Cream of the crop
TWO farmers' sons from Co Cork are Ireland's young scientists of the year.
John D O'Callaghan (14) and Liam McCarthy (13) beat 500 projects to take the prestigious title at the 45th annual BT Young Scientist exhibition.
The second-year students received a cheque for €5,000 and a Waterford Crystal trophy and will now represent Ireland at the 21st European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Paris in September.
"Words can't describe how we feel. We are absolutely delighted. We weren't expecting it at all. It means the world to us," John told the Irish Independent.
With the impressive title of 'The Development of a Convenient Test Method for Somatic Cell Count and Its Importance In Milk Production', their project was announced as the winner by Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Chris Clark, chief executive of BT Ireland, at an award's ceremony in the RDS last night.
The Kinsale Community School students' project impressed the judges so much that it was a clear decision for them.
John and Liam were concerned at the financial losses incurred if milk sold from their farms had high contents of somatic cells. Their exhibit was entered in the biological and ecological sciences category, junior section.
Somatic cells reflect infection in the mammary gland of the cow and downgrades the process ability of the milk during cheese making. Current tests for somatic cells are expensive and slow.
The boys discovered that if a small amount of detergent is mixed with a fresh sample of milk, the mixture becomes progressively more viscous as the somatic cell content of the milk rises.
"They derived a simple apparatus that could be used by the farmer to quickly test the milk and determine its status. This will be of tremendous commercial help to farmers and is a marketable product," the judges said.
The boys said their background in dairy farming taught them the importance of these tests.
"Both of us are from dairy farms and we know the importance of these tests," said Liam.
While John added: "The problem of somatic cells is huge across Ireland because of the financial deductions.
"From my personal experience, the wait for the results of the tests is too long. We read up about tests with fairy liquid and thought we could develop the idea."
"It was really an old tale that we turned into reality," added Liam.
Both boys are now looking to farming and science as careers because "the importance of the agriculture sector on the economy is huge", John said.
The boys said seeing fellow student Aisling Judge winning the 2006 competition was an incentive for them to enter.
"We saw Aisling winning it and we became interested in entering. We wanted to come up and experience the competition and have some fun. Winning it is an added bonus. We just can't believe it," said Liam.
BT's Chris Clark said the exhibition, now in its 45th year, has never been so important.
"The students who win these awards are the natural resource that will power this island in five, 10, 15 years' time.
"John and Liam's project not only showed ingenuity and creativity but is a prime example of an innovative idea that has commercial viability," he said.
Over 1,000 students competed this week in 500 projects from 31 countries across Ireland. The exhibition is open to students, teachers, parents and members of the public today from 9.30am to 5pm.
The Best Individual Award went to Andrei Triffo, from Synge Street CBS, for his project, 'Infinite Sums of Zeta Functions and other Dirichlet Series'.
The award for group runner-up went to Rhona Togher, Eimear O'Carroll and Niamh Chapman, from Ursuline College, Sligo, for their exhibit, 'The Sound Of Silence -- An Investigation Into Low Frequency Therapy for Tinnitus Sufferers'.
The award for individual runner-up went to Henry Glass, from Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare, for his project, 'The Distribution Of The Freshwater Limpet Ancylus Fluviatilis In A Short Stretch Of The Moneycarragh River'.
Tommy Collison, from Castletroy College, Co Limerick, was presented with the Fr Tom Burke Bursary Award of €1,000 to assist his further education.
The exhibitors were made up of 99 projects for the chemical, physical and mathematical sciences category; 152 projects for the biological and ecological sciences category; 74 for the technology category; and social and behavioural sciences with 177 projects.