PROFESSOR Brian Cox told York students they can achieve whatever they set their minds to as he presented awards at the end of an inspirational leadership and teamwork programme.

The TV physicist was at York High School yesterday at a presentation for around 30 Year 8 and 9 students who have completed the Blue Skies programme with the Jon Egging Trust - set up in memory of the Red Arrows pilot killed during an air display in 2011.

The students have taken part in 10 challenging activities over the course of the year - from high ropes courses to piloting a flight simulator at an RAF base.

Prof Cox, who helped some of the York students build their own rockets at RAF Fylingdales, yesterday told the students:

"We are all 'normal', but we all have it in us to become exceptional. What you are doing here is becoming more and more exceptional by the day.

"One of you said you want to be an astronaut, and that seems utterly ridiculous except for the fact that someone has to be an astronaut.

"The things you have learnt in this programme are the small steps you have to take to get to where you want to be."

He told the students that with space explorers soon to start looking for life under the frozen oceans of Europa - the moon of Jupiter - they could be part of the team that finds the first life elsewhere in the universe.

Prof Cox added: "Some young people don't need a great deal of help - they are confident - but some aren't. This is about taking those who aren't and making them confident."

The programme is run with the help of RAF teams and bases across Yorkshire. Among the students taking part was Year 9 pupil Anya Horsewood, who said it had been a "life-changing experience".

The programme built their confidence and saw them learn about leadership, teamwork, communication and trusting their teammates, she added.

Anya and her classmates, Megan Richardson and Kane Cooper-Jones, said the activities had pushed them to do things they would never have dreamt of trying before, like a high ropes course at RAF Leeming.

Megan added: "Before the high ropes I was nervous but the others encouraged me, and I did it."

Dr Emma Egging whose late husband Jon inspired the Trust said the presentation day was the high point of the year's work by students and volunteers on the programme.