Nobody claimed to have found the Philosopher’s Stone but the excitement of discovery got pulses racing at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition yesterday.
One of the judges, Professor Joe Barry, a public health expert at Trinity College Dublin, said he always looked forward to meeting the brightest and best students at the annual event in the RDS.
“The students really energise us with their enthusiasm,” said Prof Barry, who chairs the Social and Behavioural Sciences section.
The judges whittled down the entries from a record 2,077 to 550 qualified projects last October. “We had to screen out three-quarters of the applicants at that stage and even quite good projects did not make it,” he said.
He described the projects that were on display to the public for the first time yesterday as “really excellent”.
Before the top winner is announced tonight, each project will have been judged at least three times.
Prof Barry said the judges were looking for a combination of enthusiasm, imagination, good science, good communications, and youthful energy. “The overall standard is up. There are some really outstanding projects in our category and the ones that are not outstanding are very good.
“I think the students are not afraid of hard work. Most began working on their projects last September.”
Prof Barry, who has been a judge at the exhibition for 25 years, has found most projects are now based on surveys and statistical analysis.
A statistical study on people’s attitude to allergies, including anaphylaxis, formed the mainstay for Mia Hynes, a second-year student at Kinsale Community School, Cork.
Mia, 14, found, through a survey of 880 people, that one in five of us have an allergy. She also found that three out of four (75%) people know someone who has an allergy.
“People’s knowledge about allergies could be described as fair but I would like to see more public information on the issue,” Mia said, adding that, even if she does not win a prize, she hopes to take her project further. “I can’t wait to come back here next year after making improvements to this project because I can expand it in so many ways.”
Three teenagers who are also students at Kinsale Community School found that radio frequencies from recently installed water meters affect mobile phone signals.
Second-year students, Alana McSweeney, 14, Claire Bernard, 13, and Sarah Cotter, 14, found that the signal of a mobile phone weakened if it was within 3m of a water meter.
They have not told Irish Water about their findings but are happy that they have proved their case. “We did a lot of testing,” said Sarah. “We conducted 1,413 tests in 471 houses. We analysed all the data and got a 95% confidence level.
The students want to develop their project to see if the radio frequency from water meters could be interfering with anything else.
Two first-year students from Bandon Grammar School, Co Cork, looked at how the weights and heights of the most capped wingers in the top eight international rugby teams had changed over the last 20 years.
Daniel Hoban and Jean-Luc Crowley Debarbouille, both 13, found that bigger was indeed better. “There is a correlation between weight and tries per player per year,” Daniel said.
The teenagers found that the best performing weight range is 100kg to 104kg, although there were one or two exceptions.
Jean-Luc said retired Welsh star Shane Williams, who weighed 80kg, scored 58 international tries while former New Zealand flier Jonah Lomu, who weighed 120kg, scored 37.
But the weight and energy difference is a key factor in match injuries. “If there was a direct collision between Williams and Lomu, Lomu would bring 59% more energy into it than Williams,” Daniel said.
Two students from Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty, Co Cork, Ailbhe Murphy and Julie O’Donovan, both aged 16, have found a way of capturing escaping heat from a chimney. “To put the heat to good use we decided to put a metal coil made of half-inch copper piping inside the flue of a chimney or stove to heat a house’s water supply,” said Julie.
The transition year students have created a prototype and intend developing their project further.
Meanwhile, there has been a 43% increase in the number of entries for the Primary Science Fair that is also running in the RDS.
It has been oversubscribed by 130% and half of the schools are first-time entrants.
There are over 120 class projects by more than 2,700 fourth, fifth, and sixth class students who have investigated a question or problem through working scientifically.
Demand for places at the fair has meant that on each day, different schools will have projects on display. It is a non-competitive event but participating awards are given to all the schools taking part.