A Highland schoolgirl has won a prestigious award for research work carried out during her summer holidays. The head girl at Dingwall Academy, 17-year-old Rachel Earith, was awarded a Nuffield Foundation science bursary on a scheme that enables pupils to work on real-life research projects.
The Nuffield Foundation offers up to 1,000 science bursaries a year, for pupils to work alongside practising scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. Projects take place during the summer holidays, giving the youngsters an insight into the world of scientific research and development.
"My biology teacher mentioned it and I thought it was worth learning a few more skills over the summer," says the sixth-year pupil, who went on to win a Gold Crest Award from the British Science Association for her work.
Crest is a project-based awards scheme for the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). It can link into work experience placements, after-school clubs or linked schemes where pupils carry out research, design or creative work on STEM-related projects.
Rachel joined the team at the Centre for Rural Health in Inverness last summer, working on the Mime project - Managing Information in Medical Emergencies. The project is investigating how new health monitoring technology could help those responding to medical emergencies in remote and rural areas.
Rachel's role was to investigate the nature of road traffic casualties in remote parts of the country, using literature review and informal interviews with health professionals. "They wanted to know how long the ambulance takes to get there and how long it takes to get to hospital to see how much time they have got. The work of the paramedics can really influence the fate of the casualty," Rachel explains.
The project is a partnership between the University of Aberdeen and UHI Millennium Institute, funded by the UK Research Council. It aims to use technology to help paramedics give vital information about a casualty's condition to doctors as quickly as possible after an accident.
"Then when they get back to the hospital, that can all be printed off and handed straight to the surgeon or doctor, so then they already have an idea of the state the victim is in," Rachel says.
"They were interested in who was most commonly involved in the accidents, what type of roads they were on and the areas of the body most commonly injured," says Rachel, who plans to study dentistry.
Young men between 17 and 20 years old were most often involved in collisions, she says. "Road accidents were a lot more common in summer for young boys who had just passed their test."
She also compared the speed of response with emergencies on different types of roads and the types of injuries sustained.
"Head injuries or abdomen injuries were the most common. I think that is probably from hitting the wheel or from seat belts. Seat belts can give you quite bad injuries, but obviously if you were not wearing one you would be a lot worse off."
Her work has brought home to Rachel how vulnerable new young drivers and their passengers are. "We looked at passengers and quite often there would be the young driver and there would be young passengers in the car as well.
"A lot of my friends are just passing their test. I know when I pass my test, I won't drive stupidly. It was a shock, because all my friends are in that age group - the most common group who are dying on the roads, so it is a bit worrying."
The head at Dingwall Academy, Graham MacKenzie, says the school is proud of Rachel's success. "It was a sensational achievement and we are delighted for the reflected glory it brings on the school. She is such a lovely girl, such a very talented girl and she is also our head girl, so really we were very pleased with her. She deserves it because she puts in an awful lot of hard work."
`We were delighted with her efforts'
The researchers who Rachel Earith worked with have developed a software prototype, which could help paramedics who are first on the scene at road traffic accidents. The team is working on refinements to their product and praised Rachel's contribution.
Alasdair Mort, a healthcare research fellow from the Centre for Rural Health in Inverness, supervised Rachel's work and described the background to their project.
"We aim to develop technology that can help the first person on-scene at rural medical emergencies - we chose to focus upon road traffic collisions, owing to their rural prevalence and the challenges associated with medical management.
"Technology developed might include the automatic generation of handover summaries, or even decision support. We are currently one year in out of the three-year initiative."
Dr Mort added: "We have produced a prototype piece of software, which we aim to refine as we speak to more people."
Rachel conducted several informal interviews with a wide variety of healthcare professionals, including accident and emergency physicians, paramedics and GPs. She then collated her data with data from the literature. "Rachel did an excellent job," says Dr Mort, "and we were delighted that her efforts were recognised in the Gold Crest Award."