Verdict: The National Science and Engineering Competition

Posted on March 23, 2014

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Amongst the thrills of this year’s Big Bang Fair at the NEC (which, by the way, is huge) were scattered many keen competitors for the annual National Science and Engineering Competition(NSEC), defending their projects with pride. The competitors were of all ages and interests and brought with them a huge range of fascinating projects, from research into cancer diagnostics using fluorescence to CERN in a Box. As a competitor myself, I experienced all the highs and lows of the competition, met some interesting people and even received a prize. So, what’s the verdict?

NSEC 5
Day One
We arrived at the Fair to an atmosphere of anticipation and expectation. After a short “opening ceremony” which involved a deafening sonic boom, edible insects and a race against a ghost Usain Bolt, it was off to set up. With three huge boards to display my work to 40,000 school children over the next two days, I had come prepared with six A1 posters (which can be found here) to present my research work into neuron differentiation. Find out more here. Problem number one was getting the posters to stay up. Problem number two was doing this before closure time. I learned the first lesson of the Competition: when in doubt, stick to double-sided tape.

My display at the Big Band Fair.

My display at the Big Bang Fair.

In come 20,000 school kids.

In come 20,000 school kids.

Day Two

Enter the judges (and the swarms of school children). From 9:00 till 4:00 was an intense session of either being judged or waiting to be judged. AM was core prize judging: competing for a place in the final five with the chance to win the title of “Young Scientist of the Year” along with £2,000! PM was judging for other prizes, including for the CREST Communication and Context Prize. This prize of £100 was awarded by CREST, of the British Science Association for the competitors who showed “good communication and an understanding of the context of their work within the wider research field or its impact on the public”. By 4:00, it was all over. The final five were decided and it was now down to the judges.

Day Three

The pressure was off, there was no more judging today. However, there was the promise of a special visitor, the identity of whom remained secret until the end of the day… The day started with visits from another 20,000 questioning school children and a glimpse of Vince Cable, the minister for Business Innovation and Skills who had come to visit. Then came the rumours that the “special
visitor” could be Prince William or even the Prime Minister. As the day progressed there was a chance to look around the Big Bang Fair with all its exhibits: Formula One, Sellafield, BBC and the NHS all had stands. One stand had a clever way of presenting chocolate and another had a Christmas tree powered by Brussel sprouts. All in all, a different take on science, designed to make an impact.

After a free lunch albeit cheese on white bread sandwiches , it was a chance to meet the celebrity judges! A line up which included Jason Bradbury, from The Gadget Show and Maggie Aderin-Pocock,  co-presenter of The Sky at Night, answered the audience’s questions. Their message was inspiring: we are the generation who will address the world’s challenges with science and find solutions. Science is the future.

Finally it was time to find out who was this special visitor. Not Prince William. Not the Prime Minister either. No, in fact, even more exciting, it was a visit by Dallas Campbell of Bang goes the Theory and Kate Bellingham of Tomorrow’s World who had come to award the CREST Award for Communication and Context. I was very proud that the intense judging and hard work had paid off.

The Special Visitors and the CREST Award.

The Special Visitors and the CREST Award.

All too soon it was the end of Day Three, though not before the National Awards Ceremony. In a ceremony not dissimilar to the Oscars, one by one the winners walked up on stage to proudly receive their awards, accompanied of course by pounding music, lights, cameras and applause. Everyone had a lot to be proud of, not just those who had won prizes, but equally those who had come so far as to reach the finals of a National competition. There were great ideas for the future of technology and science.

Photos on the red carpet before the National Awards Ceremony.

Photos on the red carpet before the National Awards Ceremony.

Queuing for the National Awards Ceremony.

Queuing for the National Awards Ceremony.

The National Awards Ceremony.

The National Awards Ceremony.

It is an experience I won’t forget, not least winning a prize myself. I must thank the Nuffield Foundation, CREST and NSEC and, of course, my Nuffield supervisor, Dr Frank Schubert. Carrying out the research and competing in NSEC has been a great experience and I would recommend it to any other young scientists who are looking for ways to showcase and share their own and other scientists’ ideas and talents.

Good luck!NSEC

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