With demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates far outstripping supply in Europe, the EU-funded STEM4youth project is taking these subjects back to the classroom, along with a dose of fun, to show teenagers that science can be sexy, and that it is central to many careers, from marketing analyst to ethics expert and zoologist.

The project is organising courses in seven subjects (chemistry, physics, citizen science, engineering, medicine, maths and astronomy), putting emphasis of how the core principles of each discipline arise in everyday life.

Basic explanations are combined with hands-on experiments and activities as well as games, critical thinking sessions and insights into how the skills acquired fit with possible career choices. The course on medicine, for example, begins with a recap of what most people have already learned at school and then digs deeper into personalised cures and intelligent drugs that are designed to take out unhealthy cells without affecting the healthy ones.

The course then moves onto next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics, looking at the impact of big data analysis for medicine and the IT skills needed to perform this.

An open-source education platform also enables teachers and students to both upload and download course material, and to interact with others through games and online tests. The team will also develop a multidisciplinary guide for teachers on how best to exploit STEM subjects, including through extra-curricular activities.

A quick look at student numbers shows how far Europe is lagging behind other regions when it comes to STEM graduates. In Asia, an impressive 20 % of the student population studies a STEM subject; in Europe the figure is just 2 %.