Young Scientist Exhibition: Judges face difficult task in selecting winner

Having whittled down the entries for the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition from 2,031 to 550, the judges will have a tough job crowning the overall winner tomorrow night.

Clodagh Clarke and Abbie Cassidy, Ringsend College, with Shay Walsh, BT Ireland, and Dr Tony Scott, co-founder of the BT Young Scientist Exhibition.

Dr Tony Scott, a physicist and science communicator who co-founded the exhibition with the late Rev Thomas Burke in 1965, is one of the 84 judges.

“Judging is very rigorous. Each project is judged individually three times by three separate judges. We spend roughly 20 to 25 minutes with each student talking with them and then assessing their work,” he said.

The students’ work is handed over to a second judge who does not know the opinion of the first judge.

If there is a difference of opinion, the third judge will listen to the arguments made and then judge the project again before they all meet together in conclave and work out what the project is worth.

“That only gets you as far as the semi-final. At the final stage of the competition, there are an awful lot more judges taking part,” said Dr Scott.

While the students’ work is very important, they must be able to communicate what they have done.

“Sitting down with the young scientists is great because they are so enthusiastic. They want to tell you so much and sometimes trying to constrain them to 20 to 25 minutes is a bit difficult.

“But they are just wonderful. I wish I could have been like them when I was their age. I am astounded by their breadth of knowledge and the standard of their presentations.

“Some of the reports presented could be submitted by a final year undergraduate student. It has often been said that the report books of some of them could be submitted for a master of sciences thesis. It is incredible.”

Dr Scott said the judges look for innovation and good research that follows a scientific method that the students can communicate clearly to them.

“I always ask three questions when I sit down to judge: What did you set out to do? How did you do it? And What did you find?

“Then I sit back and let them talk — it just pours out.”

Dr Scott said he never thought the exhibition would become one of the largest and most renowned of its kind in Europe.

“It has been mirrored in Tanzania. At the end of July, a similar exhibition will be held in Nairobi in Kenya and a pilot project will be held this year in Dubai.”

Dr Scott said he learned yesterday that Australia intends holding a similar exhibition.

This year, 60% of the projects are by female students. Dr Scott said he hopes the exhibition would act as a flagship to encourage more girls’ schools to do all the science subjects.

“There was a feeling that science was not for girls but we really do need them as well,” he said.

President Michael D Higgins officially opens the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition in the RDS Dublin yesterday. Picture: Colm Mahady

President Michael D Higgins, who opened the Young Scientist exhibition yesterday, said the first exhibition was small enough to be held in the Round Room of the Mansion House in Dublin. There were 230 entries that attracted nearly 500 visitors.

This year, there are four packed exhibition halls at the RDS showcasing the work of 4,250 students, and which will be seen by more than 50,000 visitors over the next three days.

A tablet to improve dental health in poorer countries

Destiny Burdeos, from Gaelcholaiste Mhuire, Cork, with the exhibit ‘Improving Dental Health in the Third World’. Picture: Gareth Chaney

A tablet that can improve the dental health of people in impoverished counties has been invented by three Cork students.

Transition year students at Gaelcholáiste Mhuire in Cork developed a liquid soluble tablet, called Denta-Solve, to fight against tooth decay.

Shay Slavin, 16, Destiny Burdeos, 16, and Zhi Die Chen, 15, are finalists in the BT Young Scientist Technology exhibition in the biological and ecological sciences category

The tablet that dissolves in the mouth contains sodium bicarbonate, calcium carbonate, citric acid and green tea extract.

Shay said they examined how liquid soluble tablets worked. They also looked at how they could combine natural ingredients, like green tea, which destroys oral bacteria.

“We have been working on the project for six months,” said Shay. “I looked at a popular brand of effervescent tablets and thought I could improve the dental health of impoverished people using a similar tablet. We all thought it was a mad idea at first and moved away from it, but we came back to it later on.”

The three students began developing the tablet, and while they found it was a slow and tedious process, the result was worth it.

“About 90% of dental work in developing countries is tooth extraction, but they do not have the means of preventing bad oral health,” said Shay. “The tablet can be used instead of a toothbrush and toothpaste. It does the work for you; it is much quicker.”

The students plan approaching pharmaceutical companies with their tablet so that it can be mass produced and shipped off to impoverished countries.

“We were given a nod of approval from a leading pharmaceutical company when I attended the Bank of Ireland Transition Year Academy in Cork recently. There was a representative there, and he seemed interested. We plan to talk to him in the future.”

Meanwhile, Sarah Fitzgerald, 13, from Kinsale Community School, is a finalist in the junior social and behavioural science category for her project on the decline in reading among children.

Sarah, who is planning to write her first novel this year, wants to spread the gift and joy of reading to young people.

Dogs’ defecation habits have magnetic attraction for pair

Ruth Byrne, who, with Louise Foody, has focused on the relationship between dogs’ defecation habits and the earth’s magnetic field.

Who’d have thought that dog poo could be an exciting science subject?

Two teenagers did and they are finalists in the BT Young Scientists and Technology Exhibition.

