New competition asks young people to explore solutions for global health and development issues


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Children from Bow School in East London took part in a pilot activity as part of the Youth Grand Challenges

The British Science Association (BSA) has announced a new extra-curricular initiative for students in the UK: the Youth Grand Challenges.

Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Youth Grand Challenges calls on students aged 11–19 to come up with innovative solutions that have the potential to change the world, and will reward the best projects from young people created in response.

Students will explore topics aligned with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Grand Challenges – unsolved scientific challenges that could lead to significant advances in terms of preventing, treating and curing diseases prevalent in developing countries.

Katherine Mathieson, chief executive of the BSA, said: ‘I think it is so important to involve people at a young age in scientific endeavour and innovation not just to spark their imaginations but also to allow them a chance to see the role they can and will play in the future.’

The new education initiative links with the BSA’s highly successful education programme, the CREST awards, which has been recognising young people’s project work in science, technology, engineering and maths for over 30 years.

All students who participate in the Youth Grand Challenges will receive recognition, including a CREST award at the appropriate level. They will also be entered into the national competition, where they will have the chance to compete for prizes worth up to £10,000.

Bill Gates announced the launch of the Youth Grand Challenges on ITV’s This Morning, where he spoke about the importance of including more young people in cutting-edge research. He explained that today’s students are the scientific and technological leaders of tomorrow and harnessing their insights on these important global issues is vital when looking for fresh innovation and discovery.

This year’s theme for the Youth Grand Challenges is on infectious diseases, and students are encouraged to undertake project work on that overarching theme, such as investigating mosquito-borne diseases, identifying ways of improving sanitation in developing countries, or designing better transportation devices for delicate medicines such as vaccines.


© Doug Peters/PA Wire

 James Logan, associate professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and presenter on Channel 4's Embarrassing Bodies, is an ambassador and VIP Judge for the Youth Grand Challenges. Speaking ahead of the launch, he said: ‘It’s fantastic to be able to challenge students to use their skills, passions and interests to explore real-life topics that are at the forefront of research and development – rather than them seeing science as just another school subject.

 ‘I really enjoy working with young people on my own research, not just because of their enthusiasm for the science, but also because they ask the questions I never think of!’

The entries to the competition will be judged by a panel of expert and celebrity judges, including James Logan and young entrepreneur and founder at Germinaid, Ciara Judge. The winning students will receive a money-can’t-buy prize, such as an international field trip to a laboratory in a developing country or a visit to their school from a renowned scientist working on global health issues. The winners will be announced in December 2017.

The British Science Association will provide multiple teaching resources and guides for educators, themes and ideas to inspire young people’s choices for their projects and support and advice for students partaking in the competition.

Teachers, club leaders and other educators can register for the initiative and find out more on the Youth Grand Challenges website.