Some of China”s brightest scientific prospects were among the winners as the British International Education Association held the online awards ceremony for its 2021 STEM competition recently.
The association, which is known as the BIEA, aims to encourage young people’s interest in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, through the competition by setting ecologically-themed challenges.
With an eye on the United Nations’ sustainable development goals and the upcoming COP26 summit taking place in Glasgow, the challenge for this year’s entrants was to study the plastic pollution crisis and develop sustainable alternatives.
The finalists, aged from 9 to 21, came from 43 schools and colleges in 12 countries, including China, the United Kingdom, Poland, Ghana, Azerbaijan, and Malaysia.
In the 9-11 age group, Team ET, from the Primary School Affiliated to Communication University of China in Beijing, won third prize for their prototype alternatives to plastic, including a bamboo basket, paper cup, cardboard box and glass items.
They shared third place with Team Future Stars, from Dinghuili Primary School in Beijing. Carrying out a survey locally, they identified plastic bags as the most commonly-used plastic product, and came up with a variety of alternative containers, including items made out of banana leaves, and a woven basket made from corn husks.
Also competing in that age category were Team Victory, from Beijing, which addressed the problem of disposable takeaway food utensils by coming up with a way for outlets to keep personalized cups and receptacles for each customer.
In the 12-14 category, the all-girl Team Plant Leaf Wizard, from Nanshan Affiliated School of Beijing Normal University, demonstrated the school’s green credentials by using leaves found within the grounds of the school to create reusable plates.
In the 15-17 age group, Team Polaris 21, from the High School Attached to Northeast Normal University, in Changchun, Jilin province, demonstrated how to use a heat gun to heat a cardboard box with a thermal insulation layer of glass wool.
Team 35 Perfect Combination, from Beijing Number 35 high school, made a version of a commercially-available shellfish extract called chitosan, which is used as wrapping film.
And Team Jinglun Jinyuzhang, from Beijing Chen Jinglun Middle School, came up with four different prototype package designs.
The overall top prize went to Team Curious from SMJK Sin Min School in Malaysia, which developed an agar food container, and also edible corn-starch wrapping, strengthened with eggshells.
Lead judge Peter Gallivan from the Royal Institution, the focal point of science education in Britain for more than 200 years, paid tribute to the high standard of work on display and the sense of optimism that the entrants inspired.
“It has been a privilege spending time talking to young people all across the world about their ideas to help save the planet,” he said. “The climate crisis is one of the greatest scientific challenges faced by humanity, and so it is inspiring to see the passion, enthusiasm, and creativity shown by all the teams entering this year’s BIEA STEM competition. The future will, I am sure, be a much greener place with some of these young people in charge.”
Alex Holmes, head of STEM at the BIEA, said: “It’s incredible that these youngsters, some aged under 10, have come up with these designs and are able to explain the development process clearly to real scientists.”
The many different trade and aid policies being pursued by China globally have been heavily criticised but can developing countries become more independent or will China’s policy reform?