Twelve-year-old’s invention to clean toxic air wins national competition

Posted on 31 Jan 2023 by The Manufacturer

A twelve-year-old from Huddersfield has won the Institution of Engineering & Technology’s (IET) national ‘Backpack to the Future’ competition - ‘blowing away’ judges with a design that filters polluted air – helping the eight million people in the UK who suffer the often-crippling effects of asthma.

The IET teamed up with global lifestyle brand HYPE. – challenging kids to supercharge fashion with STEM and invent a backpack that helps them do incredible things. Eleanor Wood’s ‘Breathe Better Backpack’ – touchingly inspired by her Mum’s experience with asthma – was chosen as the winning entry. Her design featured a built-in air filter and fans, powered sustainably by solar panels and a dynamo.

Eleanor’s entry enthralled judges with its innovative ability to make a positive difference to people’s lives, and to the planet. The design comes at a time when the topic of air purity is more relevant than ever, with respiratory illnesses such as Covid-19 in wide circulation. In fact, analysis reveals that Google searches of ‘clean air’ were 850% higher in December 2022 compared to December 2018 (source: Google Trends).

Presented with her prize, a working prototype of her winning backpack during ‘Chilly January’, fittingly the deadliest month of the year for asthma sufferers, Eleanor commented: “I was really shocked when I found out I’d won, I really didn’t expect anything when I entered the competition! I thought of my backpack to help clean the air because some of my family and friends have asthma and hayfever and it could help them. I’m very happy the judges chose my entry as the winner. I think it’s a great idea to have cleaner air anywhere you like!”

Eleanor Wood’s ‘Breathe Better Backpack’ has won the Institution of Engineering & Technology’s (IET) national ‘Backpack to the Future’ competition

Eleanor Wood’s ‘Breathe Better Backpack’ has won the Institution of Engineering & Technology’s (IET) national ‘Backpack to the Future’ competition

The judging panel included IET Fellow Professor Danielle George MBE, HYPE.’s CEO and Co-Founder Bav Samani, IET’s 2021 Young Woman Engineer of the Year Dr Ciara McGrath and Mira Nameth, founder of sustainable fashion brand Biophilica.

Runner up places were awarded to The Travel Bag by Maria Hughes, aged 12 from London, which featured handy gadgets to make holidays a breeze, and the Candy Creator by Emelia Fry, aged 11 from Essex, which featured a candy floss maker powered by a piezoelectric disc.

Professor Danielle George MBE commented: “Alongside the more light-hearted ideas entered, it was wonderful to see so many of the kids’ designs featuring technology to make the world a better place. There’s so much potential for engineering to help tackle the societal and planetary problems that we face, and Eleanor has demonstrated exactly that with her Breathe Better Backpack. Taking an issue close to her heart and engineering a fantastic invention to provide a solution really is inspiring. The future is in good hands with ingenious inventors like Eleanor!”

The IET’s competition was launched with the aim to change perceptions, encourage more diversity within engineering and show children how they could combine a passion for fashion with a Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) related career. It followed research which revealed only one in ten (10%) kids think that engineers work in fashion and just 16% understanding how science and fashion are related*.

The IET has highlighted the continued issue of the STEM skills gap, with half (49%) of engineering companies experiencing difficulties with a lack of skills available in the labour market. Only a third of businesses are taking action to improve the diversity of their workforce across gender (33%) or ethnicity (30%) reflecting that a lack of recruitment from a diverse talent pool may also be fuelling the problem (source: IET Skills Survey 2021).

Eleanor’s winning design will be displayed in HYPE.’s London Flagship Store, allowing kids to come and see how the idea has been brought to life by one of their favourite brands.

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