'Thrilled' Cork teens win top European science prize with study on gender balance in STEM subjects

Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan, students at Coláiste Choilm in Ballincollig, were inspired to investigate by patterns they noticed in their own classroom
'Thrilled' Cork teens win top European science prize with study on gender balance in STEM subjects

School principal Michelle Sliney celebrates with Cormac Harris, and Alan O'Sullivan, sixth-year students at Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig, Cork, after it was announced at a virtual ceremony that they were the European Union Competition for Young Scientists winners for 2020. Picture: Dan Linehan

Two students from Ovens in Cork, who were curious about why their female classmates were less likely to study STEM subjects, have taken home the top prize at a Europe-wide science contest for their research. 

Cormac Harris and Alan O’Sullivan, sixth-year students at Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig, Cork, have taken home the top prize at the 32nd European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) for their work studying and combating gender bias.

After winning the BT Young Scientist in 2020, the friends went on to speak at the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality, and have been working with different companies on initiatives to combat gender stereotypes.

Gender divide in their own classroom

"We’re thrilled, just absolutely thrilled,” Cormac said, speaking to the Irish Examiner after their win. 

Their research began while in transition year when they noticed the majority of students choosing STEM subjects were boys, and the majority of students choosing non-STEM subjects like home economics or art were girls. 

Bandon Grammar School student, Gregory Tarr,  celebrating with his parents Nita and Richard in January this year on the announcement that he had won the 57th BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition. Gregory has just gone on to take home third prize at the 32nd European Union Contest for Young Scientists. Picture: Chris Bellew/Fennells
Bandon Grammar School student, Gregory Tarr,  celebrating with his parents Nita and Richard in January this year on the announcement that he had won the 57th BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition. Gregory has just gone on to take home third prize at the 32nd European Union Contest for Young Scientists. Picture: Chris Bellew/Fennells

“We wondered why this gender divide exists at this age because we all had the exact same education growing up," Alan explained.

Their research led them to look at children at the start of their education. Almost 380 pupils between the ages of 5 and 7 took part in six research activities. They were asked to draw a picture of an engineer and give their engineer a name:  

The results from this showed that 95% of boys drew a male engineer, compared to just over 50% of girls who drew a female engineer.  This shows us that more initiatives need to be put in place to combat the growth of gender stereotyping. 

"This proved to us that girls are not limiting either gender's ability, however, boys are limiting of girls’ ability. This shows us that more initiatives need to be put in place to combat the growth of gender stereotyping."

Both friends have strongly encouraged students to take part in this year's BT Young Scientist competition. The deadline to apply this year is Monday September 27 at 5pm. 

Contestants from two years at European final 

This year's EUCYS, was hosted virtually in Salamanca, Spain this weekend, with competitors from 39 countries across Europe and the world. Due to the pandemic, this year’s event brought together contestants from 2020 and 2021.

 Cormac Harris, and Alan O'Sullivan celebrating their EUCYS win with their project on gender balance in STEM subjects. Picture Dan Linehan
Cormac Harris, and Alan O'Sullivan celebrating their EUCYS win with their project on gender balance in STEM subjects. Picture Dan Linehan

Gregory Tarr, from Bandon, also took home third prize for his technology project focusing on detecting state-of-the-art deep fakes.

Gregory won the BT Young Scientist 2021 competition while a student at Bandon Grammar School, with a project that uses artificial intelligence to detect “deepfake” videos which have become harmful in spreading disinformation across social media channels. He is the founder of Inferex. 

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