Still a lot of work to do ingraining STEM

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Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects are not easy to learn, as they require a good understanding of technical concepts and of course an interest in the topics being explained.

But let’s take something as simple and ubiquitous as water; the liquid at room temperature that sustains life, the liquid that all of us are familiar with through drinking many times a day, the liquid that rains down much of the time here in the UK, and the liquid that covers about two-thirds of the planet that we live on.

You’d think, therefore, that everyone in the developed world would have a vague enough interest in the substance to know that it comprises of molecules that each contain two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.  Many of us are taught this at school at some point in our lives, and given how common the substance is, it crops up in not just chemistry, but also biology, physics (the anomalous expansion of water), geography (the water cycle) and even English Literature (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner).

However, being involved in a cafe at our business centre in Malvern, which we named Cafe H2O to celebrate the hydrological heritage of the town and hills, it has become apparent that there are some major misunderstandings of the simple chemistry of water out there.

We became aware when both an alternative Facebook page and an alternative Trip Advisor page appeared, linked to the cafe, that were both named Cafe H20 (yes, twenty, not 2-O). Do people really think we would call our outlet Cafe H-twenty, and if so, why? Do they think there is the possibility of a molecule, water or otherwise, that consists of twenty connected hydrogen atoms?

We were tempted to delete the erroneous social media pages, but before we could get around to it, people kept posting and referring to them.  So it wasn’t a case of just one or two misinformed people finding them, people must actually have been searching using the wrong name. In fact, though it pains us to have the wrongly titled pages in existence, if we deleted them they would almost certainly reappear. So we have decided to use the opportunity to provide a little STEM education, redirecting people to the correct pages with an explanation as to why they’ve found the wrong page. And now at the time of writing, Trip Advisor have realised we had effectively duplicate pages and have combined them. So we wait to see if another H20 is spawned by a patron using the wrong search term.

Fortunately the Royal Society of Chemistry will be on-hand in a few days time at both the Malvern Festival of Innovation’s Next Generation Innovators schools day and the weekend’s Family Day.  We’ll take the opportunity to highlight that water is H2O not H2o, and explain why. And with that grounding, we’ll then be able to talk about all the innovation around water technology; desalination, purification, de-ionising, wave power, nuclear fusion, and more.

Perhaps Samuel Coleridge should have written “Di-hydrogen-oxide everywhere, nor any drop to drink” and then there would be no excuse whether your studied sciences or not.

Adrian Burden, Festival Founder