Tuesday 12 December 2017

Getting creative with scientists of the future

Joanna Kiernan

Joanna Kiernan

WILL posing like Wonderwoman help boost your confidence ahead of an exam? And will eating a Mars bar increase the average speed of a galloping pony?

These are some of the questions that students hope to answer, among the 550 projects on display at this year's BT Young Scientist competition at the RDS.

The theories and experiments on display ranged from the practical to the downright quirky as the event got under way with a visit from President Michael D Higgins.

Organisers received a total of 2,000 applications from across the country to take part in this year's competition, which runs until tomorrow.

"It's amazing to be here, it's so exciting," said Orlaith Carroll, from Castletownbere, Co Cork, whose project is on attitudes of teenagers towards homophobia.

Orlaith's team-mates Jayden Murphy (15) and Sadhbh Sullivan (15) were equally excited to be part of the competition.

"We started this project because we found that, in the classroom, we see homophobic attitudes a lot and, as teenagers, identity is obviously a very big part of growing up," said Sadhbh.

Others sat patiently awaiting the judging panel, eager to explain their hard work.

"Our project is about investigating the use of gross national happiness as an economic indicator in Ireland," Kate Ryan (16), of Sacred Heart Secondary School in Cork, told the Irish Independent.

Kate, along with fellow students Shona Hayes (15) and Alice O'Reagan (16), researched the topic by conducting a survey of their local town, asking respondents to rate their happiness in four specific areas -- education, health, community and government.

"Other countries measure the well-being of their citizens, but Ireland has no indicator of the happiness of their citizens. We wanted to investigate this through determining satisfaction in different areas of people's lives and how the Government can use this to increase the levels of satisfaction in Ireland," Kate added.

"We're not saying that GNP should be got rid of, we're just saying that this is as important."

The girls' research showed that the Government was the area that sparked the most unhappiness.

"Our results showed that 60pc of people were unhappy with the government domain," explained Shona.

"The community domain seemed then to be the place where people scored highest and were happiest with."

Mr Higgins praised the students, reminding them of "the limitless possibilities" of human curiosity when it is applied.

"These early January days are brightened by the opportunity to walk into the RDS and to be immediately surrounded by an electrifying energy, an invigorating curiosity and a great sense of new beginnings, harbingers of a future full of possibility and promise," he said.

Mr Higgins also pointed to what he said has been a "seismic change" in Ireland's demographic over the last number of years, with almost half of our citizens now under the age of 30, adding that Ireland must aspire to be a 'Republic of creativity' in the science and technology sector, in the same way it is recognised for the arts.

"Today we are facing unprecedented opportunities to harness the talents and enterprise of an increasingly young population, transforming ourselves and our country and creating a new Ireland based on a strong, vibrant society," he added.

More than 45,000 people are expected to attend the event as the week goes on. Each exhibit is assessed three times by the judging panel of 82.

Entries for the BT Young Scientist and technology event have quadrupled over the last 14 years, which organisers say is down to both teachers and parents getting behind the competition and a newfound excitement throughout Ireland for science and technology.

Singing astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield, who has been credited with boosting science and technology's popularity by tweeting from the International Space Station, is set to make an appearance at the event on Saturday.

Irish Independent

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