Young agri-scientists have it covered, from slurry alarms to bacteriophages

Denis Lehane previews the BT Young Scientist Exhibition

YOU don’t have to be a genius to know that science and farming run hand in hand. Scientific endeavours have been very beneficial to us farmers. Look for instance at artificial insemination, or at the designs of farm buildings, or modern tractors, mowers and harvesters.

On a more basic footing, consider your Wellington boot or mobile phone. These were all created with the assistance of science. On our farms, our work is made all the easier and more comfortable by the wonders of science.

So it’s not surprising to find many students again opting for projects with an agricultural theme in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, which comes around again next week.

Desmond College, Newcastlewest, Co Limerick always seems to come up with the goods in farming related projects.

Students there have noted that caesarean sections for cows can be quite common in areas of the country where suckler farming is most prevalent. In Co Roscommon, for example, one veterinary practice last year reported that they had performed more than 300 sections on cows. While caesarean section calvings are less of a nail-biting ordeal these days, all involved will gladly accept any research help from budding scientists.

Three students from Desmond College — Martin Madden, AJ O’Connor and Conor Barry — feel they may have designed an instrument that could help during such a task. The idea came from seeing a caesarean preformed, in which the vet found it very difficult to lift out a heavy calf from the cow.

Martin explains, “This put us thinking of ways in which we could work around the need for a second person. It could well be the case that the second person might not be there.

“Eventually we came up with the idea of making a device which could allow one person to remove the calf on their own.

“The device we designed would attach onto a calving jack. The reason we chose the calving jack is that most farmers have one, so it would simply be a matter of getting our attachment and adding it to the jack making it a useful and cost effective tool for farmers.

“We tried a number of different types of attachments, before settling on a device that is really a calving jack connected to a supporting stand using a steel bar. Attached to this bar are ropes and chains which can be attached to the calf while performing a caesarean section. These ropes and chains are also connected to the calving jack which is used to remove the calf from the cow. We tested our device using materials similar to the weight of a calf. We also had a vet look at our device, and she thought that it would be invaluable in cases of caesarean sections in calves.”

Their device will be on display at this week’s Young Scientist exhibition.

Last year, three second year students at the college entered the competition armed with their uniquely designed welly boot washer. This device, created by Tom Flavin, John Delee and Christopher Scannell, consisted of cylindrical brushes inserted into a plastic frame. The cleaning was done by three roller brushes which were operated by winding a handle.

Last year, it proved very popular with the public, so much so that the three students are back again, but this time with an improved version of the Welly Washer.

A team member explains, “Our initial model was not motorised. After testing our device and looking for advice, we decided to improve our original design, and it is now powered by a 12-volt motor and gearing. A simple button push switches on the rotating brushes. Also, the 12-volt battery is powered by a solar charger.”

With an improved design, the team are hoping their welly washer will again leave its mark in this year’s competition.

Also at Desmond College, a solution to a problem of slurry pollution has been occupying the minds of second year students Eoghan McMahon, Michael O’Flynn and John Byrne.

For their project, they looked at creating an alarm system that could be used to warn farmers of a potential pollution leak.

Their project aims to solve the problem of an accidental leak of slurry from a tower slurry tank, caused by a faulty valve.

The student’s idea was to come up with an electronic device which can be attached to the opening valve of the storage tank.

If the valve is not closed properly, slurry is released into the reception tank, at which point a circuit is broken and a flashing light and a buzzing noise becomes activated.

They are also looking at the possibility of getting the device to alert a mobile phone. This alarm device has been tested on a farm and the students claim it proved to be very effective.

And finally from Desmond College, Stuart Lee, Liam Upton and Jack Fanning look into the possibilities that await us with urine fertiliser.

Urine contains large quantities of nitrogen, as well as significant quantities of dissolved phosphates and potassium.

This team of students will have on display at the exhibition vegetables that were grown with urine fertiliser. And just to prove how good a fertiliser it is, they will also have some vegetables grown without the urine boost, so that you can compare them and see the difference for yourselves.

“The urine fertiliser is possibly more beneficial in poorer countries where chemical fertiliser is too expensive to purchase,” according to Stuart Lee.

However the way things are going here in Ireland at the moment, I don’t think we should be turning up our noses at such an idea.

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