Light Years Ahead

A study into Aerographite, one of the lightest materials on earth has won Rachael Murtagh a coveted place in the final of ‘Talent 2030’, the National Schools Engineering Competition for Girls.

She will also present the project at the Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair at the NEC Birmingham in March.

Alton College Ambassador and Head of Engineering at Gatwick Airport, Dawn Elson, said: ‘It is so refreshing to see such technical talent and enthusiasm in Rachael. Young students and girls in particular, are not aware of the wide ranging possibilities for future careers that can spring from taking STEM subjects. We need to get the message out there and Rachael's amazing achievement is definitely playing its part in supporting that campaign!.’

Rachael, who is studying Physics, Chemistry, Maths, Further Maths and German at AS Level explained she completed the project titled, ‘Application Possibilities for Aerographite in Space Satellites’ during her AS Physics coursework module, receiving 100% distinction. She said: ‘I decided to submit the project for Talent 2030 but didn’t think anything would come of it, so it’s been very rewarding that all my hard work has been recognised.’

She impressed judges by offering potential ways that the substance, first invented at Kiel University, could solve some of the challenges we face in the 21st century, focussing specifically on its use within satellites, water purification and Lithium-ion batteries. The 15 finalists will be assessed again and the winning student notified before the Big Bang Fair.

Discovering Talent 2030 when searching online for engineering courses to boost her employability prospects, Rachael explains: ‘One of the main draws of entering the competition was that the winner and runners up will have the opportunity to select a female professional engineer as a mentor. Being able to gain real links with professionals in the industry is what I’m really aiming for; their insights and advice could really help me with my future career options.’

The young scientist is interested in the product design side of engineering and said she’s also really excited about taking her project to the Big Bang Fair where last year footfall reached 65,000. She said: ‘Being able to exhibit my project will provide me with invaluable experience in how to present scientific ideas to a range of different people. This is an important skill that I’ll need throughout my life’. She hopes her innovatively interactive approach to presenting will be enjoyed by those attending the Fair and said: ‘I intend to record myself presenting my project and play it on a loop, then I can then answer any questions that people may have. I want to create an interesting booth where I can try to involve people as much as possible with my project.’

Rachael encourages prospective students – especially females - to consider taking STEM subjects at Alton College and believes studying such areas will increase self-confidence while introducing them to the world of engineering. ‘If you enjoy scientific subjects and have an analytical mind-set I would definitely recommend studying STEM subjects. It is a diverse area of study, allowing you to grasp the general ideas before providing the opportunities to later specialise.’ She adds that she would like to see more female role models in engineering, such as Roma Agrawal ‘Young Structural Engineer of 2011’ and one of the engineers responsible for building London’s iconic landmark, The Shard. She said: ‘Talented female professionals need to be more highly advertised to give young girls the confidence and understanding that an engineering career is open to them.’

To find out more about STEM subjects at Alton College visit us in national STEM week at Bohunt School STEM Festival on Saturday 15 March 10.30-4pm.

Now in its fifth year, the Big Bang Fair is an inspirational event for young people interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. For more information visit

For more information on Talent 2030 visit