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Pupils research app to help disabled people as part of STEM initiative

13 September 2017

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Four Nuffield Research Placements were offered for local high school and college students during the recent school holiday period as a result of collaboration between the popular science centre Techniquest Glyndŵr and Wrexham Glyndŵr University.

Nuffield Research Placements provide over 1,000 students each year within the UK with the opportunity to work alongside professional scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians on a piece of genuine research.

They give sixth form students hands-on experience of a professional research environment through a four to six week placement in their summer holidays. 

Building on already established links, Techniquest Glyndŵr was able to offer the Computing Department at Wrexham Glyndŵr University a suitable space for the Nuffield Research students to work on their project over the school summer holiday period with supervision being provided by Senior Lecturer Nathan Roberts from the Computing Department at Wrexham Glyndŵr University.

University students studying on the Serious Games Technologies of the Computer Games Development Course had already developed 6 games utilising virtual reality to deploy rehabilitation environments for people with disabilities, but these required further refinement so this was where the Nuffield Research Students came in.

Nathan Roberts, Senior Lecturer in Computing takes up the story: I had recently made contact with local charity “Dynamic” whose mission is to provide out of school activities for children and young people with special needs.

"Through discussions we had the idea to explore the development of a series of virtual reality apps which might help with the rehabilitation of people with disabilities by making exercise more fun.

"Students on the Serious Games Technology module were able to develop 6 games utilising game development techniques and virtual reality to provide the ideal basis for taking some of the concepts forward.

"I was pleased to offer placements for Nuffield Research students who lived fairly locally in order to give them a realistic and fun opportunity to carry out some practical research over their summer holidays and to introduce them to what Wrexham Glyndŵr University had to offer.

"The Nuffield Research students on placement with us were able to further refine 4 of these games by working out ways that the games apps could work alongside various pieces of exercise equipment such as cross trainers and rowing machines.”

The four young people who were selected to take part in the four week long placement were Allanah Hibbert (17) from Oswestry, Owen Millington (17) from Mold, Charlie Greenall (17) from Abergele and Aaron Edwards from Coedpoeth.

Allanah Hibbert is currently at Yale College Wrexham studying Maths and Chemistry. She was pleasantly surprised by what she was involved with on the placement.

She said: "This placement was really nothing like I had expected and it’s turned out to be really good fun. It has opened my eyes up to the possibility of studying in this topic area and would seriously consider doing a course covering this if I get to University following a gap year which I hope to take.”

Owen Millington was another of the Nuffield Research Students and is a student at the Alun School. He heard about the placement through leaflets distributed at his school. With his parents who are both teachers telling him how good the programme was he was encouraged to apply for a research placement.

“The work I have been doing is really interesting and I have been involved in rewiring the machines so that they interact better with the games that have been developed. I am hoping by the end of the placement that it will all be working fine."

Whilst Charlie Greenall was hoping to study Maths at University the placement was entirely new field for her. As she said: It was my first experience of virtual reality and games design, although obviously I had used games before when I was younger.

"Like the others I found the work really interesting – I was surprised at how involved the planning and design of games was and the placement helped me to see some of the principles involved. However, I think I will be studying maths when I get to Uni rather than going into games design."

The fourth student was Aaron Edwards and currently is at the Welsh medium Ysgol Morgan Llwyd in Wrexham. Alerted to the opportunity by the Head of 6th form he applied at the start of the summer term and he received the offer of the placement by email in June.

Originally wanting a health or medicine orientated placement he decided to accept the offer since it was local to where he lived and was pleasantly surprised at how the placement involving computing and games design turned out.

He said: “I suppose the app is helping with the health of young people with disabilities so it is a little health oriented. I was rather unfamiliar with computing having studied only at GCSE level so this was a bit of a new topic for me; but it turned out to be quite enjoyable. However I want  to study Biomedical Science at University when I  hope to start next year."

The students hope to attend the celebration event to be held in the Autumn in Cardiff where they will present a poster of the work they have carried out over the summer.

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