Following this year's Competition winners on their engineering adventures

What happens when you win The Big Bang Competition and become the GSK UK Young Engineer of the Year? Grace Lord, Aalia Sellar and Brendan Miralles, students aged 14 and 15 from Loughborough Schools Foundation, found out the wonders involved in this prestigious accolade when they were awarded the title at The Big Bang Fair 2019!

Their engineering project, “Music Splash”, is an app that uses machine learning to analyse music performance and provides feedback to help you improve ­– essentially it guides the user to instant perfection and is like a music teacher in an app.

We caught up with them before they head back to school after a summer full of activities to find out how winning the competition has affected their lives so far.

First off, tell us your absolute highlight of participating in The Big Bang Competition Finals.

Grace Lord: 'Mine was winning the award of GSK UK Young Engineer of the Year 2019, which has opened up so many incredible opportunities we could never have even dreamed of before.

'Winning was completely unexpected as we didn’t get through the regional heats in the East Midlands ­– the feedback we got from the judges there certainly motivated us to work even harder and develop our project before we submitted it again online... and it just shows that hard work does pay off!'

Aalia Sellar: 'Yes, I will never forget the surreal, life-changing moment when we were called up on the stage to accept the prize. I am humbled and still can’t believe that The Big Bang Competition and GSK chose us!

'My highlight though was being able to share our project that we worked so hard on to a panel of VIP judges in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style of judging. This was a great experience as it exposed me to inspiring scientists and engineers who are all passionate and excited about their professions. It was a great pleasure to meet so many incredibly intelligent people and to discuss our project with moderators and judges who were genuinely interested about the application we have been developing.'

Team Smart Music

Outside of being a finalist in The Competition, what was the best part of attending The Big Bang Fair this year?

Brendan Miralles: 'My favourite memory was looking at and getting involved in all the exhibits. I really enjoyed the Rolls-Royce stand where I was able to experience AR from a proper headset for the first time. It showed a projected image of an aeroplane engine and an interesting progression of its layers. I love going to The Big Bang Fair every year with my school and I hope to continue attending in the future.'

GL: 'I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the 200+ student projects on show at The Fair and I was in awe at the huge variety in ideas and thinking. The number of young people there from all around the UK was incredible and it shows a real excitement and passion for STEM.'

What was the most exciting bit of media you featured in after winning at The Fair?

AS: 'For me it was when a BBC film crew come down to our school to interview us about our journey in creating Music Splash and our experience at The Big Bang Competition Finals. We even had the fun opportunity to compose our very own musical piece with a piano and cello. It was awesome to see our team and our app featured TV!'

GL: 'The coverage we got on BBC East Midlands news was really cool, not only because many people I know saw me on TV but also because it definitely inspired quite a few people at my school to come up with a project to enter into The Big Bang Competition next year.'

BM: 'For me it has to be when I went on BBC Radio Leicester. I really enjoyed this because I had never seen inside a radio station before. I am obviously very interested in music technology and sound systems, so I found the systems they had controlling the microphones and audio inputs fascinating. I felt quite nervous before the radio interview because it was live, but once we’d settled down into the conversation, I enjoyed sharing my ideas and experiences at The Big Bang Fair.'

One of the many elements of your amazing prize, sponsored by global healthcare company GSK, was to do some work experience at their UK headquarters over the summer. What did you learn there?

AS: 'We got to learn about the importance of the work GSK carry out, the development process of pharmaceuticals, and we had the enriching experience of speaking to a wide range of employees.'

GL: 'On each day we focused on a different aspect of drug development – from the point of discovering and investigating a disease, the thousands of different drugs which might be suitable, to the process of narrowing down the selection on what has the most suitable and positive results, to production and finally to the patient at the end. For example on the first day, we learnt that this process can take up to 15 years!

