Meet Peter Hatfield, UK Young Scientist of the Year 2009
Peter won the Senior category of the National Science + Engineering Competition at the very first Big Bang fair in 2009. His project involved the design of the LUCID Detector (Langton Ultimate Cosmic ray Intensity Detector). This device measures the high-energy cosmic rays that are constantly hitting the atmosphere. Later this year it will be put on a Surrey Satellite Technology satellite and launched into orbit where it will remain for approximately seven years feeding back data. The experiment is also significant in that it uses technology from the Large Hadron Collider, and will be the first piece of technology from CERN to be used in space.
Here, in his own words, Peter tells us about his experiences of the Competition, his success and what's happened to him since:
"Winning the National Science & Engineering Competition has without exaggeration allowed me to do things I thought I’d never do.
The three days of the Competition finals at The Big Bang 2009 were the most intense of my life, and have certainly been the most influential over the three years since then. Every year, The Big Bang fair is a whirlwind for everyone, but particularly for the winners - I was on the radio three times, TV once, visited No 10 Downing Street, met the Science Minister and explained my project to hundreds of people all in that short period of time!
The Big Bang is an amazing event – any finalists attending the Big Bang in 2012, make sure you make the most of it! I made loads of great friends, talked to lots of interesting scientists and got the chance to see much cutting edge research.
Being in the limelight
Being the UK Young Scientist of the Year is an incredible
opportunity to practise your communication skills; if you’ve won,
you’re already very good at explaining your ideas, but
throughout your year you will have the chance to represent
youth science at a variety of events across the country. I ended
up speaking on the radio 11 times and TV twice. The day after
winning, I was interviewed on Radio 4's Today Programme,
which has 6.6 million listeners!
The Competition allowed me to become an ambassador for youth science. After winning I expanded the range of outreach days I did in local schools, ranging from forensic afternoons for primary schools to debates about contempory scientific issues in the sixth forms, as well as continuing to train people in using the Faulkes telescope. I also further developed a scheme for Kent Schools to use ground-based versions of my cosmic ray detector to link up with the satellite and do high-energy physics experiments in school. I was able to reach a lot of young people through exhibiting at various events, notably the Kent Festival of Science, The UK Space Conference and the Royal Society Summer Exhibition. All of this significantly increased my ability to explain scientific ideas and to communicate with people with a wide range of scientific understanding.
Meeting my scientific inspiration
When being interviewed on The Today Programme on Radio 4
the morning after winning the National Science & Engineering
Competition, I was asked what had inspired my interest and I
cited Kevin Warwick doing the Royal Institution Christmas
Lectures in 2000. To my surprise, the next week I got an email
from Kevin Warwick inviting me to his university to have a look
around his labs!
Mixing with Royalty
The Commonwealth is an international organisation of countries (including the UK, India, Australia, Canada, South Africa and many others) representing in total 2.1 billion people. The Queen is the Head of the Commonwealth, and every year there is a celebration of the Commonwealth at Westminster Abbey. In 2010 the celebration was themed around science, and I was chosen to do an experiment in the Abbey to 2000 people including the Queen and two other Heads of State!
I was invited to the reception afterwards in Marlbough House, the Commonwealth Headquarters, at which I met the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles, alongside premiership footballers and internationally famous scientists.
And I also had the chance to meet Prince Andrew at Diamond
Light Source, the UK's national synchrotron science facility,
shortly after winning the Competition where we discussed the
best ways of engaging other young people in science and
A trip to NASA
As well as a cheque and a trophy, I also won an experience prize
in the National Science & Engineering Competition. Chris
Jefferies, the UK Young Technologist of the Year 2009, and I had
the incredible opportunity to travel to NASA and go right to the
heart of the place that put man on the moon. We talked to literally
dozens (!) of astronauts, as well as mission control and a variety
of other people who make space travel a reality. We spent a total
of 10 days spread between Houston and Florida. We also went off
the tourist track to see the actual places where the shuttle is
The two longest lasting benefits of winning the National Science
& Engineering Competition are being awarded lifelong
Fellowship of both the British Science Association and the Royal
Institution (I’m the youngest ever Fellow of the Royal Institution!)
These are both great privileges, and I am very proud to have this
involvement with these two organisations.
Since my year as UK Young Scientist of the Year ended, I’ve gone on to do lots of other things including going to Cambridge University – but an significant portion are a result of the Competition! Last summer I worked in the Fluid Dynamics department of my University, and this summer I will be working in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the government department that organises science in the UK, directly as a result of winning the Competition. I was President of the Cambridge University Scientific Society this past year, and skills from the Competition allowed me to successfully build the society up to the next level."