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Ideas & Observations

Newcastle College student shoots for the stars with space engineering project

A Newcastle College student is set for interstellar horizons after leading a NASA-backed space engineering project to victory.

Mahfooz Miah (pictured right), a second-year Engineering student at Newcastle College, led a group of budding young scientists to victory in an internationally recognised competition.

As part of the Mission Discovery programme led by International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET), Mahfooz oversaw the development of a space engineering solution at a special five-day event in Newcastle in October last year.

On securing the highly coveted mentor role on the programme, Mahfooz commented: “I was really impressed with myself, because there were loads of applicants and it was really a challenging, so to hear that I as a 19-year-old got the job opportunity…it just inspires me to keep working in engineering.”

Working alongside NASA astronauts and leaders as well as a variety of world-renowned professors, Mahfooz and his team of six North East youngsters aged 12-17 – Team Waterfall – designed a space experiment designed to help astronauts clean in microgravity. In their initial research, Mahfooz’s ‘space squad’ found that 100% of astronauts and engineers surveyed found the current sterilisation process onboard MIR and the International Space Station was the most ineffective cleaning solution. To tackle this the team researched the biodegradation of biofilm in microgravity and presented their findings to a panel of judges.

The team’s winning project will be taken into space on a Space X Dragon Rocket, where astronauts on the International Space Station will continue to carry out research into its viability for 28 days.

Mahfooz, who is from Fenham in Newcastle, chose Newcastle College for his Level 3 Engineering course due to its reputation as a STEM leader in the region as well as its links to industry. He explained: “The college provides us with certain technologies, and they will help me to produce certain products and give me the education needed to actually use those and that will help me in the future when I’m getting a job as those are the same skills I need.”

When it comes to the future, the sky is far from the limit for Mahfooz – who is independently studying for an A Level in Maths alongside his Engineering qualification – and he is keen to explore his options. He explained: “I want to go to Durham University to do General Engineering. I’d like to do a Masters in Engineering, and after that becoming a Chartered Engineer.

Luckily, Mahfooz has had rare access to some of the best advice on the planet when contemplating his future path. He said: “I’m not really sure what type of engineering yet, but Durham’s course lets you do all sorts of engineering in the first two years, then the last two years you can specialise in what you want to do. Barbara Morgan [former NASA astronaut], told me that was a really good idea – she said it’s worth going into different types and choosing what you like doing.”

Commenting on Mahfooz’s success, Carmelo Catalanotto, Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at Newcastle College, said: “All of us at Newcastle College are extremely proud of Mahfooz and this fantastic achievement. He is a brilliant student with big ambitions and his hard work is most certainly paying off, so we have no doubt he will go far.

“This is a fantastic example of where a career in engineering can lead and demonstrates why Newcastle College is investing into our STEM provision; to ensure that our students are equipped with the skills they need for the opportunities of the future.”