RICHARD O’SHEA doesn’t want a penny for the simple but innovative project that earned him the crown of the country’s top young scientist – but his work could improve the health and lives of millions.
Returning to class yesterday at Scoil Mhuire gan Smál in Blarney, Co Cork, for the first time since winning the overall BT Young Scientist prize on Friday, the Leaving Certificate student was clear about the purpose of his fuel-efficient and virtually smokeless biomass stove.
“What I want to do with my project is teach charities how to make it. People could say I’m a fool, or you could say I’m a genius but I don’t want to make any money from it,” the 18-year-old said.
While it looks like it was made from materials out of a scrap heap, that is the purpose of his stove, which it is intended that people in developing countries could build and make from whatever they can find. More than two billion people still heat biomass – wood, crop husks or animal dung – to cook their food but the adverse health effects of smoke inhalation are huge.
Richard spent 18 months working with tin cans, wood chips – from kindling cut by his younger brother Anton – and fire to get the technique right, based on a chemistry process of gasification.
“I was in the scouts but I was also the guy who gets smoke in his face. I started out building a simple stove that failed miserably, because it made loads of smoke and took a lot of wood, so this is the result of 18 months of hard work,” he said.
The inspiration came from his parents, Michael from Blarney and Helen from Malaysia, who met while working in Nigeria and described Richard’s success as better than winning the Lotto.
“When my friends visit and we talk about Africa, Richard is in the background listening to us talk about people living with poor hygiene, lack of food, lack of water. I make him and his brother aware of everything and he got his interest from there I suppose,” said mum Helen.
Richard told the students and staff he did not expect to do well at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition last week.
“I was in the technology section and every other project had computers, computers, computers, and here I was with a couple of tin cans,” he said.
But this young man has shown how a couple of tin cans and knowing how to use them could save lives.
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