From Space School to STEM

Joe Gibson (second left) with his Telegraph STEM Award trophies, alongside Babcock CEO and Strathclyde alumnus Archie Bethel, BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern and Daily Telegraph Industry Editor Alan Tovey. Photo by Joshua Tucker.

Strathclyde’s Scottish Space School is one of the University’s most prominent ventures for getting young people interested in STEM (science, engineering, technology and mathematics) careers.

Hundreds of participants in the Space School have gone on to study and work in these fields - and one of the most successful is current Engineering student Joe Gibson. This year, he won the UK-wide Telegraph STEM Award for an innovative project involving robotics and artificial intelligence.

Joe, who now studies in Strathclyde’s Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, attended the Space School in 2014 as an S5 school pupil. He was one of the 10 participants chosen from that year’s intake of 100 to make a memorable visit to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.



His overall experience with the Space School – including his return as a student last year, when he was involved as a mentor - went a long way towards setting him on the engineering path he is following today.

Joe said: “I absolutely loved the Space School. It had a massive impact on my life in so many different ways. The connections and friends I made through the Space School have also had a great influence on my life at Strathclyde and my degree.

“We had a week of engineering challenges, usually based on first year work from different parts of the faculty. I was then fortunate enough to make it to the top 10 and the trip to NASA was absolutely incredible.

“The memory that always stands out is of the first night in Houston, when we went to a space surgeon’s house. A lot of his friends who worked at NASA, in various different departments were there – and, at one point, the astronaut Tim Peake arrived. He was still in training, and soon to go into space; it was incredible to meet him before he went up, to talk to him and get to know him – he’s a great person.”

Joe came to Strathclyde as a student through the Engineering Academy, a collaboration between Strathclyde, partner colleges and industry in which students take an enhanced HNC at a partner college before joining the second year of a degree programme.

“I did a year at college and then continued into my second year at Strathclyde in my degree, the same as normal,” he said. “Strathclyde were very supportive and helped me a lot with the transition.

“I’ve also gained a lot of experience as a member of the University Air Squadron and this year I worked at a summer camp in Pennsylvania. I worked as a sailing instructor, lifeguard, swimming instructor, kayaking instructor and rifle range instructor.”

Overall winner

Joe was named the overall winner of the Telegraph STEM Awards for his design for an aircraft carrier of the future. He had previously been named the winner in the Defence Technology category.

Joe has received a £25,000 in the award, made by the Telegraph Media Group. He follows another Strathclyde Engineering student, Mark Goudie, who won in the awards’ Energy category in 2015.

Joe said: “When I was announced as a category winner, I initially started to clap because I thought someone else had won. I couldn’t believe it and I didn’t even know what to say. Winning overall was a similar feeling but with a much greater magnitude. Again, I didn’t think it was me.

“Strathclyde has allowed me to meet a range of people who could provide useful feedback and insight into various fields, which was helpful when designing a ship that incorporates such a wide range of technologies.”

Joe devised an aircraft carrier designed to be operational for decades. It would be smaller than this type of ship is normally built but with a higher stealth capability.

It would launch unmanned aerial vehicles as opposed to the manned fighters currently employed, and would use artificial intelligence and robotics to maintain and control the vessel. The craft would have six propellers designed to enhance speed, efficiency and navigation; it would also be fully automated but would still have a designated captain to ensure accountability. 

Joe said: “I have received praise for my idea from a range of professions. Industry professionals were impressed by the feasibility of such an idea especially since the design didn’t lack ambition. Above all, they were impressed by the range of technologies incorporated into the idea and the ways in which they were all interconnected.”

Joe is currently concentrating on his studies at Strathclyde but his success has opened up a wide range of contacts and possibilities for him.

“I’ve had opportunities that would never have existed were it not for the awards,” he said. “Artificial intelligence and robotics are areas I’d definitely be interested in going into, either in humanoid robotics or space robotics.

“Humanoid robotics, which explore areas like prosthetic arms, is quite challenging but looks very interesting. Space robotics could invoIve sending up robots to establish space stations, so that astronauts aren’t put at risk.”