Dr. Mark Read

Research Fellow, Charles Perkins Centre, The University of Sydney
Research Gate
My Research Gate

Judge for a day

A post later than the event… I had the pleasure of being a judge for the 11th Rotary Technology Tournament. It was covered by the York Press here (with pictures, where the one in this post was taken from). Teams of kids from various schools competed in the day long event to use wood, string, glue, card and a variety of other basic materials to design and build a self-propelled trolley that could ascend a ramp. The trolleys had to use a 200g weight and gravity as their sole methods of propulsion, so pulley systems were the obvious means to accomplish this. I was stunned by the creativity of the children, and the range of designs they came up with. Some were very good at thinking outside of the box, the judges were asked a lot of questions on the edge of what was allowed and what was not (given the remit). In the end only 2 of the 8 teams in the senior category I was judging were able to move at all, but those that did were very impressive. Most of the designs were sound in principle, but reducing friction in the bearings and pulleys was absolutely essential else the weight could not propel the vehicle.

It was a fantastic day, and I really enjoyed myself – I think the competitors did too. It was nice to get some different perspective: my day job entails working at the cutting edge of a very specific simulation-based field, whereas this experience had me to interact with an age group I never really see and observe a nuts and bolts (well, staples and string) real-world engineering problem being solved in just a few hours. I would definitely do this again, and I recommend all academics get out their offices for this sort of event once in a while!

Profiled by RCUK

“Excellence with Impact” is the banner spanning the top of RCUK’s new website. At least a year after the EPSRC funded NOISE public engagement initiative ended, RCUK has taken the baton in inspiring the next generation into research careers. My profile at NOISE has been lifted and integrated into this new resource. The original profile at NOISE seemed, upon second reading several years later, very “young” – some maturation as a researcher has clearly taken place over the course of my PhD.

I think inspiring the next generation into adopting exciting research careers is amicable. I believe that the innovations and advancements made in research enhance quality of life and the economy, and I suspect I am not alone in this view: I keep reading stories of how Asian and Middle Eastern countries are pouring money into their universities. Jon Timmis (my PhD supervisor) had a large collection of PhD students arrive from Malaysia for their training; Malaysia wants to up its game. It is disheartening to read stories that the UK does not seem to appreciate this link: the UK government is instead freezing if not cutting the research budget, and loading students with phenomenal quantities of debt in exchange for their degrees. I have heard (informally) that the government’s squeeze on visas is also reducing the number of foreign students that can acquire UK university places; these students represent a substantial income to UK universities. My dear old Dad has said words to the effect that “you can’t become more competitive and more successful by cutting innovation and research” (also called shooting the golden goose?). Perhaps I, and others like me, had best start thinking about warmer climates, azure oceans and sandy beaches under foot. Sounds dreadful… could this be my new office?

So, coming full loop. Inspiring the next generation of researchers is fantastic, lets hope we also succeed in providing them with opportunities to engage in research once they come of age!