive activities as possible. So far I have taken part in three different workshops.
The first one was called ‘Squishy Circuits’ where play dough was used to demonstrate electrical properties by lighting up LEDs. It was fantastic success! It was incredible to see how the kids went from understanding the basics of the topic to exploring it further – they were determined to create more advanced circuits than asked. Their learning was so quick that it was a shame to stop our workshop, as we were curious what they would come up with next.
The second workshop was all about nitrogen and carbon dioxide. These are substances that we are all familiar with in their gas phase – so we did something out of the ordinary and showed them as solids and liquids. The kids seemed to be mesmerized by the fact that a banana became frozen incredibly hard after just five seconds in liquid nitrogen. This was also a good opportunity to talk about sublimation - luckily for us, pupils had learned this the week before our workshop, therefore it was good revision for them too.
The third workshop was called ‘Camera Obscura’. It consisted of setting up a camera obscure/dark room at the same school. Unfortunately, I was not involved in the process of creating the room but I had an opportunity to show it to pupils as well as their parents. To my surprise parents seemed even more fascinated by the simplicity and beauty behind the idea of photo camera and how tricking a light through a tiny hole can reproduce the exact image from outside only upside down.
What were your first impressions when you started to volunteer?
I have done some volunteering before and mostly with adults, so this time - I have to admit - I was a tiny bit worried. I was afraid that I might appear boring to primary school pupils who have endless imagination and are eager to be learning all the time.
However, I found that the school environment was truly amazing! My fear of appearing boring disappeared after the first session at the school. The children really appreciated everyone who comes in and spares their time to expand their knowledge about science. They were interested in everything we did, so it made us feel us comfortable straight away, and the teachers were extremely helpful to us.
What is the best thing about volunteering?
The greatest thing about volunteering in general for me is to feel the flow and sharing of information. It might be hard to believe but after leaving each session I feel that I have learned something that day. Children have such a fresh take on everything that when they ask you a question you start wondering why you did not think about this before or sometimes you remember that you were struggling to grasp exactly the same concept as a child.
The other great thing about volunteering is to see how a child who just consumed a bunch of new facts tries to digest and apply them. Sometimes it just seems that kids go from ‘I do not know this’ to ‘I can explain it to you’ with greater and greater acceleration. It is truly incredible to be a part of someone’s learning process.
What’s the most challenging thing?
The most difficult thing at this particular project would be to keep up with a young and knowledge-thirsty audience. They will challenge your knowledge of a particular subject from many different angles as well as surprise you with their ability to be in two places at the same time.
For volunteering in general, at the very beginning it can be hard to choose one particular project, as there are so many to choose from. The solution for this is to try several different projects and see what suits you best. Also, if you are someone who just began university and you feel that you simply have no time for volunteering try at least one or two projects. It is very easy to get swamped into studying and become oblivious to your surroundings. From my personal experience it is so much easier to study for your subject once you have some other projects on the side.
What difference you feel that you have made by volunteering?
I hope that by volunteering I have contributed, even if only a tiny bit, to expanding pupils’ knowledge of a particular scientific topic. I also hope that we introduced certain topics from a different angle that - in combination with what they have learnt at school - will broaden and deepen their knowledge in general.
Would you recommend the project to someone else?
The answer is definitely ‘yes’! If you are someone who is interested in being a part of young person’s learning process and not afraid to be challenged in many ways this project is definitely for you. As an extra bonus you get a break from your studying and constant worrying about your coursework. In fact this project has contributed to my desire to create a new school outreach program that, with a bit of luck, will be running next year.