Wednesday 10th September 2008 by C. Freeman
Student Oliver Hawkes spent his summer programming robots and writing training material to be used by first year university graduates. Oliver applied for a Nuffield Bursary which provides opportunities for Year 12 students to participate in scientific research projects during their summer breaks.
Oliver was assigned a place at the University of Northampton. He worked with Dr Scott Turner in the Applied Science computer department for four weeks developing the use of problem-solving robots. As well as constructing robots from Lego Technic Oliver also had to programme them for different tasks using Java. He said: 'I only really took it up when I did my project so I had a crash course in learning some basic Java and then just went from there.'
One of the tasks Oliver worked on was programming a bomb disposal robot. He said: 'It's basically just moving an object into a containment area and developing tasks that the University already had. I added different levels so there are five levels of progressive difficulty to work through.' He had to document his work which then formed the basis of a 20-page student pack so students from Year 10 up to first year University undergraduates could replicate the process. Oliver also contributed to the accompanying teacher's pack as well.
Schools can nominate up to two students per year for the Nuffield Bursary, and applicants are then interviewed and matched up with the placement most suitable for their interests and skills. Students are paid £75 a week for their assignment which can last between four and six weeks. There were five Nuffield Bursaries awarded in Northamptonshire this year with other students taking up placements at the University and Northampton General Hospital. Oliver's work will earn him the CREST Gold Award from assessors, Stemnet, which encourages students to pursue these areas as a career.
Oliver, who is studying A levels in Chemistry, Maths and Physics is hoping to study mechanical engineering before pursuing a career in fuel and energy engineering. He said. 'I'd definitely recommend that other students to apply for the Bursary. I learned new skills and worked through difficulties and it also gave me experience working with lecturers. It's definitely a very valuable experience and looks very good on University applications as well.'