Tuesday 21 November 2017

Highbrow science, high-fives, Shaun the Sheep and all that jazz

Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

IT is an achievement in itself just to even reach the cavernous halls of the RDS.

Some chattered noisily, while others busily glued, and even more lugged giant eyeballs, inflatable jackets and mannequins through the throngs of excited students descending for the 49th BT Young Scientist & Technology exhibition.

Armed with Pritt stick, Sellotape and staplers, an army of colourful uniforms arrived to pin up their innovative, cherished projects to the display boards in the hopes of winning the coveted spot, or even just a nod of approval from the judges.

"The students are keen, it is actually very hard to get in. To actually get accepted for the Young Scientists is a huge achievement on its own," delighted science teacher Declan Doherty from St Joseph's College, Lucan, Dublin, said.

"This is my sixth year doing it and this is my first group that has actually been accepted. Around 75pc of students who enter don't get in – to actually get in is a win in itself really."

Behind him, a little bit of artistic gusto combined with scientific know-how had turned his charges' project – 'Does music really tug at your heart strings?' – into an eye-catching affair.

After noting the recent high-profile issues surrounding suicide and depression, the trio examined whether young people should trade in their pop music for classical or jazz.


"We can make the recommendation that young people should listen to the genres of music such as classical or jazz as opposed to hip-hop to reduce the effects of stress-provoked illness such as depression or insomnia," Shannon Browne (16), along with classmates Annabelle Nwaokorie (16) and Rachael Kenny (17), explained.

Amid the hectic unpacking, the judges – including former winners who used the platform to propel their careers up the scientific ladder – were just beginning to undertake their first round of perusing the multitude of eye-catching projects.

Organisers explained the interest in the event had soared every year since John Monaghan, from Newbridge College, Co Kildare, won the event in 1965 and went on to set up a biotech company in California.

In recent years, Patrick Collison from Limerick went on to become the exhibition's first millionaire entrepreneur when he and his brother, John, sold their company Auctomatic in 2008 for $5m (€3.8m).

Some of the students were hoping to follow suit as they explored highbrow subjects such as the 'theoretical Goldilocks zone' to see if there are habitable planets surrounding us, and examined the existence of 'magnetic monopoles in subatomic particles'. Others veered towards the more practical – a woolly 'Shaun the Sheep' donned an Elizabethan-style cone collar to test out if it might be the best way to get a reluctant ewe to foster an orphaned lamb.

Student Robin Mooney (16), from Avondale Community College, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, said he had firsthand experience on the family farm of the difficulties of getting sheep to take on an extra youngster and decided to test out some new methods.

"We found the cone collar restricts the ewe's sense of vision and she can't see the lamb when it is trying to suck so she doesn't reject it," he said, adding farmers were eager to find out their results.

A trio from the CBS in Roscommon had been busy looking for pig-shank bones from the local butcher to test the impact of high-contact sports on the collarbone to try develop new protection.


St Aloysius School in Cork had some advice for the premiership as it found men with flexible ankles and shoes size 8-10 could kick a ball further.

Among the high profile visitors were RTE broadcaster Ryan Tubridy and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The Taoiseach was swamped by enthusiastic youngsters as he made his entrance and even 'high-fived' one young woman as he began his inspection of the projects.

After arriving late, the Taoiseach spent more than double the planned 30 minutes at the exhibition.

Mr Kenny said that he was "amazed at the extraordinary enthusiasm" of the students and said he found the projects "stimulating and interesting".

Irish Independent

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