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Young scientists - Education is more vital than ever

In the industrial age, 80% of people were hired for their skills from the neck down, but in today’s information age, 80% are hired for their attributes from the neck up.

This is why the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition which, begins today, is so important.

Two young physics lecturers — the late Fr Tom Burke and Tony Scott — brought the idea for the exhibition back from the US in 1963, modelling the event on American science fairs.

Since the first competition began in 1965 with 230 teenagers taking part at the Mansion House, the contest has thrived. It has been so successful that it had to move to the much more spacious facilities of the RDS at Ballsbridge, Dublin. More than 40,000 people are expected to visit the exhibition this week.

The competition is open to all secondary students from throughout the 32 counties of Ireland. There has been a record number of entrants this year. More than 4,000 students submitted their ideas, and the top 550 projects will be on display in Main Hall of the RDS.

BT, which has sponsored the event for over a decade, should be warmly complimented for its role, especially the help provided to students from schools outside of Dublin to defray their travel and accommodation costs.

The exhibition is the longest-running event of its kind in Europe. There is actually only one other such exhibition that has been running longer anywhere in the world. Many of the past winners have gone on to establish international companies.

Each year about 80 academic experts volunteer their time and services to judge the competition and provide feedback to the students in relation to their research, with the goal of encouraging them to pursue careers for this modern age.

"Sometimes the very best ideas are the simplest ideas," one of the judges, Pat Guiry from the school of chemistry and chemical biology at University College Dublin, said in an RTÉ interview yesterday. This should provide encouragement for all.

Science and technology provide the main hope of finding ways out of our economic difficulties. It is significant that there has been a 24% increase in the number of entries in the technology section this year.

There is an exciting range of projects, such as the use of ultraviolet light in a refrigerator to reduce food spoilage, the use of solar panels on manhole covers to prevent freezing stopcocks, harvesting energy from a PC microprocessor, and the impact of glass casing on mobile telephone signals.

We are very dependent on international markets and there is an overabundance of manpower in traditional areas of manufacture. Hence science and technology provide the key for advancement in the development of new products for international commerce.

Education is more vital than ever in providing the means to cope with our difficulties. The Young Scientist Exhibition provides the competition to encourage and stimulate educational advancement.