Imperial helps school students triumph in global contest
24 May 2012
Two school students mentored at Imperial have gone on to gold medal glory at an international science competition.
A-level students Tania Mahmood and Zaynab Tahir triumphed at the International Sustainable World (Energy, Engineering & Environment) Project Olympiad (I-SWEEEP) in Houston, Texas, earlier this month for their project looking at the optimum conditions required to maximize the growth of algae, which can be used to produce a biofuel.
The school students were among a handful of entries given gold medals, out of 440 projects from 68 different countries taking part in the competition, which aims to get school students excited about research and its power to advance sustainability.
Cheering Tania and Zaynab on during the awards were Alan West, Director of Imperial’s Reach Out Lab, Dr Melanie Bottrill from the Outreach Office and Daniel Beatrup from the Department of Chemistry, who all supported the sixth formers with their project.
“I could not believe that we had won a gold medal. We were extremely shocked, though extremely excited, when our names were called out. Before the award was announced we both thought that it was impossible to win a gold medal in such a large international science competition, where the standards of the other projects were so high.”
The sixth form students, from Norbury Manor Business and Enterprise College and Sir George Monoux College, began their journey to success when they were awarded Nuffield Bursaries last summer. The bursaries, coordinated by the education activities company Exscitec on behalf of the College, give A-level students the opportunity to undertake a research project over the summer, in preparation for life at university.
This culminated in a poster fair held at Imperial in October 2011. A panel of Imperial academics singled out the algae project together with Mansi Patel’s work looking at bees’ foraging patterns as the standout projects at the Fair, with their entries going forward to represent the UK in I-SWEEEP. The three school students then met regularly with Alan, Melanie and Dan, who mentored them through preparations for I-SWEEEP, giving the students an insight into research presentation skills at university level and tips on their posters.
At the I-SWEEEP awards ceremony Mansi’s bee project earned an honorable mention. Outreach’s Dr Melanie Bottrill said the wait was nerve wracking: “It was a long ceremony and there was a lot to sit through before we heard the results. I think I was as tense as the students, particularly having seen how much work they put into their projects. We’re very proud of the three of them.”
The trip to Houston was supported by Exscitec, while the College’s International Office provided funding for the College mentors to accompany the students and promote the College during the competition.
I-SWEEEP is organized by the Texas based education organization the Cosmos Foundation.
— John-Paul Jones, Communications and Development