Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

UK's top young scientists named

By Victoria Gill
Science reporter, BBC News

Peter Hatfield and Chris Jeffries
Scientists who will shape the future: Peter Hatfield (left) and Chris Jefferies

A national competition has named Britain's best young scientists.

Peter Hatfield from Kent won the Young Scientist of the Year title, and Chris Jefferies from Worcestershire was named Young Technologist of the Year.

The boys, both 17, were selected from 200 youngsters in the first national science competition for teenagers.

Peter impressed the judges with his design for a cosmic ray detector, while Chris's team's winning design detects damage to kit used to test gearboxes.

Peter led a young team that built its device by adapting technology already being used in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland.

"Inside the LHC, there are high energy particle detectors, and we thought these would be ideal to detect cosmic rays in space."

His miniature device has been chosen to fly aboard a satellite that will be launched into orbit in 2010.

"I was really pleased to win," he told BBC News. "I'm looking forward to representing science for young people."

'Raw enthusiasm'

Chris said the news of his victory was "still sinking in". His team's winning design was a detector that prevents damage to the delicate equipment used in the testing of gearboxes.

Group of young scientists
200 teenagers battled it out during a two-day competition

The 200 entrants were whittled down to six finalists, each of whom had to face a Dragon's Den-style grilling from a panel of five expert judges.

Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at Oxford and Warwick universities, was one of the judges.

He said the standard of the science from the young students was "very impressive".

"What's really striking is the raw enthusiasm of these young people about what they're doing. That transcends the practical applications of their projects."

Professor Blakemore added that the judges had been looking for winners who could be "young ambassadors for science".

Peter has already taken on this new role, and is running a project in Kent to allow other children to take part in his experiment from the comfort of their school laboratories.

"Each school has a mini cosmic ray detector, which is connected to our device on the satellite," he explained.

Shaping the future

The competition, devised by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, set out to raise the profile of science and engineering in the UK.

It was part of the Big Bang Fair, a two-day event organised by the British Science Association, and dedicated to young scientists and engineers.

I want to bust the myth that science is boring and geeky. It's exciting, fascinating and shapes all our lives
Lord Drayson
Minister for Science and Innovation

Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, said that the contest was an important part of the government drive to raise the profile of science and engineering.

"We have a very talented next generation. An event like this makes them realise they're not in the minority because they're interested in science," he explained.

"I really want to bust the myth that science is boring and geeky - it is far from it. It's exciting, fascinating and shapes all our lives."

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