What an amazing two days I have just had. Being involved in the Rolls-Royce Science Prize has certainly been a most rewarding experience so far. I recommend that all schools at least investigate applying – if nothing else, it encourages you look at the impact that science is currently having in your school and you may even be awarded some money to help with your plans.
Anyway, back to the weekend which saw me catching a train to Derby on Sunday afternoon – eager to reach the hotel and meet my fellow competitors. Conveniently, the Pentahotel was within easy walking distance of the station, and after asking directions, I soon arrived. First impressions were favourable; although, I have to say the ambience was very reminiscent of a night-club – lots of subdued purple lighting. At 7pm everyone met in the foyer and I recognised Henry, our mentor, and several people from the project videos I had watched. Having made a few introductions, we then made our way to the designated restaurant to be greeted by Rani.
The ensuing meal was absolutely excellent, with wine and conversation flowing freely. I must admit that, having checked the wine bar out on the Internet, I was initially not sure about the predominance of black and red as a colour scheme. I now however realise the logic behind the choice – it is almost impossible to detect spillages on black table cloths. And, I have to say that during the course of the night, on our table alone, there were numerous incidents, including a bottle of red wine at one point. I think one of the main problems was the table mats, carefully concealed underneath the cloth, which made it very difficult to judge where to put your glass down safely, particularly as the evening progressed.
At one point, we were entertained by a magician, who performed a number of very clever tricks. Despite watching intently for any sleight of hand, I am still mystified as to how he manipulated the cards and managed to change a £10 note into a dollar. He was rather more successful than the poor singer, who seemed to get louder and louder in a vain attempt to be heard over the ever increasing background chatter. Despite the noise level (which was actually quite deafening at times) this was a great opportunity to get to know people and find out about their projects, all of which seemed very credible. As well as finalists, there were a number of Rolls-Royce employees on our table, many of whom were mentors. It was very interesting to listen to them talk about their role within the company – you got the distinct impression that they really enjoyed their jobs and that Rolls-Royce was a good place to work and valued its employees. Indeed, a very nice touch at the end of the evening was when each school was presented with a framed certificate celebrating the excellence of its science teaching.
Next morning, we were driven to the Learning & Development centre where, following a brief talk, we embarked upon a tour of the Heritage Trust Centre to learn about the history of Rolls & Royce and the development of the various engines. It was an extremely interesting experience made all the more enjoyable by the enthusiasm of our guides. I never appreciated that Charles Rolls had been killed so early on in the partnership. I wonder how things would have played out had he survived.
The next stop on our tour was to view the manufacturing of critical rotatives. Once inside the building, we had to put on rubber overshoes and wear safety glasses before being allowed onto the vast shop floor. Although the visit was brief, it became very clear that the overriding focus is on the production of the highest quality products, which are tested and retested at every stage to ensure absolute consistency and reliability. Although we were not allowed to take any photographs, an interesting fact that I learned was that the Trent 900 engines, which power the Airbus A380, draw in enough air to inflate 72,000 party balloons in one second . . . that’s a lot of balloons.