Homecoming joy as science trio consider next projects

Cheering crowds, hundreds of handshakes, and plenty of pats on the back. It’s not every day you win the world’s top science competition, but these three Cork girls almost make it look easy.

Homecoming joy as science trio consider next projects

Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey, and Sophie Healy-Thow from Kinsale Community School had one hell of a homecoming yesterday after scooping the top prize at Google’s Science Fair in San Francisco.

For their efforts, the trio won a 10-day expedition to the Galapagos Islands with National Geographic, €40,000 to continue working on their project, and an astronaut training course with Virgin Galactic. They’ll also receive a €20,000 scholarship towards their education.

While Sophie wants to study marine biology and Emer wants to go into science education, both are keeping their options open. Ciara, on the other hand, already has a fairly extensive plan for her education — a primary degree in zoology followed by a biological mathematics masters in Cambridge. Then it’s off to do a PhD in the US.

After securing an impressive 12 As in her Junior Cert last year, the world truly is Ciara’s petri dish.

Having already won the BT Young Scientist and EU Young Scientist competitions, the trio beat thousands of students to secure the global win.

Their ambitious project, ‘Natural Bacteria Combating World Hunger’, aims to combat world hunger by increasing crop yields.

They demonstrated this by experimenting with natural bacteria called diazotroph. After an extensive study, the girls found the bacteria increased crop growth by up to 50%, and barley yields by 74%.

The discovery could be a major breakthrough in eliminating hunger worldwide. It could minimise the footprint agriculture has on the environment by cutting the need for fertiliser.

The girls now have plans to commercialise the project, which has attracted a considerable amount of attention worldwide — even retired Canadian astronaut Cmdr Chris Hadfield is tweeting about it.

While Kinsale Community School is no stranger to academic accolades, as evinced by its overflowing trophy case and newspaper clippings covering the walls, science teacher Shaun Holly said this one was special.

“The girls are used to bringing the silverware to the school but this time it’s a way bigger occasion. The reaction has just been fantastic,” said Mr Holly, joking that the win has helped him raise his profile in the local area. “I thought I was a nobody in my village but now everyone’s coming up to me to talk about the girls!” he said, boasting that Miriam O’Callaghan was his latest Twitter follower.

“The girls were unreal, the lengths they went to. I’m delighted, though I did think: ‘Oh God not again, now I’ve to write another speech!’ ”

Mr Holly also revealed that work has already begun on January’s BT Young Scientist submissions.

“Honestly, the three girls are wonderful ambassadors and are knocking down barriers for women and girls in the area of science. The boys really have to step up to the mark now; they’re lagging behind in more than just the football!”

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