Who we are
Rubbish Science is based on a very simple premise, the world has too much rubbish and too many people lack the scientific literacy to make balanced and informed decisions. So why not teach and learn science by using rubbish as a resource and kill two birds with one stone?
The core aims are to Allow all students , including those who haven’t had access to resources to do science experiments where we don’t know the outcome. Give people the skills to improve their lives by thinking scientifically – To be able to make better informed decisions. Take rubbish out of the environment and increase the understanding of why it is important to do so Produce something that is actually useful to a local population and/or the environment
Rubbish Science is a very simple concept to try to make the world a better place. We need more creative problem solving thinkers in the world and less rubbish/garbage. If we use discarded rubbish to build things that solve problems and then test them scientifically we can achieve both of these aims. Some Real World problems: Zika Virus/Dengue Fever/Malaria – Can we use a discarded plastic bottle to make a mosquito trap? Waterborne diseases – Can we use a plastic bottle and sunlight to sterilise water? Drought induced famine – Can we use plastic bottles to produce a water efficient hydroponics system? Water salinity – Can we use plastic bottles to make distilled water? Microplastics in the water supply – Can we reduce this? The answer to all of these questions is yes we can, but no one knows the exact ‘best’ method to use. They are all multiple variable problems that can lead to very rich thinking. These problems build on the same rigorous scientific method taught in science classrooms, but go way beyond the simple algorithmic tasks where we already know the outcome. They also use the idea of Low Threshold High Ceiling – Everyone can create something that works, but no one is limited by the task. We are unlikely to solve any of the problems outright just with plastic bottles or other freely sourced equipment. Rubbish Science uses the idea of marginal gains – Lots of people doing small things adds up to a large scale change. What is created is important, but we are less concerned with the outcome than the process. What has been learned in trying to solve these problems and how can these skills be transferred to other areas of life. It aims to empower people to shape their own environment. Please join us.
Rubbish science is not just about science, it is about thinking and solving problems with multiple variables. The vast majority of science taught in schools focus on a single variable with a known outcome. Research has shown without careful thought Practical activities often lead to little learning and many activities don’t challenge. How does the resistance of a wire vary with length? How does the action of an enzyme depend on its concentration? How does the rate of a reaction depend on the temperature? For these experiments the students dutifully follow a recipe, getting mostly the results they and we expect. Of course the foundation of good science is creating ‘fair’ tests that enable us to understand how single factors affect the outcome. `But all too often these activities are simple and algorithmic with obvious outcomes. Many can be solved by google or apps such as Wolfram Alpha. If these are the only problems our students can solve they will become redundant, possibly replaced by Artificial Intelligence. Almost every problem in the ‘real’ world is complicated and deals with many interrelated variables and a combination of algorithmic and heuristic processes are needed to solve them. If we do not challenge our students to go further than the single variables, then we risk limiting their ability as scientists, or thinkers in the future. Climate change, growing crops in drought conditions, viral infections, treating cancer are all complex problems and no one truly knows the ‘best’ solutions. Referendums, elections, sales strategies, buying a car/house/anything all require us to consider multiple variables. Politicians, salespeople and newspapers often try to convince us that the choice is simple. We have a duty to our young people to equip them to challenge these assumptions. If you think it is simple then you probably don’t know enough about it – beware the people who are very confident! Rubbish science activities builds on the concept of fair tests, it provides simple, real problems, but the results or ‘best solution’ are not known. The activities are built on the premise of Low Threshold, High Ceiling taken from NRICH Maths (LTHC) . Everyone can do the tasks, but there is no limit to how high a level they can go. The same task with the same equipment can be given to a young child or experienced researcher with a doctorate. Both can complete the task, but we would expect the researcher to produce something more sophisticated. This however is a simplistic assumption, the child may well produce something far more creative as the researcher may suffer fixation – the curse of knowledge. There are many brilliant ‘intuitive’ scientists around and we need to engage them in science and develop the systematic scientist. Writing a project on Physics in football for the Institute of Physics made me realise that these footballers had an incredible understanding of physics. They knew how the ball moved through the air and could control it skillfully . All they lacked was the ability to explain in a standardised, scientific way what they were doing. Rubbish Science aims to extend this paradigm shift of valuing what people already know and building on it. We should never ignore indigenous knowledge and science and also should understand local populations reluctance to believe research if it does not fit into their beliefs.
Ideally there should be no rubbish in the World, but the reality is that plastic refuse is everywhere. The aim is to create something useful whilst removing rubbish and increasing environmental awareness.
All communities have a culture of innovation, but often lack a systematic and scientific approach. By collaborating on real problems, we aim to empower communities to shape their own future .