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Bright sparks light up awards

John Eggleston commends the achievement of this year's young electronic designers. Now in their 11th year, the Young Electronic Designer Awards have established a permanent and pivotal place in the plethora of school awards which aim to enhance young people's initiative, enterprise and imagination. They are focused tightly on motivation in arguably the most difficult area of national curriculum technology - electronic design and manufacture.

At this year's finals, held in the Flight Gallery of the Science Museum on April 3, 18 final entries took off to even greater heights to the plaudits of discerning tech-nologists, designers and educationists under the patronage of the Duke of York.

Two of the key judging criteria are the enhancement of the quality of life and commercial viability; others include design quality, reliability and safety. The winners showed how effectively schools and their students can target these criteria.

The Mercury Award for the most socially aware project went to Marc Lein from Merchant Taylor's School for a sophisticated, low-cost aid to enable quadriplegics to use a personal computer with near normal capability.

The Texas Instruments prize for the most commercially viable product went to Christopher Caulkin of Radley College. He designed a brilliantly simple microcontroller-based sunbathing warning device which could become cheap enough to affix to every sun-screen product sold and thereby dramatically reduce the incidence of sun cancers.

Gemma Wicks of Bancroft's School won the Duke of York Award for creative technology for an equally simple dashboard display alerting drivers to the stopping distances of their vehicles at all speeds.

The first junior prize went to Eileen Parkes, Gayle Dalton and Natalie Smith of Ballyclare High School for an electronic warming device to unfreeze windscreen washer nozzles, controlled by a simple temperature sensor.

Selected from hundreds of entries from most parts of the United Kingdom, the candidates showed once again that there is no shortage of young people with ideas and imagination, care and concern who also have the enthusiasm to develop, promote and enjoy their efforts. Equally importantly, the awards show that there are committed teachers who regularly take their pupils far beyond basic requirements of the national curriculum and degree studies.

Yet this year several of the most successful schools and colleges of previous years failed to enter: limited resources, larger classes and loaded timetables were to blame. Still others, on the brink of entry, felt denied of sufficient specialist in-service training.

Yet the Young Electronic Designer Awards remain a runaway success. The transparent ingredients include a focus on a key aspect of modern technology; demanding and challenging tasks; valuable rewards and status for both candidates and schools. Many previous entrants now enjoy successful electronic careers and a string of previous projects are now in commercial production.

A further advantage is the support of the committed and highly altruistic sponsors, Texas Instruments and Mercury Communications, joined recently by the Institute of Electrical Engineers. There is also an effective administration team which works through the year to service the competition.

The prospects are attractive: growing United Kingdom support as schools' confidence grows; planned expansion to a European- wide competition and a parallel American scheme pencilled in for the future. But, above all, the scheme is ensuring that electronics is seen not only as a central part of the technology curriculum but also one that is feasible and rewarding to schools and their teachers.

Young Electronic Designer Awards Trust, 24 London road, Horsham, West Sussex RH12 1AY. Tel: 01403 211048 Professor John Eggleston chairs the judges of the Young Electronic Designer Award Scheme.

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