What does it mean to be crowned GSK UK Young Scientist of the Year?

Maeve Stillman, aged 15 from St Mary’s College in Derry/Londonderry, was crowned GSK UK Young Scientist of the Year at the 2019 UK Finals of The Big Bang Competition for her project “Investigating the Effect of Activated Charcoal on the Absorptions of Medications”.

Maeve’s project focused on how activated charcoal supplements affect the absorption of everyday or common medicines like paracetamol and ramipril (used for treating hypertension).

Since the Finals in March, Maeve has been on a journey of exploration. We caught up with her to find out about more about her experience.

What was your highlight of participating in the UK Finals?

My absolute highlight of The Big Bang Competition was the shock of actually winning the GSK UK Young Scientist of the Year title. I would never have expected it, because it was my third year attending the UK Finals and the previous year I didn’t win anything.

So, it was such a shock and, in my mind, impossible to be believe… which was written all over my face, as you can see in the video of me on stage! I remember just repeating over and over ‘Are you sure?’ I still get people laughing and reminding me of my reaction.

Other than that I would say it was amazing to meet the panel of expert judges, some of which I have always admired and previously convinced me that STEM subjects are for girls too. It was an honour for me to have them discuss my research and to even consider me for a prize.

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

The team working behind the scenes were wonderful as I learned how involved they were in The Fair and how much work goes into it.

The exhibits and competitor’s stands showed me how others tackle problems scientifically and inspire kids to see the fun, creative side of science.

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

I couldn’t believe I got the opportunity to be on BBC Breakfast with Charlie and Naga on the Saturday morning after the Awards Ceremony.

I remember watching the 2018 Competition winners on BBC Breakfast last year, and it was surreal when I got the chance to go on the sofa myself. That’s the exact moment when it sunk in what the award meant, because I had experienced it on both sides of the screen.

The most memorable moment was politely correcting Charlie on getting my research findings wrong, which was funny (watch the video here) – it’s the one thing that sticks in people’s minds!

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?

The work experience at GSK headquarters this summer opened my eyes to the pharmaceutical industry and how they work towards creating a better future.

I learnt the process of how medicines are made and the time it takes to create a safe drug. I left with lots of respect for the research scientists that may only see one drug actually be used by patients in their whole time spent at GSK, which is astonishing to think.

As I am making future career choices, this opportunity gave me great insight into the range of possible jobs in this field.

I also got to experience the amazing technology used to carry out research in a modern lab, and not gonna lie, I wish I could take some back home for my experiments!

Maeve at GSK

You were also invited to compete in the EU Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) in September – tell us about that experience.

There were 40 countries from all around Europe taking part in this year’s EUCYS competition. It was held in Sofia Bulgaria, which is a beautiful place – I could have stayed there for another week.

It was wonderful to meet so many people, discussing what science and technology means to them and even a little about the politics of their countries. It’s amazing to think we were all from different places but at this competition we all understood each other.

What I took from the experience was the amazing feeling of being around some of the brightest minds in Europe and talking to alumni who advised me on my future and made me feel more relaxed about making choices for university.

Maeve at EUCYS

And finally, what are your hopes for the future?

This year I now get to enjoy supporting other members of the Chemistry Club and guiding them through various competitions. I am excited to see two more projects from my school attend The Big Bang Competition UK Finals in 2020 and I will be cheering them on. 

I want to continue being involved and promoting The Big Bang Competition, as it’s an incredible opportunity and I am determined to encourage everyone to enter… especially students from Northern Ireland.

As for my future… it is still a mystery but I know it will heavily involve STEM subjects. So, I guess my hope is to be able to apply my curiosity to a problem and to strive to have the knowledge (and equipment) to design creative solutions.

Also, I aspire to inspire a new generation of young, female scientists and engineers!


The Big Bang Competition is open for online entries until Friday 8 November 2019. Don't miss your chance to learn and grow, enter now at www.thebigbangfair.co.uk/competition

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