By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education) at the British Science Association

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Dunking a biscuit in a hot cup of tea is one of life’s small but delightful pleasures, but it’s not without its problems. Who hasn’t had a biscuit crumble frustratingly into the mug, or burnt their hand on the steam or tea itself? Could there be there a solution?

Enter George, a student at Lighthouse School in Leeds, which provides specialised education for children on the autistic spectrum. Inspired by scientific experiments his class had done on which is the best biscuit to dunk, George decided to complete a Silver CREST Award project which used STEM* to meet the need for precision to achieve the perfect treat, head on.

So, how did he do it?

He designed and built a working automatic biscuit dunker from Lego, complete with a cupholder, an arm ending in a rubber claw to hold the biscuit, two motors, a main data hub, and buttons allowing you to give the machine exact instructions on just how you like your biscuit dunked. Genius!

George’s machines allows you, with just two buttons, to decide how deep into the tea you want the biscuit to go, how many dunks it should get, and how long each one should last.

Once you’ve figured out your preferred settings, and of course chosen your biscuit (check out this study published in the British Medical Journal on which biscuit is the best cuppa accompaniment. Spoiler, it’s an oat biscuit), you will get a perfectly dunked, unbroken biscuit every time, with no danger of burns! The arm extends out to offer up the biscuit, away from the steaming mug.

This required coding know-how as well as engineering skills, demonstrating how skills from different areas of STEM come together to solve our everyday problems.

Working on this project, George told us:

... has given me more confidence, as it is physical proof that you can achieve something.

This is why CREST is so effective at engaging students; it allows them to take a scientific question from idea to actualisation. A finished product to be proud of is a great motivator.

George’s teacher, Caroline Maston, agrees:

CREST gave him [George] a stepping stone…to allow him to independently showcase his skills and knowledge. George is the first Lighthouse student to achieve his Silver Award and it is a boost of confidence for George and a source of pride for the school.

George plans to follow his aptitude for STEM into a career in cyber security. I’m sure we can expect great things!

The benefits of CREST

This project is a perfect example of how a student working towards a CREST Award can apply their scientific skills (and develop them) to a real-world problem that might not seem, at first glance, to be connected to STEM.

CREST encourages students to think outside the biscuit tin and see that STEM is in almost everything we do – George has certainly achieved that.

As well as identifying an issue and using technology and engineering to present a solution, George’s CREST project involved ‘trial and improvement’, an essential part of science. The ‘right answer’ often isn’t reached on the first go, our knowledge builds as we try, get it wrong, and learn more.

In a video explaining how his machine works, George described how an elastic band was used in the inner-workings of the claw to ensure it gripped the biscuit firmly enough to not drop it, but also not crush it.

Caroline Maston told us about the benefits of running the Awards in her school:

We use CREST in school to boost the students confidence. We're a small school and it's good to be involved with outside organisations. It gives our students something fun and inspirational to do… It encourages independence and free thinking and shows off our students amazing science skills. 

Could George’s project inspire your students to complete a CREST project?

Visit the CREST Awards website for more inspiration

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*STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and maths.