Supporting young people living with disabilities to explore STEM opportunities

The Spectris Foundation is dedicated to ensuring that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) education is accessible to everyone. Our charity partner, The Lightyear Foundation, is breaking down barriers that young people living with a disability can face when it comes to participation in STEM activities. This is vitally important as the STEM sector is one of the fastest growing areas of the UK economy yet people living with a disability (making up 20% of working age adults) are under-represented across all disciplines. By working together, we aim to create a more inclusive and diverse STEM community.

In an exciting piece of collaborative work, a group of thirteen young people aged 16-19, who study at a special education needs school, attended a Work Inspiration Trip arranged in partnership with Malvern Panalytical, the Spectris Foundation and the Lightyear Foundation.

Ten brilliant volunteers at Malvern Panalytical, led by Michele Carboni, Senior Applications Development Scientist, organized an immersive visit where the students, who are living with a range of learning differences and disabilities, were able to engage in a variety of hands-on activities that brought STEM concepts to life.

After an engaging presentation introducing the students to Malvern Panalytical and the world of STEM, the students were given a tour where they met employees and were shown the design production lab, engineering design spaces and manufacturing areas.

The young people had the chance to examine objects under magnifying glasses and much more powerful microscopes, participate in an experiment to measure the size of particles in milk using a laser machine controlled by a robotic arm, and experiment with laser movement through adjusting mirror positions in a laser maze game. These interactive experiences not only captivated their interest but also provided practical insights into the applications of STEM in real-world scenarios.

They had some brilliant questions including:

“Have you ever thought about rearranging an atom?”

“Can you make a time travelling washing machine?” and

“Can you make The Terminator?”

To round off the trip, the students met Andrew Davies, one of the Malvern Panalytical software engineers, who shared his experience of working in STEM as a person on the autism spectrum. His fantastic role modelling helped to bring to life the possibilities available to them to have successful STEM careers.

When asked what their favourite parts of the day were, the responses included:

“Meeting the employees and talking about science.”

“I enjoyed all of it today, especially the water-milk experiment.”

“Visiting the labs, the scattering lasers, and seeing the robot.”

Jeff Banks, CEO of the Lightyear Foundation said: “We are constantly seeking new ways to engage disabled children and young people in the world of STEM. Our partnership with the Spectris Foundation is fundamental in making this happen, including through practical hands-on Work Inspiration Trips. It was truly fantastic to see disabled young people learning about the world of STEM from industry colleagues who are so keen to reach out to and engage with their communities. The Malvern Panalytical staff welcomed the students with open arms, taking immense pride in showcasing their groundbreaking work. Witnessing the spark of curiosity ignite in these young minds was truly inspiring for everyone involved. We know the young people gained a great deal from the visit, and we are sure the staff did too”. 

Mary Goodwin-Trotman, Senior Project Manager at Malvern Panalytical said, “I really felt we made a positive impact on the students and the staff throughout the morning. One teacher said it was the best trip the students had been on and I overhead a student say, “I’m glad I decided to come”, along with many other comments of “wow” and “cool”.

It also had a positive impact on me. This was a great opportunity to step outside of our normal day jobs and share some of the fantastic things we do at Malvern Panalytical and maybe even inspire them to think about what a career in STEM could mean for them as individuals.”

A huge thank you to the Lightyear Foundation for enabling students living with disabilities to have these experiences and also to the Malvern Panalytical volunteers who made the visit such a great success.