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Monday 27 January 2020

Hair-raising time for young scientists as they examine if their smartphones spy on them

Creative: Clockwise from far left, Leah Shaw, from Our Lady’s Bower, Athlone, Westmeath, with her exhibit ‘Citrus peels the answer to global drought’
Creative: Clockwise from far left, Leah Shaw, from Our Lady’s Bower, Athlone, Westmeath, with her exhibit ‘Citrus peels the answer to global drought’
Eabha Sheehan, Fia Hurley and Taragh Casey from Mill Street Community School, Cork with their exhibit ‘Could hemp be the key to a sustainable future?’. Photos: Gareth Chaney and Iain White/ Fennells
Reuben Florisson, Ríain Kennedy and Andrew Gordon, from Coláiste Iognáid, Galway. Photos: Gareth Chaney and Iain White/ Fennells
Emma Connolly, Abbey Cunningham and Kerryann Walker, students at Le Chéile Secondary School, Dublin, with their project ‘Are They Listening to Us’?. Photos: Gareth Chaney and Iain White/ Fennells
Ellen Woodward from Ursuline College, Sligo. Photos: Gareth Chaney and Iain White/ Fennells
Ian Begley

Ian Begley

Have you ever suspected that your smartphone is spying on you?

Perhaps you were talking about going on holidays, when suddenly deals for Barcelona or Rome popped up on your Facebook feed. Or maybe you were chatting to your friend about going back to college when you noticed adverts for university courses on Twitter.

Almost everyone has an eerie tale to tell, but three budding scientists from Dublin wanted to find out once and for all whether microphones in our devices are listening to our private conversations.

"We decided to put five phones in a room with us and another five outside," said Le Chéile Secondary School, Tyrrelstown, Dublin, pupil Emma Connolly (16).

"We then staged conversations relating to three topics - garden furniture, hair products and waterslides.

"Then after about 30 minutes, we watched our social media accounts to see if anything we talked about would pop up as advertisements."

What happened next left Ms Connolly and her teammates, Abigail Cunningham and Kerryann Walker, speechless.

"We suddenly started seeing adverts for wigs, and we got ads for a particular brand of hair conditioners," Ms Connolly said.

"None of us has seen ads for these hair-related products before we conducted this experiment which is why we believe that smartphones are in fact spying on us," she said.

Thousands of young students across Ireland packed into the RDS to showcase their projects during the second day of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

The iconic event, which is now in its 56th year, will see students address issues such as climate change as well as making innovations in the digital sphere.

Sligo student Ellen Woodward put her IT skills to good use and created a wearable device that displays a person's emotions by changing colour.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, the techie from Ursuline College said she created it to help people with autism understand their emotions.

"My device is something you wear around your wrist, which measures your heart rate and skin temperature.

"I got the idea in primary school when I noticed a staff member in our autistic unit get upset when she couldn't understand how the child she was caring for was feeling.

"Basically, this gadget will glow a different colour based on a person's mood, which can be very useful for a carer or someone with autism to understand how to deal with a particular situation," she said.

Some 60pc of the projects on show at the RDS this year relate to climate change and the environment.

A creative trio from Galway has come up with an ingenious way to help encourage recycling with their Bottleshot invention.

First year pupils Andrew Gordon, Reuben Florisson and Ríain Kennedy, from Coláiste Iognáid, created a basketball-based challenge by using 'gamification' - a method that makes recycling both fun and competitive.

Plastic bottle recycling in their school grew a staggering 1,248pc.

And students from Abbey Vocational School, in Donegal, wanted to see if education alone could reduce the use of single use plastics in their school.

"We launched an education programme and found the behaviours of the students completely changed when it came to recycling," said Erin Britton.

Irish Independent

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