Thomas Agars lived and breathed the F1 in Schools Technology Challenge throughout his secondary education from 2008 to 2012. In 2012 he was a member of the World Championship winning team “Cold Fusion”, with whom he expertly manufactured and raced the record-setting car.

At a very young age, Thomas knew he was born to be an engineer. Using the spare material found in his father’s shed, Thomas would construct anything and everything, using his ability to observe existing designs and recreate them. From remote controlled cars/aircraft to bridges and everything else in between. There was always an ongoing project for him to work on.

It therefore seems inevitable that Thomas would be drawn to the F1 in Schools STEM Challenge. Established by the Re-Engineering Australia Foundation (REA Foundation) in 2003, F1 in Schools is the world’s foremost student competition for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Each year more than 17,000 schools in 51 nations take on the challenge of developing the world’s fastest miniature F1 car.

“After meeting the head technology teacher, Stephen Read, during a Brighton Secondary School open day, I was immediately drawn towards the F1 in Schools challenge,” Thomas recalls. “I would stay at school, alone at first, for as long as I could, teaching myself how to use CATIA V5, designing ‘my first car’. I quickly picked this up and before long I was leading the design of cars competing in the national competition.

“At first, it was a struggle, as the level of competition within Australia alone is phenomenal. After several years of near wins, I took away unique learning experiences each competition. Above all else this experience taught me the importance of teamwork and collaboration.”

Among his peers in the 2012 champion team “Cold Fusion”, Thomas became known for pushing the limits within the competition, innovating, and approaching every problem with enthusiasm. As a testimonial to Thomas’ out of the box thinking, during his final year of competition he explored new ways to squeeze every ounce of performance out of the car.

One innovation was to exploit a loophole within the regulations to include an articulated nozzle towards the rear of the car to maximise forwards acceleration. At the time, this had never been seen in the competition, and improved the lap times significantly. In the following years, other teams from all around the globe successfully implemented them, synonymous to the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) technology used in real F1 cars. For several years, teams developing KERS repeatedly broke speed records, a team from Brighton Secondary School being the current world record holders.

“I believe I can speak on behalf of all F1 in School alumni that this learning experience isn’t easy to convey via traditional textbook teaching,” Thomas adds. “However the F1 in Schools challenge nails it on the head.”

F1 in Schools – A significant value proposition

Through his success in the F1 in Schools challenge in 2012, Thomas was awarded a full scholarship to complete a Masters of Aeronautical Engineering at the City University. He was one of the first Australian recipients to take up this scholarship, traveling halfway around the globe as a 19-year-old to set up a new life in the UK.

As a freshman student at City University, he was picked out by the leaders of the Formula Student team ‘City Racing’ to assist with the manufacture of their car. On top of Thomas’ talent, he also proved to be resilient in character. To sustain the significant living costs of London, he worked night shifts at the local pub. Later in his degree he was able to support himself by working as a research assistant within the university’s transonic wind tunnels.

“By far the most valuable learning experience during my studies was actually just the act of living independently abroad with all of the challenges that presented me,” Thomas remarks. “It provided the catalyst to which I developed my character and multi-cultural perspective on the world. Because of my time abroad, I have made friends from all over the world.

“It was about this time, 2015-2016, that I started really taking notice of the developments made by SpaceX, successfully vertically landing their Falcon 9 rocket. I was absolutely awestruck, I knew that this is where I wanted to end up, working in the aerospace industry. Thankfully, my trajectory within my education was nominal and on course to this goal.

“However, I also wanted to expand my problem-solving ability by learning essential programming skills within Python, Arduino and MATLAB. I did this through a series of self-lead projects, and implemented custom AOA sensors within my work at City University. In addition to my formal education in aeronautical disciplines, I found myself absorbed in orbital mechanics and space vehicle design.”

Thomas graduated in 2018 with first-class honours, topping his class. In his final year, his exceptional design and CAD skills became very apparent when he successfully led the design of a fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to compete in the British Model Flying Association (BMFA) competition. The UAV is now on display within the aeronautical labs at City University to set a top-quality example for future students.

Thomas maintains that all these accomplishments had their origin in his participation in F1 in Schools: “For starters, the opportunity to study abroad was only possible because of my involvement with F1 in Schools. Moreover, the technical and collaborative foundation the challenge provided has shaped my development ever since.”

Fast forward two decades and Thomas’ childlike curiosity and need to learn remain one of his core qualities. Since completing his tertiary studies, he has spent two years working in the UK for a clean-tech start-up called Gyrotricity, developing renewable and rapid electric vehicle charging technology.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have had all these opportunities, the last two years being no exception,” he says. “I have been able to seriously expand my professional skillset at Gyrotricity. Embracing the start-up mindset, starting from nothing, building up core technology from the conceptual phase right through to manufacture and commissioning, I have been involved in all steps along the way. There is something so exciting about being dropped in the deep end and rising to the challenge.”

Thomas is now back in Australia seeking fresh opportunities in the country’s rapidly growing aerospace industry.

“Long-term my goal is to become an industry-leading engineer in the 21st Century space boom,” he concludes. “With so many new aerospace initiatives within Australia, I am confident it is the place to be right now. I cannot wait to see what the future brings, and I hope to be a part of the success I am sure Australia will experience in the space industry.”