Pupils crowned UK Young Scientist of the Year and UK Young Engineer of the Year at National Science + Engineering Competition finals

Two young bright sparks have been crowned UK Young Scientist of the Year and UK Young Engineer of the Year in the finals of the UK’s prestigious National Science + Engineering Competition.

Sarah Sobka, age 17, from Sheffield High School in South Yorkshire, has been awarded the honour of the UK Young Scientist of the Year with her outstanding project aimed at helping people who suffer from Cystic Fibrosis. One of the UK’s most prevalent and life-limiting inherited diseases, Cystic Fibrosis affects over 9,000 people across the nation and there are still many strains of the disease for which there are no available drugs. Sarah’s project examined a drug called Lubiprostone, which is commonly used to treat women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, to see whether any of its characteristics could be applied to create new and more effective drug treatments for Cystic Fibrosis.

Colum McNally, age 18, from St Colman’s College in Newry, Northern Ireland, has also been named UK Young Engineer of the Year with a brilliant project that hopes to make farming safer. Colum designed and built an extremely safe and low-cost hydraulically operated agricultural machine, which combines the functions of both log splitting and fence building. Typically these tasks require two machines, which are extremely dangerous to operate (in Northern Ireland alone, one farmer dies every month from agricultural related injuries). Colum’s Agri-Hammer aims to become an economically viable product that “takes the safety off the farmers’ hands rather than taking the hands off the farmers”.

The results were announced today at The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair (the launch day, of which, was visited by the Prime Minister) – the UK’s largest celebration of science and engineering for young people, at The NEC, Birmingham. Sarah and Colum impressed their way to the top honours after coming face-to-face with top celebrity judges and showcasing their projects to over 75,000 visitors at the science and engineering extravaganza. This year’s Competition was the most competitive to date, with over 2,000 entrants whittled down to the 202 projects that were invited to the Fair to vie for the coveted prizes.

After a thorough selection process, 10 talented finalists were invited to present their projects to the top panel of celebrity judges, including Jason Bradbury, Sir Tim Hunt and Liz Bonnin, who were impressed by the level of projects in the final round.

The winners of UK Young Engineer of the Year and UK Young Scientists of the Year will each win £2,000, a trophy and an experience prize.
Winner of UK Young Scientist of the Year, Sarah Sobka, said: “I was absolutely shocked to even be in the top five, so to have won the UK Young Scientist of the Year award is an amazing feeling! When I started out I didn’t know where the project would take me. Doing as many things related to science as you can is a great way to get into the subject, so if you see a book that you’re interested in, have a read; or if you hear about a scheme or competition, don’t be afraid to apply for it. I never thought I’d become a finalist, let alone the winner, so if you take every opportunity it really is the best way to get exposed.”

Professor Jim Al-Khalili, chair of the science and maths judging panel said:

"I think this year has seen projects of the highest standard, certainly since I've been judging the Competition. What is so brilliant about Sarah though, is that she is very good, incredibly smart but could also explain her project in such a clear and understandable way. She is a true champion of science and engineering and will bring something special to the sector."

Winner of Young Engineer of the Year, Colum McNally, said:

“I’m very happy to have won, it’s a fantastic feeling. I’m really proud of all the work that’s gone into my project over the last year and it’s brilliant to have that recognised. I’ve been involved in engineering from a young age on the farm, just building bits and pieces as we needed them, and it’s amazing to think it’s taken me this far. Being part of this year’s National Science + Engineering Competition has been incredible and I hope I’ve inspired others to take part in next year’s Competition.”

Kate Bellingham, chair of the Engineering and technology judging panel said:

"It is such an honour to be a part of the National Science + Engineering Competition. To see so many young people, with such different backgrounds and experiences, is a real pleasure as a judge. They have such passion for engineering and what you can do with it.”

"Colum is just brilliant. His project will make his work so much better, more accessible and really it is making the world a better place! Winning the Competition is a wonderful opportunity for him and I am convinced he will be a great ambassador for science and engineering in the future."

Imran Khan, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, which runs the National Science + Engineering Competition, commented:

“We’re thrilled that Sarah and Colum’s projects have been awarded these prestigious honours at The Big Bang Fair this year. Their projects really caught our imagination and we hope that they will inspire other young people to enter the National Science + Engineering Competition.

“Now in its eighth year, our contest has become renowned for recognising, rewarding and inspiring thousands of talented youngsters in all areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We need to nurture a new generation of bright sparks, and the Competition offers a great incentive to get youngsters experimenting and having fun with science and engineering.”

The National Science + Engineering Competition is an annual event open to pupils aged between 11-18, and gives participants the chance to compete for top prizes and international experiences worth over £50,000. Visit www.nsecuk.org for more information about next year’s competition.

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