But behind all the fun and frolics there is still a much-valued contest. Winners get to represent their country at the prestigious European Union Contest for Young Scientists, which will be held this year in Warsaw, Poland. (See Prof Tony Fagan panel on page 13.)
Winners may even get the opportunity to travel to the Intel International Science and Technology Fair in the United States.
But how do the 82 judges select a winning project out of 2,000 entries, whittling brilliant inventions and inspiring ideas to just one?
- Judges are assigned to each project. One judge spends about 20 minutes talking to students, reading their report books and then grading the project.
- A second judge looks at the same project. This judge is unaware of the mark given to the project by the first judge.
- Both judges must account to the judging panel for their marks.
- A third judge, who is conscious of both the other judges’ marks, goes out and gives an assessment.
- The panel gathers again, discusses the project and gives it an overall mark.
- The top 16 projects are selected and enter the penultimate stage of the judging process. This is cut to four, from which the final ranking takes place.
Meanwhile, even younger pupils have an outlet through Primary Science, which is run by the RDS and takes place in conjunction with YS. It features 120 schools, with groups of 40 each spending a day displaying projects.
By Mark Evans
TONY FAGAN is professor of electrical engineering at UCD and has been an Irish jury member at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists for the past three years. He discusses how the EUCYS judges select winners.
“There are approximately 20 members on the EUCYS jury drawn from all the major engineering and scientific disciplines. The jury are all internationally eminent in their own fields. Jury members do not provide assessments of projects from their own country (a little like the Eurovision).
“Over the course of three days each project is visited by at least six jury members, often by a lot more. Each visit lasts about 30 minutes, so at the end of it candidates feel thoroughly examined and probably a little tired. The jury recognise that candidates will have received varying amounts of help from teachers and other experts. There is nothing wrong with this but it does mean the questioning will involve finding out how much of the original idea came from the student, how much work they did and how well they understand the broader context of what they did.
“We rank candidates firstly according to discipline and then comes the difficult part — comparing projects across disciplines. It is here factors such as motivation, originality, enthusiasm, knowledge and insight come into play. We have a lot of prizes to award. Perhaps the most coveted is tickets to the Nobel Prize award ceremony in Stockholm.
“I should point out that I am not involved in any way in the BT Young Scientist competition. It is a condition on the EUCYS jury that they are not involved in national competitions.”
JOIN us at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition and have your say on our future!
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the BT Young Scientist Exhibition the European Commission Representation in Ireland, in collaboration with The Festival of Curiosity, is inviting people to Light a Beacon for Climate Change during the event and play their part in protecting the planet for future generations.
Come – play your part - and test your knowledge with the Climate Change Quiz. Experts from the European Commission Representation in Ireland, the Joint Research Centre and the European Parliament Information Office in Ireland will be on hand to share their knowledge about our activities…
By Mark Evans
MARI CAHALANE is the head of the BT Young Scientist Exhibition. She reveals what goes on backstage at the event and why it isn’t just about engaging students in science; it’s for families too.
“I started as a red coat when BT — then Esat Telecom — took over the sponsorship of the Young Scientist exhibition. Back then I was one of 30 BT employees working behind the scenes, helping the judges, etc. Now, there are about 200 helping out, plus 50 more doing various tasks.
“This year’s exhibition is about two years in the making. We were very conscious of marking the 50th year, but also we did not want to take away from the 49th last year or the 51st and subsequent events from next year.
“For this year we’ve set up an online archive where people can share their memories of the event, there’s a birthday message option, there will be a commemorative book published for the occasion and we have a redesigned trophy for the winners.
“The competition has gone from strength to strength. In 2000 there were 606 entries, this year there are 2,000, the highest number of single projects and schools so far.
“This year is all about making the event a celebration of science, to get people from all walks of life to look at science in a different way. There is so much to do at the event, with 25 shows each day. We’ve made Saturday a family day, so there’s something there for everybody at the RDS. Not only is the Young Scientist exhibition about engaging students in science but it’s also about engaging people young and old.”