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Jamie Fenton

Young New Zealander of the Year 2011

At age 10, Jamie invented a noise level meter for a school science competition which was recently developed into a Safe Sound Indicator that monitors classroom noise.

The Safe Sound Indicator is currently being produced by the National Foundation for the Deaf and will be used to prevent hearing damage in children at early childhood centres across the nation.

Jamie also has a long list of other achievements.

How, and at what age, did you first get interested in science?

Ever since we were very little – about four or five at most – our Dad would tell us stories at night. Some of these stories, would be fictional, some would be about the ‘olden days’ and some would be about science – such as how clouds worked and the solar system. We would do little experiments for fun like testing for acids with baking soda and making silly putty. When I was about seven my Dad would start giving me little lessons about things like viruses and the periodic table and things like that. When I was eight my Mum taught me School Certificate Science through a correspondence course! So basically, I have been very lucky to have parents who are both scientists and educationalists who were able to cater to my interests.

How and why, did you come up with the idea of making a noise level meter?

When I was ten my teacher had a larger black sticker on the wall, in the shape of a traffic light. When she wanted us to be quiet she would use a red sticker, when we could whisper it would be orange, and when we could talk normally it would be green. I decided to make an electronic version of this. After a couple of redesigns, it has ended up as the meter which measures the sound in a classroom and display green if it's quiet (meaning keep going), orange if the room is starting to get noisy (quiet down), and red if the amount of sound is potentially dangerous (stop talking!).

How did you feel when your noise level meter was chosen to be used in pre-schools?

It was fantastic to think that it was actually going to be used. I was very happy with the National Foundation for the Deaf for putting my invention out into the world. I think the kids will enjoy it. It gives them control over there own environment.

What subjects did you like doing at school?

I liked French, Music, English, History, Science, Maths, and Art. Although most of these I like better at High School because you go into more depth ( I really like algebra). The good thing about primary school, however, is that there can be more flexibility for special projects; for example, I sometimes worked on Science Fair projects in class.

How did you feel when you were voted Young New Zealander of the Year?

Shocked, and surprised, and very honoured. It was very unexpected.

What other things have you achieved?

Well I did pass School Certificate Science (modern equivalent would be NCEA) when I was 8, which was fun. I also passed a Certificate in Science Studies with a Special Awards for Consistent High Achievement when I was 10. That was fun.

How have other people helped you to achieve?

My parents have been a big support to me and have always let me have a go at things when I felt ready for them. They never made me wait until I was older. I have also been supported by my teachers who allowed me to have a flexible time table, and by people such as the National Foundation for the Deaf and Coca-Cola Amatil who have sponsored the Young New Zealander of the Year award. And of course people like my Grandparents who have helped drive me places over the years.

What problems or barriers have you faced?

I suppose my age would be the biggest one, and can be to a lot of people. It would have been impossible for me to do the things I have when I was younger if it weren’t for the help of my parents making sure that I was allowed to do things; it isn’t normal for an 8 year old to be allowed to do School Certificate and so forth, and a lot of other people who could do such things at a young age aren’t given the chance to, which I find sad.

Who do you admire most, and why?

In general I admire people who work hard, whether it be young people who help look after their families, who work on the weekends to save money and study during the week, or people who create things in their free time and try new things.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like to read books, and to watch movies, and to cook. I also play the violin.

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