Budding boffins put projects under microscope

THE search is on again to find Ireland’s best young scientist.

Some of the estimated 1,200 students who entered this year will begin gathering at the RDS today to assemble the first of the 550 projects selected for the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2012.

But the real action begins tomorrow when judging begins soon after the lunchtime official opening.

From another record entry of 1,743 projects from almost 3,900 students in 32 counties, the shortlisted teenagers will be hoping to match the achievements of last year’s overall winner.

Alexander Amini, a student at Castleknock College in Dublin and originally from New York, won the €7,000 top prize at the EU Young Scientist contest in Finland in September with his software for sports training.

Judges will have the toughest job in the competition’s 48-year history with 30 projects more than last year included in the exhibition. Students from more than 350 schools will show off their hard work to 30,000 visitors between tomorrow and Saturday afternoon. The winners will be announced on Friday night.

“All the preparation for the exhibition is nearly complete and we are really looking forward to welcoming the students, teachers, parents and visitors to the RDS,” said BT Ireland chief executive Colm O’Neill.

The overall winner — or group — will receive a €5,000 cheque and perpetual trophy and will represent Ireland at the EU Young Scientist contest next autumn. For the best individual or group, depending on whether the overall winner is a student or a group project, a trophy and €2,400 is on offer, with runner-up individual and group projects each due to receive 1,200 and trophies.

The prize giving and opening ceremonies will be presented by TV’s Aidan Power and Róisín Ní Thomáin.

Africa event

WHILE Ireland’s budding scientists converge on the RDS in Dublin this week, work is just starting for students on projects for the first Young Scientists Tanzania event later this year.

The east African country’s academics and researchers were so impressed with the level of work done by schools for the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition here that they have got support to run their own back at home.

The Tanzanian exhibition next October has evolved from contact between the Combat Diseases of Poverty Consortium (CDPC) at National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM), who intertwine support work with African third-level colleges and helping dozens of Irish schools on development projects for the annual event in Dublin.

Arising from these contacts, a number of east African countries asked CDPC to help establish similar events and the first is being held in Tanzania.

Senior figures from the country’s education ministry, science and technology commission, and the inaugural Young Scientists Tanzania event are in Dublin this week to see how the exhibition operates.

With plans to expand the exhibition to Uganda and Kenya, the Tanzania event is being sponsored by Irish Aid and Pearson Foundation.

“With a small amount of taxpayers’ money, this is getting something started in a country that is at a stage of development something like Ireland was when the Young Scientist started 48 years ago,” said CDPC co-chair and NUIM lecturer Noel Murphy.

The winner of the inaugural Tanzanian event will exhibit at the BT Young Scientist in January 2013.

Lobster catch

STEPHEN O’CONNELL’s interest in fishing inspired his choice of project which has been entered in the junior section of the biological and ecological category.

The student at Mary Immaculate Secondary School in Lisdoonvarna has done a case study of the size, gender and weight profile of lobsters caught by a boat in his native north Clare.

He has also been calculating the proportion of catches that is too small and need to be returned to the sea. The project also examined the fill rate and whether a ‘notching’ conservation programme is working.

Stephen’s entry is one of eight from the school selected for the BT Young Scientist this year, accounting for almost half of all Clare projects. The tally also makes Mary Immaculate Secondary School one of the most successful in terms of entries chosen for the 2012 exhibition.

Among the other topics covered by Stephen’s fellow students chosen to exhibit at the RDS are sea urchins and sea snails, while others from the school have done projects on the value of updating textbooks and young people’s view of changes to the Junior Certificate.

Science of heels

THE endeavours of a pair of Cork students should attract big numbers of visitors to their project at this week’s young scientist event — although most of the interest is likely to be from females.

The topic of shoes is always one to gain the attentions of the ladies but Cleo Lane and Meadhbh Murphy decided to examine the relationship between height and centre of gravity when it comes to keeping balance in high-heeled shoes.

The students at St Aloysius College in Carrigtwohill want to find out if being taller is a disadvantage when it comes to walking in heels. The idea for their study came to them when they were out celebrating their Junior Certificate results.

“We noticed a lot of girls in high heels and a large proportion of them looked unsteady on their feet. We are using an experiment found on the internet to investigate a person’s centre of gravity both with and without high-heeled shoes,” they explained.

Their Science of Heels project is entered in the intermediate section of the chemical, physical and mathematical sciences category at the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition.

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