Future 'superstars' of science have their eyes on the prize
A total of 550 of Ireland's best and brightest secondary school projects are in the running for this week's BT Young Scientist and Technology competition.
More than 2,000 applications were sent in from across the country, but just a quarter made it through to the prestigious event.
Now in its 52nd year, the prize includes a cheque for €5,000 and a chance to win a European Young Scientist competition later in the year.
Last year's winners, Ian O'Sullivan and Eimear Murphy from Coláiste Treasa in Kanturk, Co Cork, were on hand to begin proceedings.
Ian and Eimear went on to win the European Young Scientist prize in Milan with their project, which examined the association between teenage alcohol consumption and the drinking patterns of their parents.
"This competition here is much bigger [than the European competition], believe it or not," said Ian.
The two fifth-year students are set to present their idea in Arizona this May.
Ian advised nervous aspiring scientists to "be confident".
"You know your project better than anyone. The judges just want to find out about the project, they're not going to grill you or anything."
Some 27 winners of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition have competed at the European awards, and 14 of them have gone on to win the European prize.
Ian and Eimear were joined by President Michael D Higgins, who said the annual exhibition was "full of curiosity".
"We are at a most exciting and challenging time in human history," he said. "Scientific research is providing us with new possibilities to address the great challenges facing humanity on our fragile planet."
"The scientists often had to courageously defend and advocate for scientific evidence for climate change in the face of scepticism, very well-funded vested interests and, indeed, political opposition," he added.
"While treaties are signed by politicians and diplomats, in the end it was the scientists who made the solution that enables us to address climate change."
President Higgins also praised teachers and parents, saying the students gathered at the RDS had joined a "heroic discipline, a discipline that is at the very centre of the great concerns of humanity of our time, and one that is making a great contribution to improving our world."
He also said the participants were joining a "proud tradition" of Irish scientists, but expressed hope that aspiring female scientists would play a bigger role in future.
"While you may notice that these historical names are predominantly male, a quick glance at the recent winners of this competition will tell you that the list of future Nobel winners will not be quite the same," he said.
This year's competition was marked by a significant increase in the participation of female students: 62pc of competitors are female.
Meanwhile, Shane Walsh, managing director of BT Ireland, called the competition's participants "superstars".
He added that 60,000 people were expected to attend this week's event - compared to around 30,000 and 40,000 people who turned up for U2's 3Arena gigs and the Web Summit respectively.
The winning project will be revealed tomorrow, after the 86 competition judges examine each idea. The exhibition is open to the public from today.