Science teachers find formula for our students' global success
THEY are the unheralded heroes of Ireland's global domination of young scientist competitions.
But the maths and science teachers who devote enormous time and energy, often at their own expense, to science projects have helped transform Irish secondary schools into the 'Silicon Valley' of youth research and development.
Last week, three Cork students celebrated an incredible hat-trick of triumphs by winning the prestigious US Young Scientist title.
Kinsale Community School (KCS) was overjoyed after its team of Ciara Judge (16), Emer Hickey (16) and Sophie Healy-Thow (16) beat entries from 17 other American and world schools to take the top prize which was sponsored by IT giant Google.
It was the climax of a remarkable 12 months for Ciara, Sophie and Emer who have conquered the world of science competitions.
The Cork trio won the BT Young Scientist title in January 2013 before heading to the Czech Republic last September and winning the €7,000 top prize in the EU Young Scientist competition.
Behind the scenes, KCS science teacher, Shaun Holly, could forgive himself a proud smile.
Shaun, together with KCS principal Fergal McCarthy and deputy principal Kathleen O'Brien has now played a key role in not one but three BT Young Scientist winning entries.
"We are very proud of every student who puts the effort into a project," he said.
"We tell the students to be thinking over the summer about (science) projects that interest them. There's no point starting when they come to school in September. It's too late."
"It could be something in their locality, something within their interests or hobbies or anything related to their lives. Then, we meet up again in September and thrash out ideas."
Kathleen said Ireland was deeply indebted to the science and maths teachers who have helped the country achieve such an enviable record.
"The major credit has to go to the students because it is their work. But we are very proud of the teachers who provide such incredible support and inspiration. Shaun really deserves a huge amount of credit," she said.
While Sophie, Ciara and Emer boast the outstanding KCS science record, the school won the BT Young Scientist competition in both 2009 and 2006.
In a remarkable twist, the 2006 winner was Aisling Judge, Ciara's older sister.
Aisling, then a second-year student, was the youngest winner in the exhibition's 42-year history and her winning project was entitled: "The development and evaluation of a biological food spoilage indicator."
The 2009 winners from KCS were John D. O'Callaghan and Liam McCarthy, both second-year students.
Their project was entitled: "The development of a convenient test method for somatic cell count and its importance in milk production."
A quick look at the European Young Scientist roll of honour reveals just how successful Irish entries have been.
Over the past 25 years, Irish entries have won the overall prize 15 times.
At this year's EU Contest for Young Scientists in Poland, Paul Clarke from St Paul's in Raheny, Dublin, took two of the most prestigious prizes on offer in Warsaw.
Former EU Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn acknowledged Ireland's proud record in an area that holds enormous economic potential.
"The future is bright if this is the level of talent we are producing in Ireland and Europe," she said.