Wales’ largest science festival returned to Swansea last Month (26th – 27th October)
Swansea University once again presented a spectacular display of inspiring research to the people of Swansea and beyond at their annual ‘Swansea Science Festival’ last weekend.
In partnership with the National Waterfront Museum, the festival showcased over 40 exhibits, hands-on activities and shows to young visitors and their families. The largest festival of its kind in Wales was aimed at the whole family, intending to encourage and inspire future generations into Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine (STEMM).
The ASTUTE 2020 team hosted an interactive exhibit linked to ASTUTE 2020’s current research with local industry. This year, the team’s focus was on understanding plastics and how we can make a difference by making small changes in our use of plastics. The theme was developed from one of our industry-academia research collaborations with Frontier Medical Group Ltd., a Caerphilly based company who are a leading manufacturer of disposable plastic ‘sharps’ containers.
Our research with Frontier is focused on understanding and improving the mechanical properties of an identified recycled material and testing its suitability as an alternative to virgin material used for the sharps container manufacture. Our exhibition highlighted how industry is looking to incorporate recycled plastics into their products as there are clear environmental benefits to producing plastic products from recycled plastics compared with using virgin plastics. According to WRAP UK, the main quantifiable environmental benefit lies in the energy saved by avoiding the process of oil refining and polymerisation of monomers.1
The team showed a table-top tensile testing machine which intrigued visitors, as they could see how mechanical testing of materials such as plastics and metals is carried out in an industrial environment. We demonstrated how different plastic carrier bags can be tested by measuring the force required to elongate the bag to breaking point, illustrating the difference between types of plastic bags. Another industrial test we replicated on the day was a drop test. Frontier Medical Group performs impact/drop tests on their ‘Sharps’ containers to measure the brittleness of the plastic. Frontier Medical drop test their containers at -18˚C to ensure they can be transported safely when refrigerated. Freezing will render the bacteria from the needles within the container inactive but will also make the bins more brittle. We demonstrated a simple drop test using a large weight to test the fragility of packaged products and to simulate the impact packaging may encounter during manual or mechanical handling.
No one is too small to make a difference
The main draw to our stand was a plastic bottle top mural of a turtle, highlighting the amount of plastic we use and where it ends up in the environment. Nearly 8,000 plastic bottle tops were collected over a six-month period by staff at the College of Engineering. Plastic bottle tops are one of the major pollutants of our shores and oceans. Children and adults stuck the different coloured bottle tops onto the mural, which is now on display in the Taliesin Art Centre, located at Swansea University, Singleton Campus.
Demand-led by industry, ASTUTE 2020 is working together with the manufacturing industry across Wales to embed advanced and sustainable technologies.
ASTUTE 2020 can support manufacturing companies across a variety of sectors, such as aerospace, automotive, energy generation, oil and gas, medical devices, electronics, foods, etc., stimulating growth by applying advanced engineering technologies to manufacturing challenges driving cutting-edge research and innovation. ASTUTE 2020 collaborations inspire manufacturing companies to improve and streamline their manufacturing processes, manufactured products and supply chain, generating sustainable, higher value goods and services and bringing them to a global market.
The ASTUTE 2020 operation has been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and the participating Higher Education Institutions.
- WRAP UK (2019): Plastics Market Situation report.