Tech corner

Young scientists tackle RB heartburn challenge in Ron Dearing UTC employer project


Students at Hull’s employer-led school are taking on a challenge set by global consumer health and hygiene company RB to further improve one of its global “powerbrands”, Gaviscon.

Potential scientists of the future are applying the skills they learn in the classroom to better tackle heartburn – the burning feeling in the chest caused by stomach acid travelling up towards the throat (acid reflux).    

The challenge is one of a series of projects that are underway or planned and have been set by the Founding Partners of the pioneering Ron Dearing University Technical College (UTC), which include some of Hull’s leading employers.

The project led by RB is designed to raise awareness of the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

It will see pupils put forward innovative ideas for the RB’s Gaviscon range and will culminate with an event to enable pupils to pitch their ideas to leaders and scientists from the global consumer goods firm later this year.

Heartburn is a significant issue in the Western World, with one in five people experiencing symptoms each week1.

The project began with students from Year 10 (age 14) watching live demonstrations of Gaviscon products in action and working with RB researchers to explore the science of acids and alkalis, and the causes and treatments for heartburn and indigestion. They also gained an insight into the company’s consumer-driven approach to developing and marketing new healthcare products.

Dr Bruce Charlesworth, RB Hull Site Lead, said: “Our strategic partnership with Ron Dearing UTC is designed to engage students by making science fun and relevant to everyday lives, as well as improving their employability. We know that some students can be put off by a misconception that STEM subjects are boring or difficult.

“RB’s new £105m state-of-the-art Centre for Scientific Excellence puts Hull at the heart of our consumer health research globally. This means there’s a need more than ever before for us to help develop and attract the skills needed to create innovative health products. 

“As a company with a 200-year heritage in Hull, it’s also a way in which we can give something back to the local community.”

As well as RB, Ron Dearing UTC’s Founding Partners are the University of Hull and four of the region’s other leading employers – KCOM, Siemens Gamesa, Smith & Nephew and Spencer Group. The school is also supported by a host of other business partners.

KCOM-backed Ron Dearing UTC offers students a unique, employer-driven education model with the curriculum promoting academic excellence in the core subjects of English, maths and sciences as well as the opportunity to specialise in digital technology and/or mechatronics – a combination of computing and engineering. 

Key to the education model is that students apply their academic learning to real-life projects set by the employer sponsors, such as the RB challenge.

Ron Dearing UTC Principal Sarah Pashley said: “This is our first big curriculum project and illustrates how closely our Founding Partners work with the staff and students and the extent of their commitment to the school.

“It’s truly inspiring for our students to work with and learn from global businesses such as RB and be challenged by a project involving one of their leading health brands. It helps them to appreciate the world-class research, development and innovation RB delivers here in Hull.

“Projects such as this develop the students’ knowledge and skills as well as their awareness of the many exciting and rewarding career opportunities offered by RB and our other employer partners.”

Other employer projects underway include one involving all the school’s students employing the techniques of Agile Project Management, which has been inspired by KCOM and the Centre for Digital Innovation (C4DI) tech hub, one of the UTC’s Major Partners.

Ron Dearing UTC opened in September and has been established to develop a new pipeline of tech-savvy and work-ready young people. It will grow to a capacity of 600 students, aged 14 to 19, by September 2020.

Students or their parents/guardians can apply to join the school in September in Year 10 (age 14) and Year 12 (age 16) by going to

Find out more about RB and apply for roles at:

1. Dent J, El-Serag HB, Wallander M, et al. Epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review Gut 2005;54:710-717. (

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