University student reaches finals of national science and engineering awards.

Posted on 4th April 2017

A Mechanical Engineering student at the University of Chester has beaten strong competition from other students across the country to become a finalist at the prestigious Telegraph STEM Awards 2017.

Maisie Snowdon.
Maisie Snowdon.
Maisie has some fantastic ideas and and we believe her product is ground-breaking and could change the face of falconry. We look forward to seeing how she progresses and wish her the very best of luck in the competition.
Tommy McNally, Cathedral Falconer at Chester Cathedral Falconry and Nature Gardens.

Maisie Snowdon, 21, from Great Ayton in North Yorkshire, who is in her third year of study, has already impressed the judges of the competition with her ‘well thought out idea and out of the box thinking.’ Maisie’s idea was inspired by the falconers at Chester Cathedral Falconry and the present poor battery life of the tracking devices used to monitor the birds of prey. 

Now in its fourth year, the Telegraph STEM awards encourage the most talented and ambitious UK science, technology, engineering and mathematics undergraduates to push themselves beyond their degree syllabuses, and impress some of the biggest names in the industry. Entrants have the chance to win a £25,000 cash prize, plus a bespoke mentoring programme. 

Dr Paul Folan, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said: “Maisie's achievement in reaching the final of the Telegraph STEM Awards 2017 is fantastic news for the Department. It highlights our hands-on approach, helping students to achieve their full potential, and allows us to showcase the broad range of modern engineering skills we offer in our degrees that are in demand by cutting-edge industries.” 

Maisie submitted her dissertation project, which looked at harvesting the energy used by a falcon in flight. She has been researching the use of  a piezoelectric energy harvester on a device that the Cathedral falconry use to track their falcons. Piezoelectricity is the effect of certain solid materials to generate electric charge when subjected to mechanical stress. A simple circuit which included the piezoelectric element and a super capacitor was set up on the bird. (The super capacitor was important to make sure the system was small and light enough.) When the piezoelectric material is flexed (by the bird), it creates a small electric charge that can be stored in the super capacitor. 

Maisie said: “I wanted to see if it was possible to harvest energy from the birds’ movement while flying. The falconry at the Cathedral kindly lent me one of its radio transmitters to use in my experiments. I also worked with one particular Gyrfalcon – ‘Buck’ - chosen due to his flight patterns, because he is a cliff bird. I attended a show where they flew Buck, so that I could record his flight with the existing tracker and estimate the frequency and amplitude of his tail movements for energy harvesting.” 

Tommy McNally, Cathedral Falconer at Chester Cathedral Falconry and Nature Gardens, said: “We are delighted to have worked closely with Maisie on developing a new technology related to bird tracking. Maisie has some fantastic ideas and and we believe her product is ground-breaking and could change the face of falconry. We look forward to seeing how she progresses and wish her the very best of luck in the competition.” 

In order to become a finalist, Maisie had to submit a 10 slide presentation about her idea within the Energy Harvesting category. Maisie was shortlisted from 20 other candidates and invited along with four others to London to present their ideas to two judges from Semta (the Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance, a not-for-profit organisation responsible for engineering skills for the future of the UK’s most advanced sectors). 

Professor Nick Avis, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Provost in the Faculty of Science and Engineering, said: “Maisie is an outstanding example of the industry orientated engineers we nurture here at the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Thornton Science Park (TSP). By basing the design of her final year project on real world interactions with Chester Cathedral Falconry, as well as tapping into the state-of-the-art facilities at TSP, she has developed an exemplary piece of engineering work that will excite both academics and industrialists alike." 

Yu Jia, Maisie’s dissertation supervisor said: “I am excited but not surprised by Maisie progressing to the final. Her work has been exceptional on all fronts, factoring in both technical development and feasibility for the end-user application. Her work may have laid the foundation to develop a potential technology disruptor in the bird tracking industry.” 

After impressing the judges in the semi final, Maisie is now a finalist and will be travelling back to London for the final this Thursday (April 6) where she will present her idea again and attend a formal lunch. 

The winner will be announced on June 16.