Friday 16 November 2018

Santa's gift puts Emer on road to stunning science win

Patricia McDonagh

Even at the tender age of four, Emer Jones was asking Santa to bring her science books for Christmas.

Now the youngest ever winner of the BT Young Scientist award is hoping her win will encourage others to become interested in the discipline.

The Kerry native, who is only 13, beat more than 500 entries from schools around the country to snap up the prestigious prize at the 44th annual BT Young Scientist competition.

Her practical project on sandbag shelters which would withstand earthquakes and high winds saw her clinch a Waterford Crystal trophy and a cheque for €5,000.

Entitled 'Research and Development of Emergency Sandbag Shelters', it was announced as the winner by Education Minister Mary Hanafin and Chris Clark, chief executive of BT Ireland, in the RDS on Friday.

She demonstrated that by using wood or bamboo sticks between the layers of emergency sandbag shelters used in disaster relief made them more cost effective.

The shelters are usually surrounded by sandbags and joined together using heavy and expensive barbed wire, but Emer came up with a better approach. Her construction method also made deployment of shelters faster as the materials were more readily available.

Now, Ireland's brightest young mind will represent thje country at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Copenhagen, Denmark, in September.


However, she remains flabbergasted at her win, stating she never thought her entry would be considered, let alone win the competition.

"I really didn't think that I would win. There were 500 entries and they were all a very high standard, so I didn't think that I had a chance," she told the Irish Independent.

"I'm thrilled. It's amazing. My teacher was ecstatic because it was the first time an entry from the school had got into the competition."

Emer said she chose her winning project because she wanted to undertake a project that could help humanity.

Now the win has propelled the secondary school student into the limelight, she hopes that it will help others become more interested in science. "There are only a few that would be genuinely interested in science at school, but I think that they might get more interested after this," she said.

Emer is adamant she will have a career in the field of science, but studying biology will not be a part of her plan because she "hates dissecting things".

The Tralee schoolgirl wants to study maths, physics and chemistry in college and wants to follow on with a career in the field of science.

Her love of science was nurtured from a young age by her father John, who is an engineering lecturer at the Institute of Technology in Tralee and her mother, who is a primary school teacher.

"I liked it from a very young age. I was just recently clearing out my attic and I found a list to Santa from when I was about four or five asking him to bring me some science books."

Fresh from her win, Emer yesterday endured a gruelling car journey back to Tralee to be in time for school on Monday.

However, she won't be getting down to her studies straight away as her teachers plan to gather all of the students in the gym to toast her success.

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