Ruth Byrne and Louise Foody, transition-year students at St Mary’s Secondary School in Ballina, Co Mayo, discovered an interesting relationship between dogs’ defecation habits and the earth’s magnetic field.

The 16-year-olds spent two months looking at the relationship between dogs’ magnetoreception and their defecation patterns and how reduced mobility can alter this behaviour.

Ruth has always had an interest in dogs; she has three of them at home.

It was while searching online on how to train her new puppy, Kia, that she decided to investigate dogs’ defecation habits.

She found a video on YouTube on how dogs can sense magnetic fields and how they defecate on the north-south axis.

Intrigued, Ruth read on the Frontiers of Zoology website about the study that had formed the basis for the video. The behaviour she had seen many times was explained. She told Louise of her discovery and they decided to investigate further.

“The ability to sense magnetic fields is called magnetoreception. Many other animals have the ability and now possibly dogs,” said Ruth.

The girls used a compass on their mobile phones, which was set to magnetic north, to collect the exact degrees at which dogs were defecating.

They also looked at the earth’s magnetic weather conditions at the time and took a screenshot of the compass and the degrees displayed.

“We found out that whenever they were pooping on the north-south axis, that they did it when the weather was calm.”

The girls used Ruth’s three-legged dog, Rosie, to see if she also defecated more often on the north-south axis and she did.

Louise does not have a dog, but a friend carried out the investigation on his dog. “We wanted to see the difference between a male and a female,” she said.

The girls’ project provides greater insight into dogs’ behaviour. It is entered in the exhibition’s biological and ecological sciences section.

Trio says to think before you drink

Aoibhe Briscoe, Ellie Conacannon, Kate Owens with their project, ‘Think Before You Drink: Microplastics’. Picture: Gareth Chaney

Many primary schoolchildren in Galway are at risk of drinking microplastic-contaminated water, claims a study on display at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

Three first-year students from Coláiste Iognáid in Galway found that 97% of the Galway city and county primary schools they tested had microplastics in their drinking water supply.

Aoibhe Briscoe, Ellie Concannon, both aged 13, and Kate Owens, 12, are concerned that filtration may not completely remove microplastics from the water.

Their project, included in the biological and ecological science category of the Young Scientist exhibition, is aptly titled Think Before You Drink: Microplastics.

“The best weapon against the presence of microplastics in drinking water is prevention,” said Ellie.

“Yes, filtration does help, but our study has shown it does not completely remove all the microplastics from the drinking water.”

The girls found that only one school out of 23 did not demonstrate the presence of microplastics.

Of concern was that the Galway schools tested had a higher average level of microplastic contamination than the European average.

“The European average is 1.9 microplastics per 500ml of water — the schools’ average was 2.05 microplastics per 500ml of water,” said Ellie.

“But the shocking thing that we came across was the percentage of water contaminated — 96.9% of our water (school) is contaminated.”

The girls believe personal and corporate responsibility, as well as legislative change, could reduce output and use of plastics, as alternatives can be used.

“A coffee shop in Galway heard about our study, and they changed all their packaging to a form that can compost safely in 90 days. It is so much better for the environment,” said Ellie

The girls’ science teacher, Clodagh Mitchell, said they had worked on the project for five months. “They put a lot of time, a lot of hard work and a lot of creativity and innov-ation into their project and I am really proud of them.”

Girls take bite of gumshields issue

Colleen Booth with their exhibit, ‘Why are gumshields so unpopular among players but yet so important in the game?’

Gumshields are shoved into socks rather than mouths during games because they are so unpopular among Gaelic football players.

That’s what three transition-year students from Castlecomer Community School, Co Kilkenny, found when they investigated why players don’t wear the mouth guards during games.

They wanted to discover the common problems associated with ‘boil and bite’ gumshields.

Nichole Allen O’Keeffe, Colleen Booth, and Sarah Dwyer, all wear gumshields but find that they make it hard to breathe.

They had a group of 10 students run laps of a GAA pitch on two separate days, with and without a gumshield.

“They found it easier to breathe without the gumshields,” said Sarah.

They found that more than half (53%) of players were shoving their gumshields into socks rather than their mouths during games.

“Even though ‘boil and bite’ gumshields are used more than ‘custom made’, they are the most uncomfortable.

“Perhaps this is why gumshields are so unpopular,” said Sarah.

The girls believe the only answer to the problem is to have custom-made gumshields made by a dentist but that, of course, is more expensive.

Other solutions include changing the size if the gumshield does not fit properly and making sure it is the proper thickness — a minimum of 4mm.

Also, make sure the gumshield covers the teeth and sulcus area, the roots of the lips.

As well as being hard to breathe, the girls found that gumshields can cut the players’ gums because they don’t fit properly.

Gumshields also make it hard to shout, and some players find that they make them gag.

The girls all wear gumshields when playing sports because if they are hit, they know it can absorb the shock and protect the entire body.

They point out that Cora Staunton, a top performing Ladies Gaelic Footballer with Mayo, wants all young people to wear gumshields,

Their project is included in the exhibition’s biological and ecological sciences category.

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