Louise Hogan and Colin Bartley
A 13-YEAR-OLD schoolgirl from Kerry last night wowed science experts to become the youngest ever to be named the 'Young Scientist of the Year'.
Emer Jones from Tralee also became the first Kerry pupil to win the prestigious prize, and it was the first time her school, the Presentation School in Tralee, had entered.
It was her innovative demonstrations on emergency sandbag shelters which won her the envy of the crowd, as she was handed the Waterford Crystal trophy and €5,000 by Education Minister Mary Hanafin.
It was the spate of recent natural disasters which propelled her to examine the types of materials which could enhance the stability of emergency sandbag shelters used in disaster relief.
Minutes after the award was announced, the young schoolgirl was still awestruck, while her delighted little brother Robert (7) was crying tears of joy.
"I'm absolutely thrilled," she said. "I wasn't expecting it at all. I've always been interested in structures and with the increasing number of natural disasters I though it might help humanity as well."
When it came down to the finer details of spending her winnings, the flabbergasted schoolgirl wasn't sure where she would splash out.
However, one thing she was sure of, her future career would definitely be related to the fields of physics, chemistry or maths.
Emer was able to demonstrate that using bamboo sticks or wood between the layers instead of the normal barbed wire method could deliver the same stability to shelters with less cost. It also made the deployment of vital shelters faster.
Edel and Fiona Ryan, first cousins from Holy Rosary College, Mountbellew, Co Galway won the social and behavioural project prize.
A record rise in entries saw over 1,128 students compete at the RDS in Dublin, with over 500 projects representing 31 counties.
As tension mounted ahead of the announcement, Ms Hanafin moved through the hall, packed with quirky projects such as "How different music affects cow's milk production" and "Do tall people run faster than small people?".
"This is one of the most exciting education events that takes place. You see so many young people that are enthusiastic about science, they do their own research and surveys for their projects and in a way that makes it very enjoyable," she said.
"Everything we do in medicine, everything we do in innovation, everything we do with the environment and natural history is all science."
As the exhibitors displayed their projects inside the hall, it emerged there was a incident outside the exhibition.
Gardai confirmed there was a "minor" incident, mainly name-calling, involving a couple of young girls outside the hall.
One of the young girls, from Portmarnock, north Dublin, was taken away in an ambulance. Gardai said the young girl was removed to hospital as a precaution and she had no injuries.
One witness said the girl had been set upon by five girls outside the main hall just before lunchtime.
It is understood none of the people involved in the incident were taking part in the exhibition.