On March 25, the 2022 edition of the "IGE-day" kicked off as 75 companies in Sweden - including Chalmers - welcomed girls aged 13 - 19 under the slogan “Introduce a Girl to Engineering.” The purpose? To give young girls the chance to meet role models in technology and explore what it would be like to study and eventually work as an engineer.
The venue for the day at Chalmers was the Division of Combustion and Propulsion Systems at the Department of Mechanics and Maritime Studies. Around 20 high school and secondary school students entered the division’s laboratories to get a glimpse of what it might look like when the university students and researchers try to develop internal combustion engines powered by renewable fuels - and thereby contribute to a more sustainable transport system.
Lisa Hedlund, a second-year student in the Master of Engineering program Automation and Mechatronics, was there to inspire and kick-start the day. During her training, she’s learning to develop transport solutions that are cheaper, more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly than today. By no means an obvious study choice for Lisa, looking back:
“I honestly didn’t think this was something for me. But now I love it! There’s so much exciting to study in this field. I’m considering going into AI and data science once I’ve finished my studies. It would be really cool to work with self-driving cars,” she says.
After some introductory coffee and cake, it's time to take a closer look at the research conducted in the labs. Responsible for the tour are Head of Division Lucien Koopmans, professor of combustion and propulsion systems, and Lena Lang, Tekniksprånget trainee, who’s not only conducting lab work during her trainee semester, but also is a keen collector of social media content from the research work carried out at the division.
One of the girls taking part in the IGE-day is Iman, a 9th grader from Kviberg's high school in Gothenburg. For her, today's visit will probably play a crucial role in her future study choices.
“I’ve actually chosen a program in social science in high school. But I'm interested in programming and considering if I might go on to a technical education later. This day will probably define whether I choose technology in the future,” she explains.
The first stop on the tour is the spray lab. Here, laser diagnostics are used to see how hydrogen, for example, is mixed with air in an internal combustion engine. When liquid fuel is injected into an engine, it’s done under high pressure which creates a cloud of fuel droplets. The effect is almost spray-like, hence the name. The researchers are studying what the injection process looks like and what emissions are produced. A relatively unexplored but highly interesting topic in the search for sustainable fuels.
“Our job is to contribute with knowledge that does not yet exist. That’s what we call research. And that happens here in the lab,” Lucien explains to the group.
The next stop takes place
at the engine lab, where the researchers try to measure what the fuel consumption looks like in an internal combustion engine and what emissions come out. Right now, it’s hydrogen gas that is being tested. And what about hydrogen - will there be any harmful emissions? Lucien throws out a question:
“What happens when hydrogen meets air?”
The answer is immediate:
“It becomes water,” the group agrees.
“Yes, that’s right. But will there be any carbon dioxide? Well, actually, there will. But just a little. And not from the hydrogen gas itself, but from the oil in the engine. We learned that here in the lab,” Lucien explains.
The group continues to explore the premises. After another quick stop among oily pistons and all sorts of tools, the group has approached the final destination on the lab trip. Scattered in a large room are four huge car engines. A modern Volvo petrol engine, an old six-cylinder engine, a diesel engine and a special Mitsubishi engine. Because now, it’s time to walk the talk.
“So, now you can start unscrewing these engines and see what is hidden underneath! I want you to remove the cylinder head so that you get down to the pistons,” Lucien instructs.
After a quick demonstration of the box's most useful tools and an equally quick division into four groups, the students equip themselves with coats, gloves and tools and immediately start working.
By the six-cylinder engine, the high school girls Fatima, Matilda and Chloé have already come a long way.
“Yes! I love six-cylinder engines, says Chloé, a Natural Science Program student at Franklins High school in Gothenburg. In school, math and programming are her favorites, and she really likes watching You tube videos on people disassembling engines.
“It’s fun to understand how things in our everyday life work,” she continues. “I usually sit at the kitchen table mending and picking stuff apart.”Her group members Matilda and Fatima, students in Urban planning and Environment at Lindholmens Technical high school, may not be as keen on the topic of car engines, but still want to explore what a future in the field of technology might look like.
“I’ve always wanted to be an architect, ever since I was little. But then when I started high school, I became interested in becoming an engineer. Above all, it is programming that I like, but so far, I’ve only learned the basics,” says Fatima.
And when asked what she thinks about today’s assignment to unscrew a car engine?
“Yes, well, I believe everything is fun if you know what you’re doing.”
Her group member Matilda is more into car design. And architecture. Her technical interest comes from home, more specifically from her mom who is Matilda’s biggest source of inspiration.
“Mom is building bridges and roads at the Swedish Transport Administration. In that sense she takes part in changing the city and that’s inspiring,” says Matilda.
Following the tour, although from the back seat, is Mitra Sarchami, teacher of math, physics, chemistry, biology and programming at Kviberg's Secondary school. By visiting Chalmers, she wants to inspire her students, especially the girls, to choose a career path in technology in the future.
“I want to make these subjects feel more like everyday matters and less distant from my students. 20 years ago, teaching consisted only of theories and what was in the textbook. But today when we get out and make visits like this, the students understand that this is actually about real matters like the environment and health. These topics become more tied to their everyday lives. This will be a real eye-opener to many students,” Mitra explains.
And for motor enthusiast Chloé, it’s already a done deal.
“Most likely, I’ll be a Chalmers student in a couple of years,” she concludes and returns to the six cylinders.
Text: Lovisa Håkansson