An 18-year-old who made a machine to multiply DNA in his bedroom won a top prize at Europe’s 25th young scientist award, and he plans to use the prize money to invest in his own laboratory.
‘I’m going to invest it back into the lab and into equipment and hopefully use that to do my science,’ said Fred Turner. The British teenager won one of three EUR 7 000 first prizes at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) in Prague, Czech Republic, for building a home-made polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine.
He decided to build the machine as he needed one for a lab he wanted to set up in his basement to pursue his interest in genetics, but could not afford the 3 000 GB pounds (EUR 3 600) price tag. ‘I thought maybe I could build my own to a much lower cost,’ he said after receiving the award on 24 September.
‘The atmosphere is amazing, so many young people and everyone is excited about science.’
Fred Turner, 18, 2013 EUCYS prize winner
The young geneticist learnt how to make the electronic circuits he needed on the Internet, and took many of the parts from old equipment. ‘A couple of cables and connectors were scavenged off old PCs, a couple of resistors and transistors were scavenged off an old VCR,’ he said.
His brother has red hair, and one of the first things he did with the machine was work out why it is different from his own brown colour. ‘It turns out it’s only a single letter difference (in the DNA) between red hair compared to my brown hair,’ he said.
Excited about science
The European Commission set up EUCYS in 1989 to bring talented young researchers from across Europe together, and encourage them to pursue careers in science.
‘The atmosphere is amazing, so many young people and everyone is excited about science, really friendly and talking to everyone else about their projects,’ said Turner, who wants to go on and run his own company in the field of synthetic biology.
Ciara Judge, 15, Emer Hickey, 15, Sophie Healy-Thow, 16, from Ireland also won a first prize for their work on seed germination.
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said: ‘It is particularly great to see the mix of curiosity-driven research and more applied projects.
‘We need more young people to take up STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) at school, and I especially want to encourage more young women to pursue careers in science and technology.’
The other two first prizes went to Ireland’s Ciara Judge, 15, Emer Hickey, 15, and Sophie Healy-Thow, 16, for their research showing a type of bacteria can improve the rate of crop germination, and 18-year-old Finn Perttu Pölönen for making a clock-like device with twelve keys on the face that helps students learn the names of notes, chords and scales.
The European Commission launched the EU Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) in 1989 in Brussels after the then European Commission President Jacques Delors decided to take over a Europe-wide science fair that Dutch electronics firm Royal Philips had been running since 1968.
The number of participants has increased every year since 1989 from 59 to 126 in 2013, with a peak in 2009 in Paris of 137 contestants. In total, 2 451 contestants have taken part and 633 prizes have been handed out.
To enter the contest, young researchers aged between 14 and 21 must have previously won a competition for young scientists in their own countries, making it one of the hardest science competitions for young people in the world.
The ability of certain fish to heal damage to their hearts could lead to new treatments for patients who have suffered heart attacks and may also help to unravel how the lifestyle of our parents and grandparents can affect our own heart health.
Recent advances are bringing cancer vaccines much closer to reality, giving patients another weapon in their arsenal of cancer treatments, according to Dr Madiha Derouazi, CEO of Amal Therapeutics and one of three winners of the 2020 EU Prize for Women Innovators.
Bats are in the limelight these days because they are rumoured to be the source of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the coronavirus pandemic. But that is just part of their story. Bats turn out to be miraculous creatures. Their ability to age without decrepitude or cancer, as well as fight off a multitude of infections, are giving us clues about how to do the same for ourselves.
Thanks to rapid computing developments in the last decade and the miniaturisation of electronic components, people can, for example, track their movements and monitor their health in real time by wearing tiny computers. Researchers are now looking at how best to power these devices by turning to the user’s own body heat and working with garments, polka dots and know-how from the textile industry.
Bats stave off infections and ageing. What could humans learn from these abilities?
Researchers are harnessing the thermoelectric effect.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.