Outreach activities

Events and activities to inspire the next generation of engineers. Activities include:

Cambridge Festival 2021

This year, we ran a series of on-line activities for the Cambridge Festival including virtual lab tours and public talks all now available from our YouTube channel.


Lots of great questions were raised during Tim Minshall's talk on 'How Engineers Manufacture a Better World', and we have done our best to answer as many of these as we can below. 


Questions related to COVID


What is the environmental impact of PPE manufacture and use? Don't they use lots of single-use plastic, which can only be incinerated?

This is a huge problem, as shown here = “More masks than jellyfish

Are engineers helping with coronavirus?

Some great examples of the ways in which engineers have been helping can be seen here.

Questions on shortages and supply chains


Was the shortage of PPE because the public were buying it or the hospitals and doctors?

There were lots of factors that affected PPE supplies, and these are well summarized in this article.

Why did people panic buy toilet rolls?

Panic buying is a really complex issue, but this video explains some of the issues.

How do you work how to track a complex supply chain

Colleagues are the IfM are working on a range of projects to help firms map and coordinate complex supply chains – details on this research can be found here.

What would be the challenge of the UK (& other nations) developing their own vaccine manufacturing facilities for any future pandemics?

Discussion of the challenges of balancing vaccine production and delivery is discussed by our colleague Dr Jag Srai in this article.

If there was one product/component that you think future engineers should produce in the UK instead of importing it from around the world, what would it be?

I don’t think there is a single product but the ability to take new discoveries from science labs and make them into real products is a really important thing to be able to do … and having labs and factories closely connected can be very helpful for doing this as new ideas are often generated when scientists and manufacturing engineers talk to each other.

Questions on 3D printing


Can you 3D print with cheese?

Yes! See this video.

What material is put into a 3D printer to make a car?  to build on Mars??

For cars, there are three ways they are using 3D printing: for prototyping / modelling of new cars; for producing spare/pre-productions parts; and for producing real new car parts. Some videos on this can be found here and here.

To see more about how they are developing 3D printing for habitats on Mars, see this video

What building materials can 3d printers use?

There are different materials used for printing buildings, as described here.

Could people print an electric car?

Some parts of electric cars are already being 3D printed, see this article and this article.

Can robots be used intelligently to make other robots for other purposes?

There are amazing things happening in robotics at the moment. For example, see 'Top 10 Amazing Industrial Robots', the amazing work of Boston Dynamics (including these dancing robots), Ocado's automated warehouses.

Why can’t you print it on Mars using Solar Energy

Solar panels can be used on Mars but there are some problems, as this article explains.

Can you 3D print water?

Yes, if it is frozen. In fact NASA has been doing this as a way of researching the problems of aircraft wings icing up but there was also some investigation of using ice to 3D print buildings on Mars.  

Is there anything we buy today now that is already 3d printed

3D printing’s big success has been in the world of healthcare. As 3D printers are particularly good at make things that are unique, small and which people don’t mind paying quite a lot of money for, these examples show what is being done at the moment. They are also used quite a lot for making very special parts of jet enginesrockets and racing cars.

Could you 3d print aircraft?

You could certainly print certain aircraft parts – and this is already being done with engine parts and interior fittings.

Could you use mars dust/rock for the material that you 3d print with?

Absolutely – and this is discussed in this article here.

Would it be more expensive to build a car using a 3d printer?

At the moment, to 3D print a car that is as good as a ‘normally’  constructed car would be very expensive. However, as the 3D printing technology improves, the price is likely to come down.

Can you 3D print eyes for people with cataracts or in other words, can you print living things body parts?

There is a lot of work taking place at the moment to develop 3D ‘bioprinting’. Here’s a good summary of where the technology is at the moment and some of the problems they still need to fix.

How do 3d printers work

This article and this video give a pretty good summary of the basics of how 3D printers work.

Could 3d printers print 3d printers?

Yes – and here is a great project that does just this. 

Can you 3D print recyclable materials?

Yes – there are lots of concerns about the amount of waste being generated by people printing more things, or from prints that go wrong. So, projects such as this one and this one are trying to address this problem. 

Will 3D printing create more wasteful society?

This is a really interesting but complex question: on the one hand, being able to print only the thing you want, rather than having factories making lots of things that they hope people will buy, should be very good for reducing waste. However, if people find it easy to make things, the risk is that they will just make more stuff that they don’t really need. This is discussed more in this article here.

Questions on sustainability


Are factories bad for the environment?

This is great question, and one that is discussed in this article and this video here from our colleague Professor Steve Evans.

Recycling facilities on Earth are surely still very poor, especially for plastic and rare minerals?

We are getting much better at recycling (and this town in Japan shows how good it can get) but you are right that we could be a lot better at rare mineral recycling.

What are the prospects for large scale electric flight?

How far away in the future do you see net zero aircraft becoming commercial?

This blog and video gives a good overview of the progress with zero emission / electric planes

A downside of international travel is surely the spread of epidemics?

International travel did indeed contribute to the spread of COVID, as explained in this article.

Questions on engineering in general


How do bikes work?


Great video and article on this from colleague Dr Hugh Hunt.


"The talk was really inspiring and informative, as a year 12 student wanting to do engineering this is by far the best event I have attended so far relating to engineering"

"Excellent commentary, good graphics, inspiring ideas, my highlight of the festival"



Primary Schools Outreach: How does stuff get made?

The Royal Academy of Engineering have awarded a small grant to help fund outreach activities specifically targeted at primary school children. By introducing children to manufacturing and engineering at a younger age, we can prevent misconceptions from forming in the first place. The project aims to provide a platform for teachers and students to share their knowledge so that the outreach activities developed are appropriate and effective for this target audience.  


If you would like to get involved in any way, please contact Susannah Evans see29@cam.ac.uk


Home Learning Resources on STEM subjects

The Royal Academy of Engineering has developed a selection of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) education activities that can be easily adapted for the home setting. Click here for more information.


What is 3D printing?

There is a lot of talk about how 3D printing could revolutionise the way that we make stuff. But what is 3D printing and how does 3D printing allow us to make almost anything from nothing? Head of the Institute for Manufacturing, Professor Tim Minshall, explains in the below video, which is targeted at school-age students, that there are four different processes for making things and how 3D printing could be used in the future to make new shapes that were previously not possible.



Cambridge University Science Festival

Over 1000 visitors visited the IfM each year as part of the university's annual Science Festival. The visitors enjoyed a host of demos, hands on activities and talks. The IfM has taken part in the Science Festival since 2010.


School visits

Each year the IfM hosts a visit by school children from the specialist engineering college Chelmer Valley High School, Chelmsford. The parties of 14 and 15-year-olds learn about 'just-in-time' manufacturing, take part in a crane construction challenge and enjoy a punting trip on the Cam.


From Why? To Wow!

Engineers don't just fix things: They make things better. They make the future.

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