The Royal society had surrendered the whole of its building all day for the TeenTech Awards finals. When I arrived, the place was teeming with school children; 51 schools had entered – equating to about 150 children aged between 11 and 16. The atmosphere was abuzz with both trepidation and excitement for the day to come.
As judges, we were asked to look for original ideas and projects that demonstrated thorough research and presentation with a clear understanding of the potential market. The 12 categories under which students submitted their ideas included future of food, energy, transport, environment and health. The aim was to narrow down an award winner for each. There were also several cross-category awards which covered aspects such as digital skills, teacher of the year and the people’s choice award, which was voted for by the children themselves.
Several tech-loving celebrities and well-known faces were asked to assist in the judging and also to present the awards. Dallas Campbell helped judge design and construction, Jon Culshaw, wearable technology and James May, the transport category.
My fellow judges – Dr Christian Jessen, from Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies, and Don Johnson from Laleham Health and Beauty – were asked to judge the entries from the five finalists in the health category.
The competition was tough and children had really thought of and developed some amazing concepts and ideas. Some of the finalists’ entries included a wearable ‘Healthband’ that could monitor your heart rate, recognise falls and call the emergency services. Another remarkable entry was an aid for people with dementia called ‘Set in Time’. It included videos and photos from the person’s past and an aroma dispenser to help evoke memories. In their research they had found people with dementia often feel ‘stuck’ in the present and that reminiscing could help them.
It was quite staggering to see how much research had gone into the projects – the students contacted both experts in the field and those involved with the potential market, and investigated which materials and technology could bring the ideas to life. To find out more about their research, we judges really grilled each finalist, asking questions about the project, challenging them with possible downfalls and providing suggestions for improvements.
Of all the entries in our category the one which stood out for us came from the Isaac Newton Academy. The idea was called S.T.EYE. This was a condom with built in indicators that change colour on contact with STIs. Not only was this tackling an important issue of sexual health but it was a topic that some boys that age would find embarrassing to discuss. The boys with this idea were only 13.
The thing that struck me was how doable this could be. We use very similar technology to that which they were describing in our biochemical assays here at the ICR. Their idea was to use an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) – a technology we use to look for inhibitors of target proteins in our drug discovery programmes. I thought it was great how they had taken this technique and applied it in a new way.
I was blown away by all the ideas that I saw on this inspiring day and I hope some of the children will go on to do great things in science, technology, engineering and medicine. But the thing I took most hope from is where the children were getting their inspiration from. Their teachers were behind them, encouraging them to take part and giving up time to help them explore ideas.
The TeenTech awards inspired many students to learn new skills such as coding and programming. They also had the great opportunity to meet people within the industry. Events like this demonstrate to me just how important outreach is and that it’s working!
Our Public Engagement Officer spoke to Yvette about the TeenTech awards back in April – you can read her blog here.
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