'I particularly enjoyed testing particular drugs for the ease of consumption including weight, solubility, thickness and how well they will work in body. Also I loved having a glance into the world of logistics and learning how to reduce mistakes, which can be potentially fatal during manufacturing.'

AS: 'Overall it was intriguing to see how creative and collaborative a career in STEM can be.'

As part of your prize, you were also invited to represent the UK at an international competition in Macao, China. Tell us about your experience at the China Adolescence Science and Technology Innovation Contest (CASTIC), and what it felt like to win second place.

GL: 'It has certainly been a dream to compete in China this summer, especially having the opportunity to represent the UK against many talented scientists and engineers from 51 countries all around the world.'

AS: 'I had never anticipated being provided an immense opportunity like this – it was one of the most memorable moments in my life. I had a substantial feeling of pride to be able to represent the UK as a young woman in STEM on such a huge platform.

'As a team we didn’t expect to receive an award for our project at CASTIC. Instead, we wanted to take this unique opportunity to connect and enjoy the experience with other young people who are passionate about STEM.'

BM: 'Yes, one of the most interesting parts of the experience was meeting other like-minded teenagers from around the world and sharing the ideas we had on the wide range of projects at the fair. Every participant had different skills and preferences when it came to developing ideas and solutions. This meant that every project had a sense of individuality, with unique perspectives on the problems they sought to address. I also found it interesting to get an insight into the different education systems around the world, while making some really good friends!

'It was a great opportunity and we are looking forward to representing the UK again in Bulgaria at the EU Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) in September.'

GSK UK Young Engineers of the Year 2019

Tell us about the challenges you’ve encountered on your engineering journey.

BM: 'The biggest challenge I faced with our project was probably working on the programming to bring to life our original idea of an app to facilitate music practice.

'The programme uses a unique variation on a neural network to apply for more accurate and quick responses. This meant that there was no technical guide or manual that could be followed online as some of the conventional algorithms and processes would not be compatible with it.

'Though challenging and time-consuming, I enjoyed the process of producing an original work. Overcoming such problems allowed me to improve my problem-solving skills and pursue my interest in computer science.'

GL: 'While working on our app we have faced numerous challenges, one of those being training the AI. This was because every person learns music in a different way and develops best with different kinds of feedback. With this knowledge, we created several different AIs, which are tailored to different types of music, different speeds of loading and other factors too.'

AS: 'There are challenges in pretty much anything that is worthwhile –  in engineering I’ve discovered that there are lots of difficult problems, but that through diligent work, perseverance, and working as a team, you can achieve your goals.'

GL: 'Also as a young woman, I’m realising how little women are involved in engineering and STEM as a whole, and how important it is for us to help to inspire young girls in our country and beyond.'

And finally, what are your hopes for the future?

AS: 'We hope to launch our improved app on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store soon! I feel that our goals of creating a global addition to music education as well as an enhancement to improve playing technique for musicians are not far from reach, and I am looking forward to what the future holds for Music Splash.'

GL: 'For my A-Levels I am considering taking Maths, Economics, and Spanish as well as a science. Beyond that I would love to go to university and I am thinking about pursuing a career in STEM or finance. My GSK work experience placement has inspired to also considering logistics and looking into drug development further.'

BM: 'I am interested in looking more at front-end development, which is what creates the user or client interface on software, applications or websites and I believe it to be an underappreciated part in the creation of software. In the future I would like to continue pursuing my interests at a university in the UK.'

AS: 'The Big Bang Competition has allowed me to see that STEM is more than a part of my mandatory education and showed me the real-life implication of STEM can benefit the wider society. Soon I hope to pursue a career in engineering where I am driven by my passion for technology, especially considering something that I create can impact someone positively across the world.'

GL: 'I also really hope that we can help inspire other young people to get involved in STEM.'


Enter your own science or engineering project into The Big Bang Competition and see where it takes you! You have until 8 November 2019 to enter via the online route, find out more at thebigbangfair.co.uk/competition

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