University organises day of scientific discovery for budding young scientist

  • University of Sheffield organised a day of scientific activities for seven-year-old Jamie, who is on the autistic spectrum, after classmates dismissed his dream of becoming a scientist.
  • Departments from across the University arranged for Jamie to experience different aspects of science, including virtual reality, robotics and microscopy.
  • The University’s Outreach and Widening Participation team organises events to inspire budding scientists of the future through interesting and hands-on scientific activities.

A budding young scientist was taken on an intriguing journey of scientific discovery when staff at the University of Sheffield organised a special day of activities to reignite his passion for the subject.

Seven-year-old Jamie, who is on the autistic spectrum, was invited to visit the University after staff read a post on social media about how an incident at school had knocked his confidence in pursuing a career in science.

His mother wrote that Jamie had been tasked with dressing up as something that epitomised his dream job at school but, after choosing to represent a career in science, his classmates dismissed his costume.

Dr Lynsey Grieveson, Clinical Academic Training Manager from the University of Sheffield, who read the post, felt that the University would be the perfect place to reaffirm Jamie’s enthusiasm for science.

She said: “I was incensed that a child had been left to feel that their idea was stupid. I can empathise as my own child is on the autistic spectrum and there are many additional hurdles these children face on a daily basis.

“What really annoyed me is that I was afraid the bullies had won and Jamie would no longer feel his passion for science was valid or that he could achieve in this sphere.

“I wanted to show him that at Sheffield we think that being a scientist is an excellent career choice and to embrace this in a positive way by enabling him to engage in an activity at the University or by showing him some laboratory space or meeting some scientists.”

Following an overwhelming response from departments across the University offering their time, a day of scientific endeavours was arranged for Jamie to enjoy, including exploring the human body through virtual reality, interacting with robotics and studying zebrafish.

Dr Grieveson added: “I am very proud to be a member of staff at this University. I knew there would be many who felt the same as I did and offer some of their time but not quite the amount of responses I received!

“The academic staff were just unbelievable. They were kind, caring, patient, interesting and fun. Everyone put such a huge amount of effort into making their part of the day great for Jamie and it certainly was.”

When asked how he felt about his day at the University, Jamie said: “Thank you for making my day and making me feel special.”

Nicola Witcombe, Jamie’s mum, said: “We were blown away by the effort that people had gone to for our little man. To have people take the time out from their incredibly important work to show our son what they do and to make it accessible for him was fantastic and humbling.

“As parents you just want to know your child has a future and often things like university can feel so far away when your child has challenges to overcome. But the day really showed us Jamie’s ability to learn and participate in a different light and made us hopeful for his future. I firmly believe that if he wants it, being a scientist is within his reach.”

The University of Sheffield’s Outreach and Widening Participation team organises opportunities for children to experience a more practical approach to science in order to inspire budding scientists of the future.

Claire Wilkinson, Student Recruitment and Outreach Manager, said: “It’s really important that we enthuse and engage young people with science. This in part ensures we have a continued pipeline of young scientists coming through by showing children where science might take them, and also promotes wider scientific literacy and confidence.

“We run several events throughout the year where children can put on a lab coat and have a go themselves. Our annual Discovery Night [16 March 2018] attracted over 1,500 children and their families to take part in all sorts of science activities. It’s also great for our researchers and scientists to engage with young people – you really know your subject when you can explain it to a seven-year-old!”

Jamie conducting a scientific experiment Jamie looking into a microscope
Jamie smiling Jamie conducting a science experiment

Find out more about the University of Sheffield’s Outreach and Widening Participation

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.
A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact

Emily Taysom

Communications Assistant
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046