Limerick girl Emily Duffy is facing her Leaving Cert this year having made a difficult decision not to enter the Young Scientist Technology Exhibition for the first time since she became a secondary school student.
The 17-year-old still has time to change her mind. The closing date is September 28 but she now wants to focus on her Leaving Cert to qualify for studying for her potential career, a career inspired in particular by one of her four entries to the exhibition.
As a third year student at Desmond College, in Newcastlewest, Emily designed and built a lightweight sleeping bag for the homeless, made of metallic bubblewrap, which would trap air bubbles to increase warmth and be fire and rain resistant.
“That project to this day is still continuing; it’s being made by homeless men in Dublin and it’s a huge source of pride in my life that I am taking an active part in helping these people move on with their lives,” she tells Feelgood.
“There’s a charity in Dublin called the Mendicity Institution and they employ homeless men. There are eight of them being paid €10 an hour to make the sleeping bags and that helps them get back into working life and gives them a sense of pride and responsibility, which enables them to move forward.
“And in the last two years three of the homeless men have actually moved on to full-time employment and also have accommodation, so that’s one of the best parts about it,” she says.
The bags are being distributed to homeless charities in Dublin and a few months ago Emily went over to refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk and distributed 70 of them.
“It’s great to see that it didn’t just end with the Young Scientist. I know it started there, but it did move forward and it is something I will continue on in the future when I’ve gone past school level; it has really influenced the way I look at the world and what I want to do later in life,” she says.
“I know I want to continue helping people the way this project has. I want to study psychology and I hope that with that degree I will be able to help these people on a more emotional level, rather than just their physical needs — to be able to find the root of the problem of homelessness.”
Aside from the satisfaction of forming ideas and then working hard on a project throughout the year, Emily says attending the actual exhibition is extremely rewarding.
“When you do go up and go through that door for the first time there is this amazing atmosphere — that you are part of something huge.
There are so many stalls and you know that every single person there has done the same amount of work as you have.
You know you are going to see all these amazing wonderful ideas, that you probably would never have thought of yourself and meet all the other students from around the country.
It’s nice to meet people who have the same levels of motivation as yourself,” she says.
Her school, Desmond College, is one of the most represented in the exhibition each year — going back 50 years.
Emily’s mentor, Donal Enright, a computer science and business teacher won the Analog Educator of Excellence award at this year’s exhibition for the second time.
“Over the years our students have been encouraged and assisted in their efforts by subsequent principals, facilitated by a whole staff, as well as receiving the necessary back-up from parents and the wider community,” he says.
“We take particular pride seeing our students metamorphose into confident young adults, who are brim full of self esteem, as a result of their efforts.
“And the skills they learn from partaking in the exhibition equip them to take responsibility for their learning and research later, as college undergraduates and further on in their chosen careers,” he says.
Head of the exhibition, Mari Cahalane has seen the many benefits teenagers gain from the extracurricular activity.
“As well as engaging students in the fascinating world of science and technology, the exhibition challenges students to imagine a big idea and bring it to life through research and development in a practical way, outside of the classroom.
"Whatever their passion — sport, social media, animals, humans, numbers or outer space — as long as your idea fits the criteria, we want to see it,” he says.
There are other benefits too: “Students gain so many life skills by entering a project. They learn critical skills like planning a project, working to a timeline and writing the proposal.
"If they are part of a group they learn to be part of a team and to collaborate and work with others,” she says.
“When a student qualifies to take part in the RDS in January they have to present their projects to their peers, the judges and to the general public and this really boosts their self-confidence.
"There are also, what Mari calls, the ‘softer skills’ that are gained through participation, like making lifelong friendships and gaining confidence through interacting with so many other people.
* To make the entry deadline on September 28, students can submit a one-page proposal outlining their idea via www.btyoungscientist.com
Take the plunge
Mari Cahalane, head of the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, gives 10 reasons why it’s worth taking the plunge to enter:
1. It’s about more than science, it’s about learning and discovery. Projects can be about anything you’re passionate about, be it sport, social media, beauty, animals, human behaviour.
2. You get the chance to represent your school and local community at the exhibition in the RDS in January, which is a real honour. You could be featured in the local and national media and if you win, you will feature on every news outlet in the country.
3. It shows a real passion for science and an ability to think for yourself, which is a crucial life skill.
4. For teachers, it’s a fantastic way to get students inspired in subjects like science, technology, engineering and maths, not to mention a great achievement for your school if you qualify for the exhibition.
5. Although a love for science and technology lies at the heart of all the entries, there is a prize fund of over €25,000 and trips to the USA to be won for students and teachers.
6. If you qualify you will get to spend four days in Dublin showing your project to more than 50,000 visitors, making new friends and enjoying the craic at our dedicated student club each evening.
7. You get the opportunity to meet some of Ireland’s best-known faces. Every year the exhibition is visited by stars of TV and radio, leading politicians, sporting giants and more.
8. If you’re lucky enough to win, you’ll go on to represent the competition at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists, which takes place in Tallinn in Estonia in 2017. The winner will also win €5,000.
9. It’s a brilliant extra-curricular activity to put on your CV or application form for college/ university.
10. It could be start of an amazing future in science.
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