Belfast Telegraph

Young Scientist of the Year named

A teenager who helped find a new drug to treat cystic fibrosis has been named UK Young Scientist of the Year.

Sarah Sobka, 17, from Sheffield examined a medicine commonly used for women with irritable bowel syndrome to see whether any of its characteristics could be applied to create new and more effective therapies for one of the UK's most prevalent and life-limiting inherited diseases.

Colum McNally, 18, from Northern Ireland, became Young Engineer of the Year for his "world changing" agricultural machine designed to eliminate farming accidents.

Sarah said: "I was absolutely shocked to even be in the top five, so to have won the UK Young Scientist of the Year award is an amazing feeling."

Cystic fibrosis affects more than 9,000 people across the UK and there are still many strains for which there are no available drugs.

Sarah's project examined a drug called Lubiprostone, which is commonly used to treat women with irritable bowel syndrome, to see whether any of its characteristics could be applied to create new and more effective drug treatments for cystic fibrosis.

She is from Sheffield High School in South Yorkshire.

Colum, from Newry in Co Down, designed and built an extremely safe and low-cost hydraulically operated agricultural machine, which combines log splitting and fence building.

Typically these tasks require two machines, which are extremely dangerous to operate.

In Northern Ireland alone one farmer dies every month from agricultural-related injuries, according to the competition organisers.

Colum said his agri-hammer aims to become an economically viable product that "takes the safety off the farmers' hands rather than taking the hands off the farmers".

"I'm very happy to have won, it's a fantastic feeling. I'm really proud of all the work that's gone in to my project over the last year and it's brilliant to have that recognised.

"I've been involved in engineering from a young age on the farm, just building bits and pieces as we needed them, and it's amazing to think it's taken me this far."

The awards were announced at the Big Bang UK Young Scientist & Engineers Fair at the NEC in Birmingham by a panel of top judges, including Nobel Prize winner Sir Tim Hunt, first British astronaut Helen Sharman and Roma Agrawal who was part of The Shard's construction team.

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