Schoolboy develops award-winning blowpipe in fight against bagpipe lung

Bagpipe Lung can be fatal.  Picture: Jon Savage
Bagpipe Lung can be fatal. Picture: Jon Savage
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A teenager believes he can end bagpipe lung, a rare but fatal disease caused by a build-up of mould.

Robbie MacIsaac, 17, has developed a modified blowpipe that stops the player’s spit from building up inside the instrument.

He has won top prize in a UK-wide design competition and has patented the idea. He now hopes to produce the blowpipe commercially.

Robbie, from Falkirk, is a keen piper and closed the main stage at the T in the Park festival in 2016 with a solo performance of Flower of Scotland.

He said: “I haven’t had any medical advice about it but it will reduce mould inside the instrument so if that causes bagpiper’s lung it might help.

“That is what I’m going to research next while I finalise the design of the product.

“I have been working on the idea for about three or four years. One of the biggest problems with bagpipes and wood instruments is when moisture gets in it cracks the wood and makes it sound pretty brutal. It can be expensive to fix so I started thinking about ways to stop the moisture getting there in the first place.”

Bagpipe lung, which can also affect trumpeters, trombonists and saxophonists, is caused by a bad reaction to mould and fungi from the player’s spit. A piper died at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, in 2016. Doctors sent his bagpipes for testing and concluded they were to blame.

Robbie was the only Scottish pupil to make it to the final of the technology, design and innovation challenge, taking first prize at the competition run by the Manufacturing Technologies Association in Worcester last week. 
The initial blowpipe was made with a 3D printer, with the help of Angus 3D solutions, and Robbie is now looking for investors so he can manufacture his product and a start a business.

He said: “I was absolutely delighted to win the final of the challenge.

“To be up against such strong competition from schools across the UK was a fantastic experience, and to take the title is just incredible.

“I worked really hard in the design of the blowpipe, which came about from a natural desire to solve a problem I was dealing with on a daily basis.

“Angus 3D Solutions have been brilliant. Now I’m hoping to attract some investors so I can get my business up and running.”

Robbie’s school, Strathallan, a private school for boarding and day pupils, was given £2,000 to spend on technology supplies, thanks to his victory.

Craig Wiles, head of the school’s design and technology department, said: “I’m totally delighted for Robbie. He’s a hard-working pupil, and deserves every success.

“The product he has created is just fantastic. It has brilliant commercial viability.

“We can’t wait to see how his product will do when it is manufactured. Robbie has a bright future ahead of him.”