Schoolgirl's invention takes off with Uni's support

Our University has brought to life a Hartlepool schoolgirl’s winning design as part of a national engineering competition.

The Leaders Award “If you were an engineer, what would you do?” competition, is supported by Facebook, Network Rail and Gatwick Airport, with our University in North East regional arm of the competition.

Grace, a Year 4 pupil at Barnard Grove School when she designed the Liquid Detector, which is a pet bowl for visually impaired users to prevent overfilling of the bowl with water, or in the case of Guide Dogs, to alert when the owner when a bowl needs filling up.

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Grace’s prototype is now being showcased for three weeks alongside 11 other inspirational UK pupils’ inventions, as part of an exhibition at Gatwick Airport South Terminal.

The exhibition, which is also online, aims to invite people to vote for their favourite invention, and the public is being encouraged to support Grace’s design by voting online at

The exhibition also features a ‘Wall of Fame 19’ for Gatwick’s 125,000 daily visitors to vote for their favourite creation. The prototypes on display include those built by engineering students and technicians from the University of Sunderland and were winning or shortlisted entries from the ‘If you were an engineer, what would you do?’ regional competition from the North East.

The competition promotes engineering to young people and allows them to find the ‘engineer within’ by designing solutions to problems they have identified. Nationally the competition has attracted over 49,000 entries this year alone. 51% percent of entries were from female pupils.

Supported locally by the University of Sunderland, “If you were an engineer, what would you do?” competition, known as the Leaders Award is run by Primary Engineer and links both primary and secondary schools across the North East with engineering professionals from across the sectors.

The competition celebrates the ingenuity of pupils from three to 19 years of age and all entries are graded by engineering professionals with winning designs selected regionally by university and industry-led judging panels.

Dave Knapton, Principal Lecturer and the Engineering Academic Team Leader within the Faculty of Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing. said: “Engineering is very much part of the culture and heritage here in the North East, it is therefore no surprise the high levels of engagement from schools and companies resulting in the highest number of entries from all the regions. As a university we are very pleased to be working with Primary Engineering to promote the Leaders Award and jointly share the message that Engineering offers amazing professional career opportunities which young people should really consider.

“It is so heartening to see the absolutely fantastic ideas from the young people focused firmly on solving real-world problems to improve society. The most difficult part is choosing which idea we will prototype for unveiling at next year’s awards event. This process starts now with students working alongside the young inventors and academic staff to bring their ideas off the sketch pad and into a working prototype. We try and mimic an industrial design and develop process wherever possible which is valuable experience for all involved.”

The Gatwick Airport exhibition is a celebration of the designs which have been brought to life by universities throughout the five years the competition has been running and demonstrates Primary Engineer’s commitment to provide young people from all backgrounds with opportunities to acquire the skills they need for a rewarding career in engineering, science and technology. The Government says that over 200,000 new engineers are required per year to meet the demands of modern society.

Dr Susan Scurlock, MBE, founder of Primary Engineer said: “This exhibition at one of the most important travel hubs in the UK is testament to the commitment of commercial organisations, schools and universities who are all doing their bit to help pupils tap into their inner engineer. Each year I am astounded by the designs by pupils, some as young as three, as they identify problems to solve which are important to them and in turn inspire engineers to build their solutions. We started by asking engineers to inspire children and have found that children inspire engineers. Perfect!”

To vote

To enter the competition schools can visit

About Primary Engineer

• Primary Engineer is a not for profit educational organisation. Its approach brings engineering and engineers into primary and secondary classrooms and curricula. Inspiring children, pupils and teachers through continued professional development, whole class projects, and the Leaders Award “If you were an engineer, what would you do?” competition.

• Primary Engineer engaged over 4,000 teachers, 60,000 children and 1,500 engineers in 2018

• Primary Engineer® includes Early Years Engineer® for pre-school, Primary Engineer® with a range of teacher training courses across Primary School phases, Secondary Engineer® and most recently STATWARS® a competition to develop data skills.

• “If you were an engineer what would you do?” is a UK-wide annual competition open to 3-19 year-olds which asks them to interview engineers to design a solution to a problem that they have identified.

  • In the 2018-19 academic year over 49,000 pupils across the UK entered the competition.
  • The competition is addressing diversity with a 51% female participation. 58% of last year’s winning entries were from female pupils.
  • Across the UK, pupil designs are selected and made by university partners - bringing their inventions to life. These are then unveiled at awards events and public exhibitions across the country.
  • The Institutions of Primary and Secondary Engineers are the foundations on which to challenge the widening engineering skills-gap and improve school pupils’ career pathways and employability through close collaboration with pupils, educators, industry, the STEM community, and parents.
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