Chris Jefferies was the first UK Young Technologist of the Year (now called UK Young Engineer of the Year) in 2009. Here he tells us some of the opportunities that winning his prize has given him:

"Competing in the National Science Competition in 2009 and winning the title Young Technologist of the Year has given so many more opportunities than I would otherwise have had.

The 3 days of the Competition were some of the most gruelling, yet invigorating, days of my life and were a thorough enjoyment – I was able to present my project to hundreds and hundreds of people. Then there was being called through as a finalist. The other finalists and I were given the chance to see inside 10 Downing Street, meet the Minister for Science, and even catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister as he returned from a visit to the U.S.
But by far, my fondest memory of the event was being able to see how many other people take pleasure in science and engineering – an experience which has been repeated over the years with each subsequent Big Bang Fair. Especially as they have become increasingly larger throughout the past few years.

In all the fairs following the one I competed in, I have come back to help with the running of the event. As a previous winner I was able to go to various meals and functions and get backstage on some of the live shows. I was also introduced to the celebrity judges each year. Through these meetings I was able to make new contacts. Among these are the Bang Goes the Theory cast, Dallas Campbell, Liz Bonnin and Jem Stansfield. At the 2011 Big Bang Fair after seeing there live show I was able to use my title to be able to go backstage to the green room and talk with the trio. With Shaun Brown, Tom Hearing, and a previous Young Engineer for Britain Ruth Amos, we provided the basis for a visualisation the team needed to develop for their broadcast on the Fukushima tsunami.

However my most notable contact was with the celebrity judge, University of Surrey theoretical physicist, and TV/radio presenter, Professor Jim Al-Khalili. Again during the 2011 Fair, I got the chance to talk to the judges and be tongue-tied as I met the BBC’s science TV man of the moment Brian Cox. However it was whilst talking to Jim about his current work where I dared to ask him about the possibility of a research/shadowing placement with him during the summer. After a few moments of contemplation, he replied “I am busy filming for most of the summer, but e-mail me and we’ll see what happens.” Such words were music to my ears. I made sure to send him that e-mail, and my gamble paid off because from 22nd August to 30th September I was indeed getting up bright and early to get into Surrey University to:

  • Work on quantum mechanics role in DNA mutations
  • Be Jim’s shadow whilst he was in London recording for his Horizon episode on Fukushima and for his BBC Radio 4 show The Life Scientific.
  • Accompany Jim to the British Science Festival in Bradford where I then met even more people.

As well as the cash prize for winning I also got the wonderful opportunity to go to the NASA stations in Florida and Texas over two weeks. This was a wonderful trip alongside Peter Hatfield where I had the chance to meet with current astronauts and engineers as well as the engineers and directors that helped take humans off the blue green globe we call home and transport us through 384,000 km of beautiful, serene, empty space to the Moon and back again.

So if anyone asks me after my physics degree at Warwick University what has given me all the wonderful opportunities I have been involved in and I believe a great deal of the ones in my future, I would not need a moment’s hesitation to tell them “The National Science Competition and the Big Bang Fair, without a doubt.”"