Award-winning prototypes bring young engineers’ ideas to life

Medal winners at Primary Engineer's awards ceremony at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in London
Medal winners at Primary Engineer's awards ceremony at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in London

A team from the School have won two Primary Engineer MacRobert Medals for prototypes they developed for a nationwide competition to inspire young people about engineering.

The prototypes were created by School technicians Steven Gourlay, Iain Gold, Alasdair Christie and Mark Mason, and former School Liaison Officer Dr Andrew Firth with support from Outreach Officer Dr Katie Grant, for competitions run by Primary Engineer – an educational not-for-profit which partners with our School to engage young people and their teachers with engineering. 

The MacRobert Medals are presented annually to celebrate the innovation, public engagement, and industry links of university teams who have built pupils’ ideas for Primary Engineer’s ‘If you were an engineer, what would you do?’ Leaders Award. 

The Leaders Award challenges children of all ages in schools across the UK to come up with engineering ideas to solve real-world problems, with support and inspiration from experienced engineers including researchers from our School. 

Shimmy shimmy shower (Silver Medal) 

The first medal-winning prototype was the Shimmy, Shimmy Shower – based on a design created by primary 6 pupil Erin from Bankton Primary School in Livingston, for the Leaders Award 2022. 

Erin had identified a simple but common problem in her own household: her gran couldn’t reach the shower head after someone else had left it too high up. To solve this, Erin designed the Shimmy, Shimmy Shower – involving an adjustable shower head operated by a remote-controlled unit. 

Erin’s ingenious idea was shortlisted by our technical team, who then visited her and her teacher to involve them in the building and prototyping process, before presenting Erin and her family with a fully functioning prototype at an awards ceremony in the School in spring 2023.

Primary school pupil Erin with the prototype for her Shimmy Shimmy Shower invention.

Solar-powered train (Bronze Medal) 

The second medal-winning prototype was a solar powered train, conceived by Sean, a pupil from Linlithgow Primary School, who wanted to create a train powered by the sun for the Leaders Award 2021. 

To bring Sean’s idea to life, our technical team created a 3D scale model of a train integrating solar panels seamlessly into its roof section. During the prototyping process, the team increased the number of solar panels and capacitors to maximise the train’s energy yield and storage, to allow it to run for longer. 

The model was fitted with commercially available wheels and motors, enabling it to run continuously around a track when exposed to a light source.  

The train prototype was so successful that it is now used as part of Primary Engineer’s Rail Project and at outreach events and science festivals – providing a powerful visual aid to show children how sunlight can generate renewable power.

Primary school pupil Sean with the prototype for his solar-powered train.

Judging and awards  

Our team collected the medals at an awards ceremony at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in London on 7 November 2023, celebrating the collective achievements of those who have made a significant impact on engineering education. 

The judging panel featured leading lights from the engineering industry: Allan Cooke – High Value Marketing Catapult, Jon Stanton – CEO Weir Group, Dame Dawn Childs – CEO Pure Data Centers, Nike Folayan – Technical Director WSP and Phil Osborne – Chairman of the Royal Airforce Charitable Trust. 

Head of the School of Engineering, Professor Gareth Harrison said:  

“Receiving these medals from Primary Engineer and the MacRobert Trust is testament to the dedication and passion of our technical and outreach teams, and also showcases the huge potential of young minds, as seen in Erin’s and Sean’s remarkable inventions.   

 “We are proud to be part of initiatives like Primary Engineer, which connect children and young people with the world of engineering, and the MacRobert Medal serves as a reminder that fostering the spirit of engineering in the younger generation can lead to truly creative and original solutions that promise to make the world a better place.” 

Dr Susan Scurlock MBE, Founder and Chief Executive of Primary Engineer, spoke at the award ceremony and said: 

“The young people who entered the competition at the outset may not have known what engineering is, but now they know what engineering does - it helps people, saves the planet and makes the world a better place. The quality of the ideas and designs has completely blown us away this year, with it being an exceptionally tough job for the judges to decide the winners from our shortlisted prototypes, all of which have incredible potential to impact the real world.  

"What these inspiring school pupils, university students and engineers have shown us above all else is that 'If you were an engineer, what would you do?' is a question that has the potential to change more than we know!”

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