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Computer Science whizz wins top scholar award at Cambridge

December 4th, 2020
Harri Bell-Thomas

An Old Monmothian is celebrating after picking up the top scholar accolade for Computer Science at the University of Cambridge.

Harri Bell-Thomas graduated with Double First Class honours (BA) and a Distinction (MEng) from The Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, alma mater of the father of Computer Science, Alan Turing.

Harri won an honour for being the best Computer Science student in his final year at Cambridge after achieving the highest mark – 90.5% overall – in his exams.

Fellow Old Monmothian Sam Sully recently gained a First in his Computer Science degree from Cambridge.

Sam has moved to work on a high-performance computing start-up in the City of London.

Twenty-three-year-old, Harri, has landed a job with the London firm, Palantir.

He is working remotely at his family home just outside Monmouth on a project to help the NHS with its Covid-19 response.

“Cambridge was a brilliant experience,” said Harri, who studied A levels in Computing, Maths, Further Maths, Latin and Classical Greek at Monmouth School for Boys, achieving three A*s and two As.

“I found it very stimulating at Cambridge – the people I met were inspirational and driven to go as high and far as they could.”

Harri, who attended The Grange (now Monmouth Schools Boys’ Prep), discovered his love for computing at Monmouth School for Boys.

“I had a brilliant time at Monmouth – Ms Lyndsay Hope (Head of Computing) was an excellent teacher and gave us a wonderful grounding,” he recalled.

“Ms Hope encouraged us to explore all areas of computing, which helped us find our passion.”

While at school, Harri was among a trio of students, including Ben Hope and Benedict Allen, that triumphed in a national competition for an invention that detected pollution in water.

Under the guidance of Ms Hope, the boys’ project was a combination of Raspberry Pi computers, sensors and a plastic duck to revolutionize how data from oceans, rivers and lakes was collected.

The Monmouth boys were crowned winners of the Code a Better Country category in the 2015 Young Rewired State’s Festival of Code.

After a successful campaign, the boys also won a public vote (decided on the number of YouTube views) to be named the people’s favourite finalist out of 16 projects.

Their small, autonomous, Raspberry Pi-powered duck boat recorded and posted data about its environment, including temperature, humidity and UV readings, with live PiCam feed from the boat, to a web and mobile app client.

“Our project was known affectionately as Watt the Duck. We managed to get our project’s hashtag, #WattTheDuck, trending during the event at the ICC in Birmingham. We presented in front of the CEO of the Raspberry Pi Foundation and 2,000 others – an amazing experience,” he recalled.

Harri also paid tribute to his other major influences while at school in Monmouth.

“Dr Huw Evans (Head of Maths) had one of the greatest impacts in my formative years in Monmouth, inspiring me to take the path I have,” said Harri.

“Dr Evans showed me that you can’t really succeed in Computer Science without a strong background in Maths and both Dr Tom Murgatroyd, the former Head of Classics, and Mr David Hope, also had a great influence on me.”

After leaving Monmouth in 2015, Harri spent a year in industry, working as a defence contractor in Malvern, before studying at Cambridge.

Harri said: “The course at Cambridge was very intensive and broad and involved all elements of Computer Science.

“One of the more unusual areas of the course was investigating aspects of neuroscience to form a fundamental understanding of how computer vision mirrors the human brain.

“I definitely found it one of the most interesting topics, but my main areas of research lie in cybersecurity and high performance networking.”

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