Getting young people excited about the possibilities that come with scientific knowledge, while also guiding them through the limitless possibilities and opportunities of a scientific education. As innovation is only possible when we open the door today to the scientists of tomorrow, VITO is committed to promoting the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). We do this by introducing young people to science in all its aspects.  

It all started several years ago, with the deep geothermal energy plant at the Balmatt site in Mol. Since 2018, VITO, together with VOKA, the Province of Antwerp and GoodPlanet, has been organising educational tours of its Balmatt site to introduce pupils to the concepts of heat networks and geothermal energy as sustainable alternatives to traditional fossil fuels. Thousands of children and teenagers have found their way to Mol, and the call for a full day's programme has grown in recent years.  

The Balmatt site is an ideal visitor centre, with facilities suitable for receiving groups of pupils. It is equipped with everything from big screens to VR goggles. While developing this educational programme, we had to make certain choices. VITO wants to be accessible, yet not superficial. We focus on the over-15s in ASO, BSO, TSO and KSO, groups that are often forgotten in STEM initiatives. With our activities, we consciously keep up with current events and go deeper into a scientific challenge that lies within VITO's field of expertise. 'The COVID-19 pandemic was the ideal stepping stone towards discussing indoor air quality, ventilation and aeration' explains Marianne Stranger, VITO indoor air quality expert. 'Along with showing students why ventilation is so important, we have been familiarising them with data and examples from research in schools, while we have also been able to directly demonstrate the impact of certain measures.' 

 'When we talk about the problem posed by the plastic soup, we are not only talking about how plastic is made, the major problem of waste and the potential of recycling, rather we are talking about sustainable alternatives and the scientific barriers we need to overcome,' says Karl Vrancken, who helped design the Plastics module. When we talk about CO2 and its detrimental effects on our climate, we not only demonstrate how CO2 is 'captured', but also why it is important that we reuse it in a sustainable way. As such, we dissect each research topic and show students how VITO is working towards finding sustainable solutions. 

Recognition is important to us. Therefore, each module is conducted in the same way. With Team Scheire’s mad scientist Anthony Liekens, VITO's STEM offering has brought in a familiar face. After he introduces each topic, a VITO specialist then explores the subject during a half-hour video recording. Then, by means of an experiment or a quiz, we check whether the pupils have understood the subject matter. GoodPlanet, who specialise in educating about issues on sustainability, provide the guidance and supervision. Teachers are supported as the modules' contents are also oriented towards their curricula and attainment levels. VITO's STEM programme therefore fits in perfectly with the Flemish Government's own STEM action plan. 

Because the coronavirus pandemic taught us how important remote learning can be, we have also created an online version of each module. At http://www.vito.be/stem, teachers and pupils can access detailed information via texts, videos, podcasts, newspaper articles, etc. The online version can also be used by teachers in their classrooms, with or without the assistance of GoodPlanet staff. 

The VITO STEM package already includes five modules: geothermal energy, plastics, CO2, indoor air quality and remote sensing. These topics will soon be added: water, outdoor air quality, circular economy, energy and health.  

Besides this rather academic approach, we also have ResourCity, the augmented reality game allowing young people to search for chemical elements across five Flemish cities. In Antwerp, Mechelen, Oud-Turnhout, Herentals, Leuven and the Dutch town of Oss, chemical elements are literally there for the taking. Here too, VITO has provided support for teachers, who are easily able to incorporate this city game as part of their lessons. 

More information
desiree.depoot@vito.be 

www.vito.be/stem  (Dutch only)

Contact:
+32 14 33 52 78