2009 was the bi-centenary of the death of Matthew Boulton, who was Birmingham’s most famous entrepreneur, inventor and businessman. Celebrations were held in the city throughout the year, including a dedicated Matthew Boulton Discovery Day at Aston, an exhibition about his life and work at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG), and an international conference at the University of Birmingham.
In Autumn 2009, Aston co-ordinated a Schools Challenge where teams from local schools were asked to come up with ideas on the theme of what would Matthew Boulton be working on if he were alive today? Kings Norton Boys School, Plantsbrook School, King Edwards VI Handsworth School and Four Dwellings School took up the challenge. A team of Aston student volunteers helped each school group develop their ideas before the grand final in the University’s Great Hall on December 16th. Jasbir Biindarh worked with Kings Norton Boys School; Ibrahim Raja and Ben Showan with Plantsbrook School; Anastasija Gerasjuka and Alona Pugacova with King Edwards VI Handsworth School and Elizabeth Abiona and Jeeth Sreedhar with Four Dwellings School.
At the final, each school pitched their ideas to a team of friendly ‘Dragons’ drawn from industry, academia and the media.
Dr David Gregory is the Science and Environment correspondent for BBC Midlands Today. He appears regularly on the programme and also has his own BBC blog. Shena Mason was part of the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery team which worked on the development of Matthew Boulton's former home, Soho House, as a museum. She was the editor of 'Matthew Boulton: Selling what all the world desires', which was the catalogue to the Matthew Boulton bicentenary exhibition at the Gas Hall. Mohammad Nazir provides consultancy to many businesses looking to grow, diversify and expand into global markets. Of the many positions he currently holds, he is Chair of the West Midlands Minority Business Forum. Dana Skelly is Head of Road Network Management for Transport for London (TfL). She joined TfL in 2000 as Principal Engineer for the City of London and in 2006 was asked to take on the role of Head of Road Network Management London-wide. She was named the UK’s engineer of the year in 2006, making her the first woman to win the award.
The Schools’ ideas ranged from using excess fat from liposuction as an alternative fuel, to a new form of ‘hearing’ contact lenses and a new way of recycling paper which was the winning entry from Kings Norton Boys School. It is hoped that Aston will work further with the School to develop their idea.
Each school received a commemorative trophy made by Dr Lucy Bastin in the School of Engineering & Applied Science and a copy of the Matthew Boulton exhibition catalogue, kindly donated by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
You can read David Gregory’s BBC blog about the event, and an earlier post about Aston’s involvement with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s Matthew Boulton exhibition here: www.bbc.co.uk/davidgregory.
Words by Sally Finn