Scarecrows redundant?

7th September 2001 at 01:00
Carolyn O'Grady describes a school-industry project in Wales

Residents in Wrexham have an annoying problem: steel support towers carrying high voltage overhead lines were, in one area, attracting huge numbers of birds. The birds make a lot of noise and fowl the properties below. However, it is an annoyance they may no longer have to put up with, thanks to a group of four 16 and 17-year-old students at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd, a Wrexham Welsh medium comprehensive. As part of a scheme that aims to encourage more bright young people to take up engineering, the team has invented a device that seems to have cracked the problems.

The scheme is Engineering Education Scheme Wales (www.eesw.org.uk). It gives Year 12 students hands-on experience of engineering with a local company, and is supported by most of the leading companies in Wales.

Persuading the birds to perch elsewhere was tricky. Loud noises scare birds but are unacceptable in a residential area; ultrasonic sounds have a distressing effect on pet dogs and cats; and scarecrows in many guises were impractical. Working with an engineer from the electricity company MANWEB earlier this year, the team came up with a pneumatic device which, placed on top of the pylon, gives it a little shake every now and again. The birds leave and, hopefully, will eventually decide that this is not a suitable resting place and depart permanently.

The idea is simple and cheap: the team was given a budget of pound;2,000 but its gadget cost only pound;500.

The design won the school pound;500 and future support from the Royal Academy of Engineering (parent body of EESW). Huw Hall Williams, head of design and technology at the school, says it was also the culmination of a new experience for them. "For the first time they were given a real-life problem which came from outside and wasn't set by teachers. There were also real life deadlines, meaningful meetings and they had to persuade MANWEB that it was worth the cost of producing their idea at a presentation."

MANWEB is now trying the idea out and is keen to develop the device further if it works.

Also taking part in the scheme was Amman Valley Comprehensive School in Carmarthenshire. To help a local metals company find a more efficient way of recycling waste metal, known as swarf, the school team researched different types of recycling machines, mainly on the internet. They came up with an appropriate system and worked out how much money would be gained by using it: a tidy pound;1,100 per ton of swarf, it was projected.

Head of physics, Roger Thomas, says: "They got an insight into a real engineering problem, and they worked as a team with different strengths emerging, with everyone having a part to play regardless of how academic they were."

They gave a visual and aural presentation to a group of engineers, which honed their presentation skills and set up a stand to promote their ideas, including a PowerPoint presentation. In fact a whole range of skills which would stand them in good stead as engineers of the future.

* Engineering Education Scheme Wales contact Rachel Morgan, administration manager, tel: 01600 750225.

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