Ultimate STEM Challenge and Science Fair at the Science Museum By Roger Highfield

Roger Highfield gives his thoughts on the Ultimate STEM Challenge and Science Fair at the Science Museum today.

In these days of extraordinary political uncertainty, of one thing I am certain: we will always need more young people to help solve the problems of tomorrow. Inspiring future scientists and engineers is at the core of what the five museums in the Science Museum Group do and that is why it has been such a thrill to help judge this year’s bp Ultimate STEM Challenge.

The challenge was for students aged between 11-14 to come up with an innovative design solution for an everyday problem. Today, from the original entry of more than 250 teams, 11 teams from ten secondary schools will present their projects and prototype in the Illuminate event space in the Science Museum as part of the challenge’s Science Fair.

The winning team will get a prize of £1,000 for their school in recognition of their achievements. In addition to the overall winner, two highly commended awards will also be given along with one for the best stand at the Science Fair. All the finalist teams will receive Science Museum goodies and a bronze CREST award.

It will be a huge honour to welcome all the budding scientists, engineers, mathematicians and innovators to the museum. I've been really impressed by the projects and prototypes and I know it is going to be difficult to select an overall winner.

Gill Collinson, Head of Centre & Programmes at STEM Learning, which supports teachers, said there were a record number of entries this year and it was a difficult task to select the 11 finalists. Design concepts that impressed the judges during the semi-finals include a range of solutions such as a vibrating hearing aid insert, zero waste teabags, a drainpipe generator and a recycling product to help reduce global warming.

Here are the finalists that will be presented today in the museum - very many congratulations and the very best of luck to all of them:


Armadillo – Colyton Grammar School, Colyton, Devon

An automatic tuner that tunes flutes while musicians play saving time for students.


B H Air – Bredon Hill Academy, School, Evesham, Worcs

A wearable device that includes a watch, pedometer, heart rate monitor and inhaler that allows asthma sufferers to never be without the means to relieve an asthma attack.


Drainpipe Generator - Wilmslow High School, Wilmslow, Cheshire

The drainpipe generator is just what it says it is, a generator in a drainpipe that will fit into any drainpipe on any building as the design is scalable.


Eco Life – Kingsbury High School, Kingsbury, London

A recycling invention that will make it easy for households to separate their recycling. The Eco-life invention uses an infrared scanner that can identify different materials and sort them. 


Gravity Generator – Colyton Grammar School, Colyton, Devon

An efficient electric generator which requires minimal resource so it can be an aid to people living in low income countries to charge all batteries for any use.


H.I.D.S – Students from Walton Priory Middle School, Stone, Derbyshire

A hearing aid which helps people with hearing impairments enjoy themselves in crowded places such a school disco or a wedding. Hearing aids normally amplify all noise so it is hard to hear the music. H.I.D.S have invented a vibrating insert for a shoe which will help to solve this problem.


Marianca and Kirsten – Wimbledon High School, Wimbledon, London

No waste teabags created with tea leaves and a vegan gelling agent. The disposable teapods will cut down on waste and plastic as teabags contain a plastic lining.


SAS – Tiffin School, Kingston, Surrey 

An enhanced landfill mining scheme that sees current landfill reclaimed and recovers valuable recyclable materials and a ‘new age landfill.’


SJ Tooth Putty – Woodford Schools for Girls, Redbridge, Essex

An improved tooth guard system using Alginate which will improve the use of mouthguards at home.


Sopya – Blundells School, Tiverton, Devon

A measuring device for coffee machines that measures cups before pouring, cutting down on plastic pollution and one use cups.


The Jeffs – Richard Hale School, Hertford, Herts

A handheld ‘torch glove’ that solves the impracticality of carrying a bulky hand-held torch and a glove. This torch glove not only gives warmth but also projects LED light.  


It's inspiring to see so many young people fired up by the challenge, since our future economy, quality of life and prosperity are so dependent on innovation. Overall, we have seen a 10% decrease in science subjects for GCSE between 2012 and 2017 and we need to do more with projects like this to engage young people.

In our five museums, we are doing our best to help with our Academy in London and Manchester, aimed at teachers, and efforts aimed at the 600,000 children who visit our museums in school groups annually. 

And there is bp’s Ultimate STEM challenge. As Ian Duffy, Head of UK Communications & Community Development for bp, told me, STEM education should be “open to all students no matter their gender or postcode - our aim is to spread science across the nation encouraging all types of young people to get involved with STEM.”

Hear, hear!

Roger Highfield is the Science Director of the Science Museum Group, member of the Medical Research Council, and a Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford and UCL. 


WEB: http://www.rogerhighfield.com/